As a child, I always held issue with the price of games. (In fact, nothing’s changed, I still do.) While one of my few pleasures in life was forcing the sales assistant at Electronics Boutique to have to count out an entire £40 in 20p pieces, the length of time any one game could remain at its original price tended to drive me around the bend. I mean I knew that publishers had to make a profit on a game but when Pokémon Emerald was still at its original release price at a time when you can pick up Pokémon Diamond or Pearl from the adjacent shelf, the economics of gaming just seemed to baffle me.
Now all games can be overpriced now and again (cough, cough, Guitar Hero) but for some reason Nintendo’s games have a habit of staying at overly inflated prices up to years after their initial release. It’s sad really, looking at them still sitting their at full price as their third-party brethren understand their time in the sun is over and have accepted a healthy price cut in a bid to find someone to actually love them. Is this the retailers’ fault? Do they believe that no one will wait around several years to play Super Mario Galaxy 2 just to save £20? (Clearly they have not met me.)
It’s certain a possibility; Nintendo’s management style of their virtual stores on Wii and DS suggest that they may have some input into this phenomenon. Nintendo is well aware that its games have a unique excitement and quality to them and believes that, both in real life and and in the virtual market place, they can charge gamers whatever they like for it. While the whole platform of digital distribution makes me shift uneasily in my swivel chair on the best of days, the penny pincher within me can no longer idly sit back in said swivel chair and ignore this flagrant rip-off any longer. Nintendo’s high valuation of its own brand and digital distribution can only work against gamers, and it’s time to have an objective look.
When it initially launched, Nintendo enthusiasts were united in their enthusiasm for the Virtual Console (and later the Wii Shop Channel as a whole). How could access to our favorite games from history not be a great thing? And with WiiWare offering up brand new gaming experiences and finally presenting indie developers a shortcut into mainstream gaming, surely the Wii Shop Channel was the best thing that had ever happened to gaming.
No. While Nintendo’s distribution service offers players both new and old games for their Wii or DS, they are virtually without any market competition, offering up little motivation to remain ahead of the pack in terms of offering the best deals to customers. While gamers can easily walk out of a bricks and mortar (or online) store and take their business elsewhere, no such option exists on the virtual platform. If you want to buy the original Super Mario Bros. 3 for your Wii or …an Art Style game on your DS, then your only option is to go straight to Nintendo and buy it directly from them and them alone. And this, as I’m sure you can imagine, causes all sorts of problems.
As the single presence in a closed market, Nintendo faces zero competition and so isn’t required to either price their products competitively or offer exclusive deals to give them an edge over their rivals. Why sell something at an affordable (low profit) price when gamers have no other option but to come to you if they want it? Virtually, gamers are left with no choice and their lack of consumer power has only encouraged Nintendo to offer an overpriced, mediocre online service.
And when you add these advantages to the fact that Nintendo’s model isn’t restricted by the limitations of a commercially independent venture, such as having to sell redundant stock off and requiring a steady stream of new releases to maintain customers, it’s hardly surprising that the Wii and DS Shop Channels are nothing more than glorified, incomplete libraries with exorbitant borrowing fees. Since Nintendo doesn’t need to create any real revenue from their virtual stores (because they’re somewhat rolling in it as it is), where is the motivation to put in the extra effort to make these ventures both rewarding for the customer and truly profitable for the company?
It’s nowhere and it doesn’t even exist, loyalists. Because at the end of the day, a customer playing old Mario games is a customer who’s not buying new Mario games that return ten times as much profit. And why would Nintendo encourage a customer like that? Why would they let him actually try demos of these games first or pay a remotely valid price considering that the product is maddeningly obsolete and includes no updated features? Why would they not tell that gamer how many other people had bought the same game as him and actually release sales figures like any normal retailer would? Why would they not keep releasing games when there’s still a demand for them?
Frankly I’m not sure, but perhaps it’s worth taking a page out of Nintendo’s book on the whole matter. If the people in charge of digital distribution at Nintendo are being told that their diminutive customer base simply isn’t worth fussing over, then maybe we should take a similar stand. You won’t catch me throwing my money at them, that’s for sure.