The last thing I’ve heard a lot of discussion about in regards to Nintendo’s recent troubles is Virtual Console. At least on forums (I haven’t read articles about it) people seem to look at it as a lost opportunity. I’ll say that at the very least it wouldn’t hurt for Nintendo to be a bit more aggressive with the service.
I think Virtual Console holds a potentially great value for Nintendo because not only does it include Nintendo’s own classics, but also Nintendo’s ability to legally emulate consoles like the NES and Super NES for third party classics on those systems. I think VC has convinced many third parties to re-release games they otherwise wouldn’t have ported themselves. No other console manufacturer is sitting on a back catalog that big that can be emulated so easily. Sony’s set an example for what Nintendo should do with PSOne classics but it has to resort to streaming for PS2 and PS3 games. VC is probably the main reason I keep my Wii around and has added a lot of value to my 3DS. There are many classics I’ve only gotten the chance to play after they came out on VC. If you look back on my blog you’ll find several “late to the party” posts for games I got on VC.
I think Nintendo has three main problems with VC right now: 1) It releases games too infrequently, 2) most of those games are slightly too expensive and 3) they are locked to hardware. The fact that Nintendo is basically starting over with VC’s library coming off of the Wii — having to re-release every significant game, shows poor planning in itself.
A lot of this is due to Nintendo’s technical approach which it should probably change. The biggest issue is how Nintendo goes to the trouble of developing an emulator jacket for each individual VC game instead of just throwing them all into a general emulator for each old console. This probably increases the amount of work Nintendo has to put into each release and forces them to make each jacket individually for the Wii U and 3DS. Sony takes the general emulator approach which is likely easier, less costly, the emulation quality is still good enough, and it allows them to make PSOne classics playable on the PS3, PSP, and Vita, since only the general emulator needs to be ported to each system. That approach for Nintendo would likely alleviate the amount of work and the cost of releasing games on VC, not to mention make cross-platform support more viable.
The one huge factor that’s probably not under Nintendo’s control is third party licensing — how willing publishers and other rights holders are to let their games be released on digital services. Sometimes something as simple as an audio file or name in a game can hang it up in legal hell. Sony has encountered the same problem with many PSOne classics. For some reason though it seems to be easier to handle in Japan, as both Sony’s and Nintendo’s services feature Japanese libraries that dwarf their western cousins.
Other variables though include the features Nintendo likes adding to VC games: the ability to play them on the GamePad, new digital instruction manuals for each game (retro games really need them), save states, and other features. In fact that’s the reason you don’t see Game Boy Advance and DS games on 3DS Virtual Console — the 3DS’s native compatibility with those systems’ games prevents Nintendo from implementing those features. That brings me to how Nintendo should really be thinking about VC — as an alternative to piracy.
Everything Nintendo does with VC needs to be an attempt to make it a convenient alternative to piracy. VC needs to add perceived value to each individual game the way Steam has added perceived value to PC games. Right now I see only a handful of advantages VC has over just downloading ROMs: 1) Nintendo’s modern controllers resemble what you used to play the older games, 2) the digital manuals, 3) MiiVerse integration and 4) VC offers some of the best N64 emulation available. Customers compare this to a system where they can click on a website, download ROMs for free, and play them on any device with an emulator, often with more additional features. Nintendo needs to figure out how to make VC appealing enough for mainstream consumers in the face of that.
The biggest thing they could do is cross-platform purchases. Nintendo really does need to approach VC as a hardware-agnostic library of legacy software. I think that by itself would add a huge amount of value and convenience to each VC game. If Nintendo is planning on making its next console and handheld conform to similar architecture as its recent reports indicate, that would make cross-platform play much easier.
Why not, I dunno, render the emulators at higher resolutions like 1080p? It would hugely benefit N64 and Gamecube games and make even 2D retro games look crisper on modern displays. Add a scan line filter too like so many retro re-releases do these days.
And then there’s pricing. Never mind the fact that Sony is selling PSOne games for $5 — the same price at which Nintendo sells NES games. I’m fine paying $10 for Earthbound (as opposed to $100 for an Earthbound cartridge on eBay), $8 for Super Metroid, or $5 for the original Legend of Zelda, but I’m not paying that same price for Ice Climbers and Urban Champion. Most NES games probably need to be between 99 cents and $3.
A popular suggestion has been to simply turn VC into a Netflix-like service where you play a flat rate for access to all the games. This certainly wouldn’t involve streaming, as modern internet connections can download NES and SNES games in seconds. I’m sure a lot of people would pay for that service, but I personally would still like to just buy the handful of games I really want to play. Maybe a service like PlayStation Plus might be a good idea, where a flat rate get’s you access to certain games while certain others might have lower prices.
Most important though might be how Nintendo advertises Virtual Console. I don’t know how prominently it shows up on the Wii U eShop but it’s probably not enough. A big problem with the Wii was that most people who bought it probably didn’t know you could download classic games with it. Nintendo at least needs to be more aggressive in that area, and maybe even do some promotions with VC games. Steam puts retro games on sale and packages them with new games all the time.
If you ask me a real unsung hero is Club Nintendo. Some of the best stuff I’ve downloaded from Virtual Console has been free content from Club Nintendo. When you know about it and take advantage of it, Club Nintendo has the potential to be a really good loyalty program. It’s odd that you can’t even access Club Nintendo’s features on Nintendo’s actual hardware.
So, overall, the most important thing for Nintendo is probably to get cross-platform purchases working for Virtual Console, closely followed by releasing games more frequently. At the current release rate it takes more than a whole console generation to put up every NES and SNES game that’s worth playing. But generally Nintendo just needs to make VC feel like a good value proposition against piracy and make sure people know it exists.
In an ideal world, someone would have already set up the console gaming equivalent of GoodOldGames.com where you can just buy ROMs for a few dollars each and play those ROMs on whatever emulator you want. That site would offer higher quality assurance for the ROMs (and possibly emulators too) and make them more valuable by packaging them with digital manuals, digital guides, BGM soundtracks, and artwork. But alas, licensing troubles will probably prevent that from ever happening as long as Nintendo makes its own hardware.
- Dark Souls is finally done for me. If the sequel wasn’t just two months away I’d be all over a new game plus. Dark Souls is just one of those games you wanna restart as soon as you finish it. It’s that good.
- Man, after installing Windows 7 on an SSD, I am never installing an OS on an HDD again.
- Man, looking at the new THIEF game really makes me want to believe it can carry some of the spirit of Dark Project and Metal Age. Everything I’ve heard tells me Eidos Montreal is gonna make it unnecessarily linear to service a storyline they choose to tell as a linear, scripted experience.