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Talking Point: Wii U eShop Discounts Show It's a Vibrant Marketplace, Not a Monopoly

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

Nintendo's digital strategy continues to evolve

This week it was confirmed that a sale on Ubisoft's retail Wii U downloads, which arrived in North America in mid-February, will hit Europe this week. It's the latest small landmark in what's become a regular series of subtle evolutions in Nintendo's download platform strategies, and one that strongly demonstrates the company willingly loosening its grip of control over the platforms.

The eShop stores, especially the 3DS equivalent, still appear to be relatively tightly managed by Nintendo; they are closed platforms, after all. The benefit is that the stores aren't a free-for-all with games arriving having undergone no testing or real approval of any kind; yes, we still sometimes get buggy duds, but at least they load properly and generally function, even if still on occasion proven to be rubbish. Aside from some flops, the eShop platforms have also delivered a consistent stream of good quality downloads — both on 3DS and at this early stage of Wii U's life — that shows life in Nintendo's policy of fostering talented developers and encouraging them onto its platforms.

Yet what the Ubisoft discounts and, perhaps more importantly, the download-only equivalents show us is how the strings are being loosened with each successive platform. It wasn't so long ago that the big N's download platforms on Wii and DSi prompted nightmare tales of woe from some developers. Some of the issues included painfully limited download sizes (affected by modest hardware), slow processes to apply updates or improvements and — of vital importance to developers — Nintendo's insistence on setting prices. A lot of these aspects have been revealed through broken NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) and whispered conversations, but they all played a part in limiting and restricting even those developers keen to be on the consoles. When you combine the lack of control over pricing with non-existent discount promotions and the well-publicised sales threshold, it was a challenge for some games to make any money at all, which is sustainable for no-one.

The birth of the 3DS eShop helped to resolve a number of these issues, which appears to have been rewarded with a loyal band of small development studios pledging themselves and multiple efforts to the platform. It seems that the dreaded threshold has been dropped, while reading between the lines of developer comments (often taking to forums to defend prices, for example) suggest some greater input into pricing. We've seen some game updates arrive — though admittedly not many — and file size seems to be no real issue at all, with some download-only games taking up a hefty chunk of SD card space. The 3DS store has seen other long-awaited evolutions in recent times, such as regular demo offerings and retail downloads, a first for the big N. It's easy to roll eyes and say "welcome to 2006, Nintendo" but, hey, given the hardware capabilities since 3DS arrived, the company has moved pretty quickly in recent times.

It's the Wii U eShop, however, that's genuinely upping Nintendo's download performance further, while also highlighting some areas where the handheld equivalent can still improve. We've seen early experiments in free-to-play/flexible content offerings (not perfect, but a start), and in our extensive range of Developer Interviews with Wii U launch publishers last year, a picture emerged of a variety of studios — ranging from those loyal to Nintendo and others joining in for the first time — being rather impressed at the company's attitude and accommodations towards them. We were told about the accessible — and cost-free — option to make updates to games, and Nintendo's willingness to offer support as and when it's needed. One major point, and one that meant a lot to developers with experience on multiple platforms, was control over pricing; not only can developers set a price (though we imagine some guidelines are in place), but also run discount promotions. Trine 2: Director's Cut developer, Frozenbyte, described control over pricing as "huge", while Martin Pichmair of Broken Rules explained the value of running promotions after a potential mis-fire in the initial price.

In fact, sales are becoming a regular feature on the store; more importantly, they work. Broken Rules' most recent discount — accompanied by a major update — for Chasing Aurora has seen it rise (at the time of writing) to be the number one "recent bestseller" on the European store, no doubt also enhanced by an advertisement of the promotion at the top of the home page. That kind of dynamic design to the storefront — with promotions, demos and DLC joining in — simply didn't exist on DSi or Wii, and allows Nintendo's platform to compare more favorably with rival systems.

