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Nintendo’s New Approach to Digital Games: Worth It or Not?

Since the advent of the Wii U eShop, Nintendo has been pulling off some nifty sales for their digital platform. On the Virtual Console front, we’ve seen buy-2-get-1-free with Street Fighter II and Kirby games as well as a buy-1-get-one-half-off on Mario titles. Despite console manufacturers having their marketplaces up for some time, we haven’t really seen this type of sale from them on a decently regular basis until Nintendo’s next-gen console launched last year. Now Nintendo is trying their hand experimenting on the eShop with only earlier digital launches, but now with rentals, trials, and tiered pricing. Let’s look at the three games in the midst of this experiment, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD, Wii Sports Club, and Wii Fit U, and see if these games were good choices and if the business model for them as well as future titles.

Wii Sports Club: Rentals and Piecemeal Purchases

The business model of Wii Sports Club is absolutely crazy in its current form. Either Nintendo is trying to emulate the arcade model (poorly) or they are testing how evil they can go. The entire game is free for the first day and if you want to continue, it’s either $2/day or you can unlock the games permanently for $10 each. While the $2/day thing is not exactly awful and it would probably be the way I should go since I did not play Wii Sports all that often, there’s a nagging in the back of my head to have 100% access to them. The problem is that if I wanted to do that, it’ll cost me $50, making the most expensive installment of the franchise yet.

I think my real problem isn't the business model, but that it’s overpriced. Paying $50 for the full eShop version is asinine and it can’t really go cheaper because it’ll make the $2 rental a bad move. Instead it should be cheaper, perhaps being $5 each (with some sort of buy-4-get-1 sale like the StreetPass Plaza expansions) with a sub-$1 rental fee. If they did that, I think I would have warmed up to it much better. Hopefully with later titles, Nintendo will price them more appropriately.

Wii Fit U: Early Trials, Tiered Methods of Purchase

Out of all the games to do some sort of digital promotion with, Wii Fit U was probably the stupidest. The demographic for a game like this isn't going to be turned on to this sort of distribution model; and to be frank, I do not think the audience Wii Fit U is designed for will even give a damn about another Wii Fit in 2013.

I think Wii Fit U is going to bomb not just because it’s a bad game to try this on, the entire distribution model is a complete and utter mess. I remember writing about this and tripping on myself trying to get everything straight, so let’s review how you can get Wii Fit U:

-The game will be free trial on the eShop on November 1st and will be available to download until January 31, 2014. However, once downloaded you only have 30 days to use this trial. You must own a Balance Board from the first Wii Fit to play all the modes (I will shorthand this requirement as BYOBB).

-After the trial period is over on February 1, 2014, the full game will be on eShop to purchase. BYOBB.

-If you buy the Wii Fit Meter on its own for $20 (which is the pedometer from Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver), you get to unlock the entire eShop version for permanent use. The meter is available on November 1st just like the trial. BYOBB.

-You can buy the entire game on disk on December 13th, either bundled with only the Meter (BYOBB) or bundled with the meter and the Balance Board.

This is just ridiculous. There are too many confusing options and retailers who have to communicate the options to customers aren't going to get it right. However, would this be a good idea if it were another game?

In all actuality, this is similar to an MMORPG. Offer a free trial or early start and have the customer pay after the trial to continue playing, then offers different digital or retail versions to choose from. The issue is that this can’t really be done with other genres correctly unless it’s very online multiplayer focused, so until Nintendo makes the Pokémon MMO that I have been begging for years, I doubt there’s another game that this distribution method works for.

The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD: Early Digital Launch

Despite my negativity with the other two games, I believe that they did with Wind Waker HD was totally brilliant.

Not only is it brilliant, it is a game changer. This method of distribution is one of the best ways to push a digital sale versus the retail version that costs more to manufacture and can be traded in. Not only that, Wind Waker HD is a good test to try this out since it is a remake of a single player game, so those who want it physically won’t care to wait three weeks and those that can’t wait can grab it digitally.

It is also smart because Wind Waker isn't the end game to this model. What if Nintendo did this a new, more anticipated title? A game that Nintendo fans wouldn't wait for and sacrifice their option for a physical copy, like Super Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS?

An early digital Smash Bros. launch would cripple the retail version’s sales without hurting Nintendo at all. If that happened, even someone like me who prefers physical copies (because I like having shelves of games) would second-guess owning a disk.

This is an idea that Nintendo will not be exclusively doing in the future. Outside the big N, what kind of result would happen if other companies adopted this with their biggest games like Titanfall or Call of Duty: Ghosts, and launched it digitally as soon as the game went gold? What if GTA V did it a few weeks ago, how much of the billion the game made would have been from downloadable sales from fans who couldn't wait? If those companies that used online passes in the past wanted to strike a blow at the used market, Nintendo just taught you how.


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