Yesterday, the news looked pretty bleak for Nintendo. The incredibly slim number of Wii U consoles sold looked like an obituary for a company that started a lot of gamers down the path of staying indoors and having most of their fun with a controller. But a new concept emerged today, and one that certainly captured my imagination.
While reading up on VentureBeat's expected appearances at the upcoming Electronics Entertainment Expo (E3) event—most of the no-shows would remain no-shows, but “Fallout 4” would likely make some kind of appearance because it was high time and it actually stuck to earlier release scheduling (though VentureBeat's neat symmetry was somewhat stymied by the knowledge that there was “Fallout: New Vegas” to consider between “Fallout 3” in 2008 and “Skyrim” in 2011)--one point jumped out at me like a family of chupacabras at a goat ranch: what if Nintendo put the power of its Virtual Console system to work in the Netflix style?
Stop and think that one over for a minute. Nintendo has literally decades of titles to its credit. Everything from “Mike Tyson's Punch-Out” to “Super Mario 3D World”, and thousands of titles in between. What if Nintendo just opened the floodgates and declared that gamers could pay a subscription fee—say, $10 a month—and play absolutely everything in the gigantic Nintendo silo from eight-bit classics up until the Wii releases. That was a thought that had me checking Amazon for the latest Wii U prices; if there was anything that would get me to buy a Wii U, that would be it right there.
We've been saying for a long time that the key to any console gaming system's success is the games. Without the games, the console is just an expensive paperweight. So to make literally decades of games available to any user with a few bucks to pay per month would be an extremely compelling proposition. From there, of course, gamers could go ahead and buy whatever individual titles they preferred from the massive streaming lists, making it almost more like Amazon than Netflix, but the possibility is there and it is huge.
Consider what would happen if Sony and Microsoft followed suit. Get a PlayStation 4 and pay for access to games from PlayStations One, Two and Three. Buy an Xbox One, get Xbox Live Arcade, and get all you can play access to Xbox 360 and even original Xbox. Want to play “Morrowind”? It's not hard to find any more! Ever wonder what some of those Japanese-only games were like on PlayStation 2? Wonder no more!
This is a terrific option for one simple reason: it doesn't cannibalize current sales of much of anything at all. Many of these games are out of print, so making them available on a one-price subscription basis opens the floodgates to let players in the door while not interfering with the current sales system. Many objected to Netflix—eventually leading to the embargoes of various lengths with the various studios—being able to offer DVDs and Blu-rays when the movies released; why buy a DVD, after all, when it can be rented on release day? But that issue was soon overcome by a little creative marketing and a few delays; why can't this work for games?
Of course, there are the issues of rights; Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony don't necessarily have access to all the games that appeared on previous systems to offer them up in an all-you-can-play buffet. But the ones that are available should make for a very exciting package, and give gamers some staggering value. This could be the kind of thing that opens up a whole new revenue stream for game makers, and the kind of thing that really helps the industry out as a whole.