Nintendo has never had a good relationship with online gaming. Whether it’s because they are relatively inexperienced or are terrified of litigation, the big N has avoided dipping it’s toes into the world of online gaming. With the Nintendo Switch however came an opportunity, to create an experience that truly defined this generation. A console with such a novel approach to gaming really needed a solid online offering.
But on launch, we got NSO. Possibly sitting up there near the Virtual Boy as one of the greatest mistakes Nintendo has made. (Near, not next to, they’re in the same room but not the same shelf!) The only difference is, we have been happy to pay for it. Plenty has been said about the intricacies of why this offering is poor. For the most part, the low price meant many were prepared to accept that NSO couldn’t have been free forever.
Then we had the joys of that Animal Crossing Direct. All the things, so many things at the touch of a button. Quality of life upgrades, new features, Tortimer not dead! All of this filling fans of Animal Crossing (which made up almost a third of all consoles sold) with joy. Then things took a downward turn.
So What is the Actual Issue?
So, to bring us all up to speed. The current offering gave us online gameplay alongside some retro titles for NES and SNES. It also brought Cloud saving for certain titles and a smartphone app that I’m yet to see anyone use. Periodically there are also special offers. These have ranged from free game demos to vouchers that allow you to purchase multiple select titles at a discount. But not a discount that would compete with brick and mortar stores because reasons.
The Reason this became hugely controversial was that on launch of the Nintendo Switch, all of these features were free. Compounded with the fact many of the titles are either already available in more formats than Skyrim. Or they are so niche you’d have more luck finding Carmen Sandiego than the fan wanting Ninja JaJaMaru-Kun on NSO! Fans certainly questioned what they were actually paying for.
But the majority of fans coughed up. Admitting that, realistically, Nintendo should have been charging for these services from the start. There was also hope that the quality of the service might improve now that some cash was being invested. The price being so low for cloud storage and online gaming compared to Sony and Microsoft helped a lot too. The games were just a nice little feature! Besides Ninja JaJaMaru-Kun was on the horizon…
Nintendo Loves Expansion Packs
Nintendo has loved to expand their existing hardware for generations. Indeed, even the PlayStation was originally designed to be a CD add on for the Super Nintendo. Probably it’s more successful iteration was the Nintendo 64 Expansion Pak. Designed to increase the memory of the Nintendo 64, the Pak had to be sold alongside Donkey Kong Country. This was due to it being unplayable without it. It was also needed for some of Nintendo’s more popular titles such as Perfect Dark, Star Wars: Rogue Squadron and The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask.
The reason I bring up Nintendo’s obsession with expansion is that they have taken this idea to the digital realm. With NSO, they have decided to release an “Expansion Pack” for the service. Offering more content at a premium price for those fans wanting to enhance their NSO experience.
Far from being an addition to the hardware, NSO+ expansion pack provides additional retro content and additional DLC materials. Your subscription grants access to Nintendo 64 titles & Sega Genesis / Mega Drive titles. And now we learn the newly announced Animal Crossing: Happy Home Paradise DLC is packaged in also. The additional DLC being bundled in in a similar vein to the PlayStation Network free games model. Whereby cancelling your subscription removes access to the DLC bundled with it.
Isn’t that like a whole separate game though?
On the surface this is a great idea. Taking it at face value you are gaining additional games for an additional fee. In the case of the Nintendo 64 Titles, many will retain their biggest selling points. By being able to continue to play their multiplayer features using online services. I for one will love playing titles like F-Zero and Starfox 64 online decades after riding my bike over to friends’ houses to do just that.
The Mega Drive / Genesis titles are largely titles that have been released before on Sega’s already existing collections. But again, with some additional features and some third party titles is there enough shiny baubles, in theory, to tempt players over?
Failing that then Nintendo have thrown the “Happy Home” spin off at fans. Timed alongside a huge, and clearly labelled “final”, update for New Horizons. Fans were shown the first paid DLC feature for Animal Crossing. Building on from the mediocre “Happy Home Designer” this DLC allows players to develop island getaways for characters. There are also exclusive items and features up for grabs which can be brought over to your island. If nothing else, I can almost guarantee a third of the Nintendo Switch Install Base have been given a tempting carrot…
So Why do People Hate It?
The biggest issue many fans immediately complained about was the price. An individual player is looking at an almost 100% increase in the UK with regional variances meaning some areas have a greater than 100% increase. The family plan, who many use as a way of making the base package seem more affordable has also had the same increase.
So many may try and use the Animal Crossing DLC as a reason to pony up the additional cost in order to gain access to features otherwise being kept behind a paywall to them. Well, fans of Animal Crossing CAN pay for NSO+ and gain a PlayStation Network style ownership. Losing access to the game and some of their exclusive features once they stop paying the subscription fee. OR they can buy it as traditional DLC and keep it for as long as digital content exists. I have a cynical feeling Nintendo hopes users will eventually choose both!
