Opinion – Nintendo Digitally Direct

Iwata_headFive years ago, I couldn’t seriously picture myself engaging in as many digitally distributed games as I do now. They were all stupidly expensive, had no real benefit over the physical version and took way too long to download. Nowadays? They’re still expensive, but it’s become a more accepted method of acquiring video games, thanks to advances in internet speeds and cheaper, higher capacity hard-drives. But the more important point to factor in is that we’ve had that adjustment period, and now it’s not only just an accepted method of acquiring video games, but in some cases, it’s the norm.

But Nintendo’s sudden method to get people into switching over to digital distribution isn’t the best way to encourage this.

Since the release of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, it looks like Nintendo have been limiting the amount of physical 3DS units shipped into stores, even going to the lengths of providing retailers with DLC codes people can purchase in-store. For those who solely want the cartridge versions of games, your best bet now  is to pre-order the game.

Let’s go into just how this is insane on just so many levels.

First: There’s the initial shock of it all. When I purchased my copy of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, I ended up leaving the not with a cart, but with printed eShop code, something I didn’t know was the case until I closely inspected the box. Then as I punch in my code and attempt to download the game, the 3DS refuses to download the game, citing that the 2GB SD card that’s carried me since launch day hasn’t enough blocks to download the full game.

To Nintendo’s credit, transferring an SD card’s contents to a new one is rather simple, since most of the DRM and licensing stuff is handled on the system, but better communication about the file size would’ve been appreciated. Using ‘blocks’ instead of megabytes is absurd.

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Secondly, there’s no benefit to the consumer for going digital. The only real advantage of this is that Nintendo gets 100% of the profits. Almost every game matches the RRP of the physical copy, and sales are few and far between. It’s amazing to me that the only reason to go digital that the majority of people might have is because they couldn’t find a physical copy of the game physically (that, or it’s a game you would want to have on you at all times, such as Monster Hunter or Animal Crossing).

This is what really gets to me, because on other platforms, there are plenty of good incentives for going digital, such as pre-loading or additional content bundles or extra games, not to mention the asking price is pretty affordable. If my only incentive to grab a game digitally on a portable device over a physical version is because I can have it on me at all times, then there’s something wrong.

If you want a better idea of purchasing a game digitally, here’s an example of a fantastic incentive. In the lead up to Bioshock Infinite, Green Man Gaming had a deal in which you could pre-order Bioshock Infinite in five special bundles — with each containing Bioshock, Bioshock Infinite and one other 2K PC game — all for $50. In comparison, Steam had a similar offer: By paying $80, you could’ve grabbed Bioshock, Bioshock Infinite, some Team Fortress 2 items and XCOM Enemy Unknown. Shortly afterwards, GMG updated their offer to include a fourth game in their five bundles: XCOM Enemy Unknown. Absolutely insane deal.
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Imagine if Nintendo did something like that for their own games. For instance, what if you could pre-order the upcoming Zelda Link to the Past sequel and get the original to play while you wait? Or a digital bundle of all the Mario games you can get on the 3DS/WiiU? Hell, with a bit of planning (and perhaps some infrastructure change), they could easily match Sony’s Cross Buy and Cross Play initiatives.

The crazier thing about all this is that Nintendo has otherwise started to give people a reason to buy digitally already on the eShop! There are plenty of 3DS eStore wares and third party games on sale (including Virtue’s Last Reward, one of the best games of last year!). Hell, Nintendo is even charging 30 cents for some of its own Virtual Console titles, once a month. Yet not a single one of its mainline 3DS games is at anywhere near an affordable price.

I’m okay with purchasing 3DS games digitally; I’d rather a cartridge, but I’ll go with a digital version if I can’t find it in stores. What I don’t want is to be forced to import a cartridge from the UK, or to wait until the game I want is back in stock physically, and risk missing out on the zeitgeist. And if I’m forced into going digital, I don’t want to be made to pay exactly the same I’d pay at retail, especially if Nintendo now wants to experiment with prices and sales. It’s absolutely ridiculous and a solution needs to come ASAP, particularly with a jam-packed lineup of anticipated games coming in the next three months.

 

Come back on Saturdays for more thoughts and views from the NG+ cast and crew.

[Image credits: Nintendo; Capcom; Nintendo Australia]