Today [October 26] marks the launch of the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pass, a truly absurd evolution of Nintendo’s online ambitions, if they can even be called that, given that they consistently treat the internet like some sort of alien code that is going to take decades to decipher.
The Switch Online Expansion Pass bumps up the price of the original Nintendo Online service by 2.5x, with the increase adding a small collection of SEGA games and a few N64 classics. Also an Animal Crossing expansion, for some reason.
Presumably, Nintendo likes making money. And yet they have refused to acknowledge that they are sitting on the Hope Diamond of potential gaming subscription services for reasons I cannot even begin to fathom.
Obviously the biggest deal in gaming subscriptions right now is Xbox Game Pass, which boasts loads of games including new releases for a consistent subscription price. Microsoft is more or less basing their entire platform strategy around it these days.
Nintendo may not want to put their newest hits on a subscription service (and neither does Sony, clearly) but they have a back catalog unlike any other in the business. What if, instead of fracturing it and re-selling it across generations, they actually compiled it into one, ongoing subscription service that would be impossible for any Nintendo fan to say no to?
The idea is easy. You take any game, on any generation, that Nintendo still has the rights to, or can negotiate for, and put it in a $10-15 monthly subscription fee.
So, I’m talking NES, SNES, Game Boy, N64, GameCube, GBA, DS and the 3DS at the very least. And you could decide when to add Wii, Wii U and Switch games to it in time. This would be a lifetime account, where whatever new hardware Nintendo puts out, you subscription carries over, and you can download whichever classics you want to play on that new hardware. The ultimate Virtual Console system that travels with you, and is not broken into these ridiculous chunks the way we see now, or force players to re-buy games they have already purchased 2-3 times. And a way to at least offer some sort of legal alternative to the thousands of emulators that have put these games online for years already anyways. We have barely seen this start with NES and more recently some SNES games on Nintendo Switch Online, but it’s miles away from where it needs to be.
If this was handled correctly, I believe it would ultimately make more money than we have ever seen from mini consoles, individual VC sales, Expansion Pass upgrades, whatever. A streamlined version of all Nintendo’s classics would be a must-own for millions of players, and would be a consistent revenue stream for Nintendo as long as it was kept viable across hardware. They could keep adding to it to increase its value, and while it may not directly compete with Game Pass, focused on old games instead of new ones, that’s…fine? It essentially means they have that entire market to themselves. Sony is already doing this with PS Now to some extent for its classic PS games, and the fact that Nintendo is doing things like increasing its online service price 2.5 times so it can jam nine N64 games in there is just ridiculous.
I don’t know what the obstacle is here. I know Nintendo cannot get the rights to every game on its old systems at this point, but it has more than enough classics of its own under its umbrella to make something like this work. They may think they’re getting more out of this with individual game sells or re-selling or Expansion Passes, but I promise they’re not, and a true subscription Virtual Console encompassing everything would be a revenue generator like nothing they’ve ever seen.