Nintendo’s nostalgia play crosses a line with eShop closures
Hello, and welcome to Protocol Entertainment, your guide to the business of the gaming and media industries. This Tuesday, we’re discussing Nintendo’s controversial approach to classic games and digital distribution, the latest details in the Activision Blizzard lawsuit and the redemption arc of CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077.
Nintendo’s ruthless approach to nostalgia
Nintendo last week made an announcement that was both perfectly in line with everything we know about the company and its strategy, and yet somehow still a painful blow to its legions of passionate fans.
Though it was inevitable Nintendo would one day close the 3DS and Wii U eShops, the manner in which the company made the announcement highlights its antagonistic relationship to both digital ownership and game preservation.
Nintendo is shifting to a subscription model. The 3DS and Wii U eShops were notable for selling individual classic Nintendo games for one-time fees, letting players own them in perpetuity. This model has more or less ended in the Switch era as Nintendo shifts priority to Switch Online subscriptions.
- Starting in late March 2023, Nintendo will no longer let people purchase digital games for the 3DS and Wii U, including the more than 530 Virtual Console titles available across both platforms. That library includes some games that are impossible to purchase digitally without resorting to illegal emulation.
- Nintendo says it will make some of these games available through its Switch Online subscription service, like this week’s inclusion of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. But it only committed to letting people redownload software they’ve legally purchased “for the foreseeable future.”
- Nintendo posted, and then removed, an FAQ section in which it answered the question of whether it has an “obligation to preserve its classic games by continually making them available for purchase.” The answer: “We currently have no plans to offer classic content in other ways.”
Nintendo excels at selling nostalgia. The company has a storied track record of repackaging old products into new ones and slapping on high price tags. This strategy succeeds in part because Nintendo makes it difficult to buy digital versions of many of its games from one console generation to the next.
- The company banks on its core fan bases’ nostalgia for games they played when they were younger to overcome any sticker shock or trepidation over buying something twice or even three times.
- The NES and SNES classic editions and the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection are perfect examples. The consoles were produced in limited quantities, creating an abundance of demand and driving aftermarket sales and scalping. Super Mario 3D All-Stars was only available for sale for six months before it was discontinued.
- Nintendo is often rewarded financially for its approach, even when its biggest fans complain. It sold 9 million copies of Super Mario 3D All-Stars, and many of its limited-run consoles, toys and collectibles sell out almost immediately.
Nintendo can’t be trusted to preserve its own library. Nintendo could very well migrate the 3DS and Wii U digital stores or the Virtual Console catalog to the Switch, but it chooses not to.
- The only conceivable answer is that it’s financially motivated to repackage those products into its new subscription platform, and that it benefits its brand.
- Nintendo has a history of going after pirates who sell the means to hack its hardware and those who provide access to ripped game files. But it’s often the case that the company also inadvertently encourages piracy by shutting down legal avenues to purchasing games digitally.
- A game preservation organization is already calling Nintendo’s actions “actively destructive.” The Electronic Software Association, of which Nintendo is a part, has also lobbied to kill copyright amendments that would allow libraries and museums to preserve and rent digital games.
Nintendo is by no means obligated to continue operating decade-old virtual marketplaces for now-discontinued hardware. It’s also understandable that it’s shifting how it treats classic games, choosing to bundle them in a subscription platform rather than sell them à la carte.
But the company has shown time and again a blatant disregard for customers who want legal means to buy and own digital games, and the way it communicates and carries out these policy changes often leaves fans, game preservation organizations and its own products in the lurch. And unlike Sony, which reversed course last year on shutdown plans for the PS3 and Vita stores, Nintendo knows there is no amount of fan backlash that can overpower the strength of nostalgia for its products when they inevitably get repackaged and sold again in the future.
— Nick Statt
Haven Studios co-founder Sebastien Puel, an ex-Stadia executive, is leaving the company. Puel left Stadia alongside Jade Raymond, the cloud gaming platform’s studio chief, when Google shuttered its internal game development division in February 2021. Haven, which is now working on an unannounced game for PlayStation with funding from Sony, didn’t give a reason for Puel’s departure. He previously worked at Ubisoft for roughly 15 years before joining Google to work alongside Raymond as general manager of games.
"It's with great sadness that we share the studio departure of a founding Haveneer, Seb Puel," Haven told GamesIndustry.biz in a statement. "Seb is a rare talent whose career and track record as a leader speak for themselves and we will miss his energy and enthusiasm as we continue our journey at Haven. Seb remains a dear friend to the Haven team and we wish him the very best in his next adventures."
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In other news
Horizon Forbidden West’s much-needed delay. PlayStation studio Guerrilla Games revealed on Monday that it delayed its sequel to Horizon Zero Dawn in part to avoid crunch. The game was released last Friday and already ranks as the second-biggest PS5 launch.
Battlefield 2042’s rocky launch. Electronic Arts’ latest Battlefield installment failed to meet sales expectations, and the company is now under fire for citing the surprise beta launch of competitor Halo Infinite as one factor.
Epic Games takes a victory lap. Epic said nearly half of all next-gen games in development are using its Unreal Engine platform, the fifth version of which releases later this year. Epic also said more than 6 million people downloaded its Unreal Engine 5 demo, The Matrix Awakens.
The Witcher 3 veteran starts a new studio. Konrad Tomaszkiewicz, known best for his role as game director on the CD Projekt Red hit, has co-founded a new studio called Rebel Wolves. The company is aiming for a 2025 release of its debut title, a “dark fantasy” RPG.
Meta’s Horizon VR platform has 300,000 users. Horizon reportedly grew by 10x since its public launch in December. As every executive ever would put it: early days.
Roku dongles are here to stay. Roku executives acknowledged last week that smart TVs are becoming more important for the company than dongles, but said that streaming adapters will stay around for a long time.
Half of Apple Music subscribers have used spatial audio. Spatial audio seems to be a hit with Apple Music subscribers. Lossless audio, not so much.
The Activision Blizzard saga gets more complicated. A California judge will rule later today on whether the state’s lawsuit will include temporary workers, a condition the game publisher has fought. Meanwhile, state and federal regulators have begun widening the scope of their investigations into the company.
The path to redemption for Cyberpunk 2077
Developer CD Projekt Red last week released a major update for its beleaguered role-playing game Cyberpunk 2077, introducing a mountain of changes and next-gen upgrades for the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S.
The update, version 1.5, fixes some of the game’s most glaring issues, like subpar artificial intelligence and driving systems and in-game character customization options. It’s been more than a year in the making as CDPR has struggled to atone for the game’s buggy launch in December 2020, which resulted in Sony temporarily pulling the digital version from its PlayStation Store.
But the game’s reputation is on the rise. Reviews of the new update and the game’s next-gen performance are strong, and in Steam reviews and other online platforms, players have begun to praise the turnaround CDPR has pulled off. It’s not quite enough to erase the past, and CDPR may never scrub the game’s legacy of its overambitious, delay-ridden development and the resulting disappointment at launch. But Cyberpunk 2077 is now closer than ever to the game it was hyped up to be, and a No Man’s Sky-style redemption arc for the game may be on the horizon.
— Nick Statt
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