Before the Virtual Console, emulators provided the only way that people could relive their favourite gaming experiences of years past. Allowing players to download "rom" files and load them onto their personal computers and other platforms, their only real legal application is to allow those who have already purchased a game in another form to own a second copy. Needless to say, this has become one of the most widely utilised methods of pirating titles. Still, many posed the question of why Nintendo didn't release an emulator itself, giving new generations lawful access to its cherished library of classics. More or less, that's what it's done with the Virtual Console, first on the Wii and now the 3DS.
But this service is much more than a way to dump a load of roms onto a server and slap a price tag onto them. Work is done on titles that don't always translate perfectly from one system to another, including slight graphical glitches, for example. There's also the inclusion of instruction manuals, data on Shop pages and Nintendo's official websites and more, lending to them a more important feeling than a nondescript listing in an inventory of emulated games.
But the Ambassador programme has shown that Nintendo is not beyond embracing pure, no-frills emulation. Instruction manuals are basic, there's no restore point saving beyond the system's automatic retention of your last point in the game, and a few graphical aspects that aren't up to par with normal VC releases. There are also ten of them, instead of the one or two we normally receive every few weeks. While ratings and other factors contribute to games releasing at the slow trickle we've become accustomed to, certainly the more minimal porting process must help these hit the service at a faster rate.
Having now taken the step to include such emulation in the Ambassador programme, even on this somewhat small scale, Nintendo opens up many possibilities for the future. The NES titles on the service are to become available for all once updated with normal Virtual Console features; but what's to stop Nintendo pursuing ‘ambassador’ style releases on a larger scale? The company could continue to put out no-frills roms ahead of their normal releases, instruction manuals and graphical maintenance intact, at a reduced price. It could also let users download them for free, perhaps as a kind of demo to be removed once the full release hits.
There's also the idea of a paid-for service – it's an unlikely option, but for a small fee, many would perhaps prefer a larger catalogue of ready-to-play roms to just a few full releases every month. It's not so different from the Ambassador scheme, which is little more than a method of refunding players the difference between the cost of an at-launch 3DS and a reduced price 3DS, with 20 quick-and-easy no-frills roms; the same policy could be applied in reverse, with gamers opting in to pay for these bulk releases. Nintendo also has a chance to utilise such methods with the upcoming Wii U, a platform with which the company has pledged to reform its online service and really become a contender, as good as or better than the competition. It's possible that Nintendo could implement strategies unlike those pursued in the past, using the Ambassador scheme as a proving ground; only time will tell.
Would you download no-frills roms if Nintendo made them available, either as part of a paid-for service, at a reduced price, or as a free temporary pre-VC demo? Or would you prefer that the company continued with the way things are now, waiting longer and paying more for the quality checks, instruction manuals and online/ eShop game pages that come with every Virtual Console release? Voice your thoughts below!