A recent report from Video Games Chronicle revealed that Nintendo is considering getting into non-fungible tokens and the metaverse, two contentious fields in modern media and video games. The company said in an interview that it feels there is “potential in this area,” but that it’s not sure “what joy we can provide” with the technology yet.
This response should come as no surprise to those who’ve been following the intersection of gaming and NFTs for the last few months. A significant number of developers and publishers are considering entering the field or have already done so, even though many are pulling the plug on their plans due to widespread fan outcry.
Nintendo is the last company that should be considering NFTs. For several console cycles now, critics and gamers across the world have complained at the company’s glacial pace. Though raw performance isn’t everything when it comes to gaming, Nintendo consoles are generally considered to be underpowered and lacking basic entertainment functionality when compared to its competitors. If Nintendo is truly interested in getting into the metaverse, NFTs, and related technologies, it needs to modernize its own systems first to catch up to the present before leaping into the future.
Nintendo is the only of the three major console makers to not have some sort of subscription service that allows players to access a rotating variety of games. Sony has PlayStation Plus, a service that will likely see an overhaul in the next few years, while Microsoft has Game Pass, the clear winner here in terms of both price and selection. Both allow players to pay one monthly fee to access a select suite of titles, as well as add-ons and DLC for other titles. Thanks to Microsoft’s huge investment in the future of Game Pass with the impending purchase of Activision Blizzard, it seems as though these Netflix-style services are here to stay.
Nintendo doesn’t have anything even close to what the other two console makers offer. Nintendo Switch Online subscribers have access to a large list of NES and SNES titles, while those who purchase the very clunkily-named Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack can access a smaller handful of Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis titles, as well as the Animal Crossing: New Horizons Happy Home Paradise DLC.
If Nintendo wants to compete with the behemoth that will be an Activision Blizzard-supported Game Pass, it has to beef up its online offerings. The company has never been about direct competition with other console makers, but competing and surviving are two different things. Nintendo could modernize by offering a Game Pass-like service that offers a rotating selection of eShop games for free to subscribers. To keep its kid-friendly image, the company could create themed tiers within the service, like a kids category or an adult tier that includes M-rated games.
Preserving its legacy
If Nintendo were to revamp Nintendo Switch Online to feature a more Game Pass-like selection of current games, it would likely take away the privilege of accessing the retro titles that are currently included in the subscription tiers. This presents an opportunity for the company to do something it’s needed to do for years: Provide better and easier access to its huge catalog of retro and legacy titles.
The company has one of the strongest back catalogs in all of gaming, and giving players more consistent access to not only NES, SNES, and N64 titles, but also GameCube, Wii, Wii U, and handheld titles, would be a massive step forward. Getting access to these retro games just isn’t as easy as it used to be.
It’s not just about preserving the actual games. Many players want to listen to the music of these old titles through modern sites like YouTube. Nintendo has earned a terrible reputation for issuing takedown notices to any creator who attempts to upload their games’ music to the site, even if the creator isn’t making any money off of the content. At the same time, Nintendo hasn’t made much of an effort to put its memorable tunes in an easy-to-listen-to format; for many games, the only way to enjoy their music is to actually boot them up.
To ensure that future fans have the ability to enjoy the games that got us to where we are today, Nintendo would do well to make more than its biggest, most popular legacy titles available for easy play and company-sanctioned emulation. While we’re all looking eagerly to the future of Nintendo, it’s worth keeping these titles accessible and playable simply in the name of preservation.
Plus, it would also be a great way for the Big N to make money off of nostalgia, which is something it already specializes in.
Another of the most-complained-about parts of Nintendo’s consoles are their lack of straightforward communication options. There’s still no good solution for voice chat, and most first-party in-game communications are limited to a handful of preselected words and text phrases, like in Splatoon 2. Adding friends is still done through friend codes, a clumsy and hard-to-use system. Though these measures are likely in place to prevent kids from experiencing the wide world of online toxicity and harassment, it still doesn’t make sense that players need to use a cumbersome app to talk. You may as well just use Discord.
Speaking of Discord, incorporating a few of that platform’s best features would give Nintendo’s communication systems a massive leap into the future. Allowing players to stay in voice chat together across games and activities would be the bare minimum action to future-proof the Switch. Creating a two-factor authentication system where players must log in via their phones to use in-game open text and voice chat would also prevent young children from gaining access to these systems. Just because Nintendo wants to cater to kids doesn’t mean that the rest of us have to be hamstrung in our options.
Even if Nintendo decides to pursue NFTs, the metaverse, or any other crypto-related technologies in its games, it’ll be late to the party. As was demonstrated with mobile games, Nintendo almost always takes a cautious, conservative approach to new consumer technologies; it prefers to stick with its storied philosophy of “lateral thinking with withered technology” and reuse what’s available. I doubt there’s any imminent danger of Mario or Link NFTs hitting the market.
This cautious approach means that it has plenty of time to fix the more pressing issues that players and fans have been bringing up for decades. Regardless of whether Nintendo enters crypto territory in the future, modernizing its technology and its approach to player relationships are essential to its continued success. Consumer technology has given Nintendo a mile, but it’s only taken an inch.
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