And then we have Ubisoft's sale, bringing a number of major retail titles down to more competitive prices. It's no secret that Wii U software discounts are easily found on the high street and from online retailers, so moves like this are absolutely vital to make the eShop a viable option. The debate about pricing for retail downloads is keenly fought in Nintendo circles, with one side bemoaning the high prices of most games, and Nintendo able to point to notable examples of 3DS titles, in particular, selling well as retail downloads due to convenience — Animal Crossing: New Leaf in Japan and Fire Emblem: Awakening in North America can both be held up as success stories. Convenience is arguably less relevant on Wii U — you're not carrying games around on your commute — so Ubisoft's sale finally offers software at a price comparable to those found by savvy shoppers.

It's not 100% clear whether this initiative is down to Ubisoft or Nintendo (the timing of the North American promotion prompted us to jokingly label it as Rayman Legends damage limitation), but the end result is a genuinely enticing set of prices for those who haven't taken the plunge on titles such as ZombiU or Assassin's Creed III. The timing also makes sense in light of Nintendo's unwillingness to encourage download retail games to overtly threaten retailers. While frustrating for games to see high download prices, from a business perspective Nintendo can't afford to burn bridges with retailers — even if some would like to say otherwise, the world as a whole isn't completely ready to abandon physical discs for download-only gaming. Examples such as this Ubisoft offer make sense, however, as these titles have had their time as full-priced, new games, and are now entering a later phase of dropping down the shelves at lower prices. We'd hope that retail promotions will flow freely in future as titles get older and undergo discounts on the high street; if download retail games are all about offering an alternative choice, as Satoru Iwata has stated, timed price reductions will help to make them a more competitive choice.

These retail discounts, and the Wii U eShop as a whole, aren't anything ground-breaking, nor are they the finished product. Yet at least this new generation of online stores from Nintendo is comparable to rivals, if not excelling or blowing them away. We should also take note of how quickly Nintendo's download model has evolved and improved since the eShop brand arrived on 3DS in 2011. In a short time the big N has done a fair bit of catching up; if it continues at this rate, then its chances of successfully balancing a closed platform with a welcoming developer's environment are at least just that — a chance.

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User Comments (39)



GameLord08 said:

Good feature. Glad to see someone else has taken notice of this - it's nice to see Nintendo's digital strategy evolving bit by bit.



AlexSora89 said:

Wait, so learning that lesson only now counts as evolution? Sorry to burst people's bubbles, but the fact that lowering prices helps selling games is, um, common knowledge. Doing that soon enough, now that would be evolution.



Ren said:

well said AlexSora99 . If they had figured this out back when the rest of humankind did it would have been one of many things that might have convinced me to gamble with the WiiU, but it's too late for that.
Also get ready for the fans to say Yay-horray, when just this kind of loose regulation on apples' massive app store caught the flames of everyone here for being so closed. For such an 'innovator' it's sad to see Nintendo suffering so from their own closed minded policies.
I was excited about this sale, because it's prices were laughable to me at launch with all the other problems with WiiU's launch, but it still sits as a barren place with no exciting 1st party titles and all the good ports bailing. lots of solid ports from the other big AAA games would have saved that launch but how could that happen with no internal storage, a slow OS and the mystery frame rate problems, (etc, etc.) I love Nintendo but WiiU is a sad Saturn situation to me.



GameLord08 said:

@AlexSora89: Relatively, definitely not. For Nintendo, yes. I acknowledge they're slow and pretty closed-minded in certain areas, but finally adapting to the online environment. However, I can't speak for others.

Other than that, I'd quite confidently say that the current situation won't be the status-quo for the Wii U over time, but I doubt Nintendo will even reach that time without an imminent strategy. The Wii U does have potential, but it lacks a demonstration of such - presentation has been a weakness of Nintendo's for some time, even with the GameCube and Wii. Shame.



ThomasBW84 said:

@AlexSora89 Other platforms took a long time to start discounting downloads (Origin, even Steam back in the day). I very clearly said that Nintendo's still playing catch up, but it's made a lot big strides in recent months, getting it closer to being more of a final product.



OptometristLime said:

Please take the negativity elsewhere; Nintendo is dam*ed if they don't, dam*ed if they do.