So, looking just at that DLC, a huge proportion of the fan base will either buy the DLC so they don’t risk “losing” any of the new features. Or they will feel tied into a subscription service they don’t get any enjoyment out of because they don’t want to lose Happy Home Paradise. Imagine being tied into a Netflix subscription just so you don’t lose the ability to watch those “Red Dwarf” Blu-Rays you’ve had on your shelf all year….
Predatory DLC aside, it’s still more games!
When these titles were first announced, I was wide eyed and excited. Then I went away and actually thought about it. I already own 5 of the 9 Nintendo 64 titles being released at launch. One of them has been released on the switch only months prior, and is probably still on a shelf in a store somewhere being hunted down by that last desperate scalper! I also own at least 9 of the 14 Mega Drive titles on the Sega Genesis Classics. Yes Gunstar Heroes online would be nice, but is it double the price nice?
Even with the titles being announced “down the line” many I already owned on the WiiU virtual console, some of the Genesis titles I already owned on the 3DS as well. We’ve also fallen foul to Nintendo telling us that titles are “down the line” before. So many years into NSO and we are announcing Ninja JaJaMaru-Kun instead of <insert personal beloved NES game here>. I’m still waiting for those awesome LJN licensed titles frankly!
Any Ideas Why?
So one reason behind the high price has been suggested to be licensing issues. Proven Nintendo Leaker Emily Rogers has suggested that deals have been quite lucrative for third party developers. Tie this into the fact that many developers, particularly the “old rival” were unhappy with how much of their game revenue was actually going into their pockets. Perhaps this was the reason the virtual console model was scrapped? The WiiU had less available titles, it’s entirely possible that developers, many of whom have been releasing their own re-releases and ports, simply said no.
Another argument could be made that with the increase of games using NSO, the servers dedicated to online play and the infrastructure around that functionality requires more finances in order to maintain and improve them. But if that is the case then why is it an optional service not simply an increase in the base service with more thrown in to “sweeten the pot”
But this then again begs the question of “does this really justify a 100% increase in price?” I guess this is a question for the individual. But as you’ll read later, even that is fraught with peril! Ultimately When I had thought about how much I play certain titles that are coming to NSO+ It didn’t feel like enough value.
But Ultimately it isn’t Just My Decision
Like a lot of people, I clubbed together with friends in order to reduce the price of, what I still consider to be a mediocre service. But, being the slight social recluse that I am, I struggled to get the full number of accounts to make the price of NSO the best possible. I also made sure that members of my actual family are able to play online, so that I can receive more regular beatings at the hands of a red shell than is acceptable in a marriage…
These factors meant that, for anyone saying “oh just get a family plan, it reduces the price to nothing.” It’s just not true. Firstly, if you are able to find anyone to share the price with, then awesome! But that already makes assumptions on people and their social and financial implications. Secondly, if, like myself, you have multiple accounts to consider. These still come out of the same budget. A budget that is increasingly being stretched with subscription service models. Eventually something is going to get cut, and NSO+ would certainly be the prime candidate.
So finally, if you group call your friends and tell them you want to upgrade because you really want to keep the wheels of capitalism alive for Nook Inc. What happens when one of them says “actually, I don’t want to pay for that.”? Or go the other way, what if they want it and you don’t? Do you abandon your £4 a year model because you don’t want to increase it to £8? Whilst this sounds like “ad absurdum” thinking, people will make these decisions, whether by choice or necessity.
So What do We do?
Ultimately, dear reader that’s up to you. Personally I don’t feel there’s anywhere near enough content available to justify a 100% increase in price. I will end up buying the Animal Crossing DLC undoutebly as my family love spending time with it. But I would rather pay to own that. If my friends decide they want to pay more for the expansion pack, then I may get roped into that too. But not without giving them a link to this article first.
I would say this is a perfect opportunity to vote with wallets. Not signing up to NSO+ on launch, for whatever reason, makes it clear that the additional price is not reflective of good value for money. It also sends the message that drip feeding content is not a model which should be encouraged going forward. By all means if this is a service you genuinely want, go for it. But if you’re wanting it for, say, FZero X or Paper Mario, don’t jump on the service until they are released?
To convince me that NSO+ is actually worth putting money into, I would need it to release (or have available when I buy it) GameCube titles, GameBoy and GBA titles. Failing that, more information about what Nintendo will actually bundle in. For example, if Animal Crossing DLC is available, could DLC for other games be given in a PSN/Game Pass style model? I don’t want to be paying double the price now, for it to double again when they decide they want to release “The Thousand Year Door”. Just because it is £100 on the secondary market doesn’t mean you can justify that for NSO++ (& Knuckles).
So, ultimately this is completely up to you and, presumably, your play group. Will you be buying NSO+ on release? Are you looking forward to playing Genesis games on the move? Or are you angry at the poor marketing attempt to tap into the nostalgia of playing Nintendo 64 games with your expansion pack?
Whatever your decision, I hope you continue to enjoy your Nintendo experience online! This is always going to be a topic that has supporters and critics. But as someone who is usually an avid defender of Nintendo’s business practices, I find myself on an unfamiliar side of the fence. Hopefully some positives will come of all this, I just don’t see any yet.