October 5, 2021
This week in Protocol Gaming, your weekly guide to the business of video games: Nintendo's subtle subscription push, Sony's acquisition spree continues, and Amazon's New World opens its doors to millions of players.
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Much attention is paid to Nintendo's hardware strategy, especially amid renewed speculation of a forthcoming Switch handheld with 4K support and with its OLED model shipping later this week. But the more interesting evolution within the game maker is not what type of screen or chipset powers its console now or next year. Rather, it's the transition of its subscription platform from what felt like an experiment into what is starting to look like a genuine competitor.
Nintendo is turning Switch Online into a tiered offering. Though it was perhaps overshadowed by news of the animated Mario film voice cast, Nintendo's Direct presentation last month included the biggest Switch Online news since the service launched in 2018.
Switch Online has always been a peculiar outlier. Priced at $20 a year, the service has always felt more like an experiment in classic game distribution than a service Nintendo expected a majority of its player base to purchase. Now, it sounds like the company is catching up with the times.
Nintendo's nostalgia play is central to its appeal. The company has sold retro consoles, retro controllers and remastered classics for years. But the company stands to make more money in the future if it can convince millions of Switch owners to sign up for its pricier Switch Online tier in perpetuity, either by constantly adding value or running limited promotions.
Subscription models like Xbox Game Pass are poised to change how games are funded and distributed in the future, but Nintendo's Switch Online expansion is also a good reminder that such business models are coming for the classic game market, too.
Nintendo has a unique hold on both its fanbase and on its old library, having published so many of its biggest hits and therefore owning the rights to redistribute them as it sees fit. And because so many Nintendo fans have been conditioned to pay steep premiums to enjoy classic games, many will likely see the Switch Online price jump as a better deal than buying each game on its own. In this way, Nintendo can turn its subscription service into one of the more powerful and lucrative pillars of its business.
Creating a workforce with the right mix of skills has always been a challenge for companies, and 74% of CEOs are concerned about finding skilled workers. That problem will likely only increase as the definition of work, and the needs of employees, evolve in a post-pandemic environment. So, what can companies do?
Later today, Super Smash Bros. creator Masahiro Sakurai will put to bed the latest entry in the fighting game series with the reveal of a final fighter joining the game's massive roster. Speculation as to which pop culture character it might be is now rampant, to hilarious effect.
I'm particularly fond of either Sora from Kingdom Hearts or Goku from the Dragon Ball franchise, though neither seem like anything but absolute long shots. (Master Chief, from Halo, seems like a more likely contender.) It'll be sad to see the end of development on Ultimate, the most successful entry in the series to date. But the notoriously hard-working Sakurai deserves a well-needed break.
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