Small typo (feel free to delete this, after ):
"The benefit is that the stores aren't a free-for-all with games arriving having undergone no testing or real approval of any kind; yes, we still sometimes get buggy duds, but at least they load properly and generally function,
even if still on occasion [are?] proven to be rubbish."



Pichuka97 said:

Keep it up Nintendo. Soon I want to see weekly discounts on 3DS and maybe updating the Gameboy games with multiplayer.



SCAR said:

I think they're doing pretty well. Nintendo has the Deluxe Digital Promo for now(easy to do and pays off IMO), PSN is trying to get you to use their credit card(kinda iffy to me), and Xbox Live is letting you do surveys and certain actions to get freebies online(not bad, but not quite there yet, you do alot for a little most of the time). The best part of DDP, is that you don't need any separate account(like the Xbox one, too) and it's pretty easy to get the codes vs. applying for a credit card or doing a bunch of other tasks besides buying games online.
They are playing catch-up to an extent, but they do bring some new stuff to the table with an occasional discount on hand.
I am pretty disappointed in ZombiU though. It's a fun game, but mine glitched so I had to erase my file. I'm wondering when that patch will be here...



Bankai said:

"PSN is trying to get you to use their credit card(kinda iffy to me)"

Um. No.

Anyway. Regarding this feature. The fact there are games on the eShop that Nintendo didn't make proves it is not a monopoly.



TheAdza said:

The eShop needs some more games stat. It's nice having the sales, but more content would be better.



alLabouTandroiD said:

I'm interested in about every eShop game Even The Cave if they give that one an update that allows an inventory. Discounts make the buying decision that much easier.
Once Mighty Switch Force: Hyper Drive Edition gets to 5€ again, it will be mine. Didn't have a Wii U back then und it's not worth much more to me since i have the 3DS game.



AlexSora89 said:

@ThomasBW84, @Ren & @GameLord08: Well said, all of you. You've stated good points - however, we shouldn't forget that while being undoubtedly the gaming company that's been around the longest, Nintendo is also (sadly) relatively new to digital delivery; despite that, when it comes to discount, Nintendo's never pulled the same stunts other companies did. For example, as far as my personal experience goes, Nintendo's "Player's Choice" lineup of games throughout the years never offered true "budget prices", and while the GameCube titles saw the discount in Europe as well, the GBA Player's Choice games never saw the light of day 'round these parts; its spiritual successor, the Wii "Nintendo Selects" aren't exactly cheap, going as far as copies of Wii Sports sold for a whopping 44 € price tag. Now compare that to, say, what Sony has done with discounts. Right now there are the PSP Essentials, a relatively wide range of PSP titles sold for 9,99 € each; also, the PSP holds the (dubious?) honor of having the cheapest game I've ever bought, Ape Escape P, that I've found for - I'm not kidding - 3,60 €, without said game even being shown to be in some kind of bargain bin.

Catching up with discounts would help Nintendo a lot already, especially with all those doom&gloom news we hear about nowadays. Nintendo would be amazed to see how many more customers they'd find if only they lowered their games' prices just enough - something like a 10 € discount might sell 1000 more copies alone, if not more. Nintendo's strategy of "cheap hardware, expensive software" (as a foil to Sony's "expensive hardware, cheap software") just... just doesn't work anymore. Or if it works, well, if doesn't do its job as well as it used to. Times have changed.



Cranky said:

So far so good for the eshop i suppose, but it has a long way to go. The speed is awful, there is a lack of DLC and the price of a full game via digital download is too high. Nintendo need to turn on the tap and release more of their back catalog instead of slowly drip feeding us games like they did with the Wii. The Wii U can perfectly emulate all of Nintendo's previous home consoles and handhelds. I know it can be done quickly, they managed to quickly release emulators with 10 Nes and 10 GBA games instantly for 3DS ambassadors. Personally I would love a service like PS+.



ajcismo said:

