We’re just one month away from the 3DS eShop's first anniversary, a busy period that’s seen the service grow and evolve. A modest start, including a slow-burn of actual 3DS exclusives, made way for a vibrant period of service improvements, game demos and, most importantly, some top quality games. The shop front has seen the latest update, with a new two-tiered look that gives exposure to weekly ‘channels’ and spotlights on games, with the standard categories below. All of these enhancements taken together demonstrate that Nintendo is actively thinking about and improving its download service on 3DS, a sharp contrast to the history of the Wii Shop Channel.
In fact, it’s been tempting to write off the Wii Shop entirely, mainly due to a dearth of interesting new titles and a poor output, overall, of Virtual Console games in recent times. The digital store shouldn't be abandoned, however, as Nintendo may have a substantial period where many gamers who dipped their toes into a new hobby with Wii won’t immediately upgrade to the new console on the block. There’s also the fact that many developers still have titles on the Wii Shop and Wii U may carry WiiWare onto its platform, leaving some still holding out hopes of income for their efforts.
With that in mind, we propose that Nintendo tries something bold with its online platforms not only on 3DS and Wii U, but Wii as well. The first part is that these platforms should introduce a flexible pricing structure that accommodates sales and discounts, as it’s difficult for titles that have been available for a long period to attract any attention without any incentives to offer the consumer. That’s a basic idea, however, and we think that there’s a specific way for Nintendo to attract the attention of gamers accustomed to smartphone prices, support smaller ‘indie’ developers and avoid the pricing race to the bottom that it fears. Nintendo should introduce ‘humble bundles’.
Sell games, make money and do good for charity
For those unfamiliar with the idea of a humble bundle, it’s a limited period special offer that includes multiple titles at a price set by the consumer. Two prominent websites that run these promotions are http://www.humblebundle.com/ and http://www.indieroyale.com/, both running similar projects, though in this case our main focus will be Humble Bundle. At regular intervals Humble Bundle unveils a new package of games, sometimes focused on a specific theme or developer, and invites gamers to pay whatever price they want. The twist is that paying above a certain amount earns extra content, which can include an extra game or soundtrack, for example.
The Humble Bundle has covered a variety of platforms so far including Mac, PC and Android, and a purchase provides you with download copies of the games through the bespoke online set up. What truly impresses about the process of purchasing a bundle is that you can determine how your voluntary payment is distributed, with three recipients: the website itself for running costs, the developers and a nominated charity. You are perfectly entitled to pay above the minimum if you please, and you can determine if you want most of your cash to go to charity or the developers: you're in control.
Why do we think this could work for Nintendo? For one thing, it would help to break the static pricing of download titles and potentially attract apathetic gamers to the platform. These offers typically only run for roughly one week at a time, with a period of a month or more between promotions, so it wouldn’t have to represent a permanent downgrading of prices. Nintendo could also set a minimum price, so if a bundle contained three eShop titles priced at £4.50 each, or perhaps WiiWare games at 800 Nintendo Points each, Nintendo could set a minimum contribution of £6 or 1200 Points, still representing a saving of 50% or more. Unlike Humble Bundle, Nintendo could even allow gamers to buy the games individually, if they already have some of the titles in the bundle but want to contribute.
Reviving and supporting indie developers
There will always be some who'll complain if they’ve paid full price for a game only to see it appear at a discount, but that’s the reality of a gaming hobby. Even at retail, you may buy a title at full price only to find it in the discount bin the following week; it's just part of gaming's rich tapestry. The Humble Bundle partially avoids that issue, though not on every occasion, by exclusively distributing a title before it arrives on Google Play for Android, for example. That would be unlikely in a Nintendo equivalent.
This kind of promotion could be invaluable to low profile or under-appreciated titles worthy of a boost of publicity.
To dwell on that is missing the point entirely, however. This kind of promotion could be invaluable to low profile or under-appreciated titles worthy of a boost of publicity, especially when eShop style ‘channels’ aren’t enough on their own. The developers will receive less per unit, clearly, but will nevertheless have more gamers experiencing their titles. Nintendo's contract — at least in the case of WiiWare — doesn't pay out to developers until they've passed a certain sales threshold, so such bundles could also help some developers receive the first pay cheque for their hard work.
An indie bundle also has a feel-good factor for the buyer: you have the freedom either to save money or pay full price, while also determining how much of your cash – within sensible boundaries – is given to the charity and developers involved in the promotion. It’s a limited offer that can grab attention and encourage gamers to try titles that they may have ignored otherwise. It’s marketing for a good cause.
With a simple system update the infrastructure for these promotions could be added to the 3DS eShop, as well as Wii U’s service. The same can be said for the Wii Shop, however, and that is a platform that is in greater need of a new lease of life. Wii isn’t dead yet, and even accounting for systems that have been traded in or packed away over the years, there are still millions of them in living rooms around the world; some will still be there even after Wii U arrives. As mentioned earlier we can also speculate, if the 3DS eShop is any indication, that WiiWare titles will be available on Wii U’s download store, so these developers and titles still deserve support.
It’s possible that a number of WiiWare titles, some of which are undoubtedly excellent games, have made little or no money. The idea that a download game should cost the same throughout its entire lifespan is archaic, and defies the logic of the industry: if physical retail games drop in price, why not downloads? The pricing on Nintendo’s download services doesn’t need to join the ‘race to the bottom’ seen on smartphones and tablets, but it does need to be active, compelling and competitive. Small developers need help, and limited edition indie bundles could give them the exposure they need, while giving gamers an opportunity to enjoy new games, give to charity and feel good about their purchase. Everyone wins.