Few digital distribution businesses are as mystifying and mercurial as Nintendo’s. While services like Steam run sales that let you buy major AAA HD video games like Batman: Arkham City for less than $10, Nintendo still sells 20-year-old games from the Super Nintendo for $8 or more then tells you you can’t download it on more than one system. Since opening for business alongside the Wii in 2006, Nintendo’s Virtual Console has frustrated audiences far more than it’s convinced them to part with their cash, and the company’s glacial trickle of releases doesn’t ease their high prices.
The latest peculiar move in Nintendo’s digital distribution strategy: Nintendo will finally release Game Boy Advance games via the Nintendo 3DS eShop. German website 3DS-Online found that Nintendo Europe recently uploaded are assets for Game Boy Advance games Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga, Super Mario Ball, and Mario Golf Advance Tour. This will be the first time that Nintendo has made Game Boy Advance games commercially available since it stopped publishing them in 2007.
Of course, Nintendo has legally made some Game Boy Advance titles available to Nintendo 3DS owners. People who bought a Nintendo 3DS between March and July of 2011 were compensated with 20 downloadable games following the machine’s price drop, 10 of which were Game Boy Advance games including Metroid Fusion and The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap. The releases made it clear that the system’s games would eventually be released on the eShop, it was just unclear as to when or how much they will be.
Cost will certainly be high for these old games too. Since Nintendo priced NES games at $5 and SNES games at $8 on Wii, the Game Boy game pricing of around $4 to $6 means Game Boy Advance games could cost as much as $9, an absurd premium for games dependent on emulators to run, not hardware.
Nintendo is trying to evolve its business by creating parity between physical products and digital releases. All of Nintendo’s Wii U games will be available as digital downloads as well as packaged goods. The same for Nintendo 3DS games. For Nintendo’s retro releases, though, the company needs to make them available at low costs on every one of its machines, and customers need to be able to download them on more than one device. The schizophrenic releases and unreasonable pricing are blocking Nintendo from having a competitive, unique digital business.