First Click: Nintendo could learn a lot from Netflix

April 2nd, 2015

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Nintendo DS and N64 games are finally coming to the Wii U! Great news, right?

Well. Kind of?

Look, Super Mario 64 is one of the greatest video games of all time. It did for 3D gaming what The Wizard of Oz did for color cinema. It’s important that it remain available on modern hardware, and it’s absolutely worth $10 in a vacuum. But these truths aside, isn’t the business model a little antiquated?

Nintendo president Satoru Iwata has, in the past, cited concerns over the plummeting perception of software value as a reason not to develop mobile games. This might be why Nintendo insists on drip-feeding Virtual Console ports at high individual prices, even when the games in question have been re-released for prior platforms; pretty much every N64 game of note is already available on the original Wii, for instance. It’s absurd that we’ll have to wait week-by-week for the privilege of building up another collection on the Wii U.

I don’t have access to Nintendo’s digital sales, of course, but I can’t imagine Virtual Console games make up a huge portion of revenue. (If they did, you’d think Nintendo would make a less superficial effort with the internet in general.) But, given that the company has proven itself to be open to new business ideas with its DeNA mobile gaming partnership, I think there’s another way that the company should take a second step into the 2010s: adopt the Netflix model, and offer unlimited retro downloads for a subscription fee.

Here are some movies you can watch right now on Netflix without causing the value of film as a medium to implode: Raging Bull. Fargo. Manhattan. Pulp Fiction. Chinatown. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Amélie. Trainspotting. Apocalypse Now. Rocky. These are movies that a lot of people probably pay several dollars each for on iTunes (or, well, DVD) à la carte, yet their availability on Netflix doesn't hurt their classic status. Nintendo has by far the most valuable back catalog and intellectual property in gaming; even if it only made its own titles available and ignored third parties completely, it’d have a vast library that a lot of people would be willing to pay monthly for.

Sure, some will pay the cost of a month of Netflix for Super Mario 64 this month. But what about next month? I can’t imagine Donkey Kong 64 or Paper Mario drawing similar revenue, but they’re exactly the kind of title people would dip into out of curiosity under a subscription model. In a world where EA is offering access to all but its newest current console games for just $30 a year, this doesn’t seem like the hardest of calls.

Nintendo has an unbeatable yet under-utilized library. Putting old games on phones isn’t the answer; putting them in the hands of more Nintendo fans is.


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