Nintendo has yet to say anything about how the Switch will approach classic games, which means there’s still hope that they won’t screw it up. Very slight hope. But we’ll take what we can get.
Historically, Nintendo’s Virtual Console—a service for buying and playing games from older platforms—has been disappointing. On Wii, 3DS, and Wii U, the games were expensive, the selection was erratic, and worst of all, there was no way to tie your purchases to a single account: If you wanted Earthbound on both your 3DS and your Wii U, you’d have to buy it twice. Based on this pattern, it’s easy to be pessimistic about Switch.
But given the popularity of the NES Classic, which Nintendo apparently didn’t expect (Reggie Fils-Aime: “We thought that the consumer that already had a Wii or a Wii U and had purchased those games once or twice already, we didn’t think that they’d buy the NES Classic.”), one might think that the company now sees the value in classic games. As they should.
A great Virtual Console could turn the Nintendo Switch from “wait and see” to “must-buy,” provided they follow at least a couple of these steps:
1) A unified account system: If Nintendo can’t get this right on the fourth try, they’re really hopeless. Switch needs to tie your digital purchases to an account so you can A) recover them if you lose your system and B) transfer them to all future Nintendo hardware. Full stop.
2) Free versions of games we already own: It might be a logistical challenge for the Switch to recognize our 3DS and Wii U purchases, but if Nintendo can find some way to pull it off, they’ll earn a great deal of goodwill from all of their hardcore fans. Switch owners should be able to download free versions of any Virtual Console games they own on previous Nintendo systems.
3) A “launch day” VC package: The Switch launch lineup is pretty bare, and outside of Zelda, there isn’t much to get excited about... Yet there could be. Imagine if Nintendo put out a “Switch launch” package of old classics like Super Mario World, Final Fantasy VI, and Link to the Past, then sold it as a limited-time bundle for people who buy a Switch in the first six months or so. Suddenly, that barebones launch lineup looks a lot more exciting.
4) A Wii U Ambassador program: Anyone who bought a Wii U is most likely feeling a little betrayed, and if there’s anything that can make up for Nintendo giving up on their last system so quickly, it’s free games. Why not give a handful of classics to anyone who owns a Wii U?
5) A Netflix-style subscription package: This is an easy winner. Charge people a monthly $15-20 subscription for unlimited access to hundreds of NES, SNES, N64, and GameCube games. The games automatically lock whenever your subscription ends. Just a win-win.
6) No more dripfeed: For years it was exciting that Nintendo put out new batch of Virtual Console games every week, until we all realized we’d have to go through the same exact process from scratch on Wii U. Not again. Never again.
There’s still time, Nintendo. Please don’t screw this one up.