I can honestly say that I've been rather pleased with the eShops as far as the service goes. Better late than never, I guess.
The 3DS could use some tweaking in that its rather OCD in its layout, making it a bit difficult to really get a grasp as to how many titles/apps are available. But I do like how its updated weekly.
I've downloaded a few titles on the Wii U, some indie and some retail, and I really can't complain about download times or anything of that nature. Need For Speed took an hour to download last night for example. So not too bad in my opinion. I can complain about lack of updates and new software, but that should work itself out over time. My only real gripe is the lack of a Virtual Console. A working VC with the content that the Wii VC offers, and the ability to play on the gamepad, would be a system seller to the nostalgic older gaming crowd. Its a market that isn't gone after enough in the industry. Get the VC working in the eShop and more systems will sell.



GiftedGimp said:

One thing about wiiu eshop i really like is if you buy something you can use your card and not store your card details and be able to pay just that amount, theres no minimum spend or the need to credit your eshop balance first.
Xbox/Ps3 force you to credit your account by a set amount before you can purchase something, and on xbox you have to store your card details.



Slapshot said:

Nintendo is still far behind the competition and that all boils down to one very critical aspect: the games are locked to the console.

"PSN is trying to get you to use their credit card(kinda iffy to me)"

Yes, the PlayStation Credit Card is terrible. So terrible in fact that in the last year I've redeemed $90 USD in PlayStation Network Points and just ordered physical retail copies of both Sorcery and Sports Champions 2 last night, while still having enough points currently to redeemed another $20 USD network card - all by using my credit card regularly, as I would have had it been the card I cancelled to obtain the PlayStation Credit Card.

In fact, before I placed my order for Sorcery and Sports Champions 2, I could have gotten the just released God of War: Ascension Ultimate Edition bundle, but I passed it by, as I'm become quite tired of the series.

This is all not to mention that PS+ is literally shovelling great games out to its subscribers right now too: Vanquish, Mega Man Maverick Hunter X, Joe Danger: The Movie, Spec Ops: The Line, etc. - Nintendo's online offerings aren't even comparable to what Sony is doing right now, it's not even close.




@AlexSora89 Would discounts really help Nintendo that much? There are probably other reasons why the Wii U took off poorly, such as the lack of essential games, Nintendo's mistake of branding the Wii U too much like the Wii, and the naturally unfavorable ratios of various demographics.

For the company at least, it doesn't seem to be a good idea to simply assume that discounts will put Nintendo in a better condition when there are better alternatives.

How I think of this, the company would use discounts as the last measure. Something to be used only in exceptional cases.



Cygnus said:

It's like they forgot about that other platform they have...what was it called again? The 4DM?



AlexSora89 said:

@grimbldoo: Well, I merely stated another point to discuss after agreeing with the valid points I saw in the replies to my first comment. That's all.

@FOREST_RANGER: I didn't say discounts for first-party/second-party Nintendo games are some kind of salvation - they're more like an option Nintendo should start considering for once. Then again, if they've never cut their prices on any game they've made, they won't start now for sure. But if Nintendo starts discounting something, well... it would help. Maybe it won't change everything, but a few more copies of NSMBU could be sold.



SCAR said:

I'm not even sure if you're being sarcastic...
I don't even like credit cards in general, but I think the argument with PS+ doesn't really hold COMPLETEY true though. My PS+ subscription just expired a week ago and I'm not renewing. It seemed great at first, but they didn't really offer me anything I didn't already have or could of had cheaper(as unbelievable as that sounds). I could have spent $50 on the DLC games I actually liked and not had them ripped away from me within a year. Not to mention alot of the 'hardcore' games that got boring years ago, go on sale once the hype is dead, and the massive audience is lost.



brandonbwii said:

I always felt Nintendo not discounting 1st party games allows for 3rd party and especially indie games to succeed.

As much as we complain (present company included) Nintendo could charge nearly double for their titles and we'd still buy them. That's just the power of Nintendo product.



Slapshot said:

@SCAR392 Yes, I was being sarcastic, but what I said about what my I've gotten in rewards from my PlayStation Credit Card is indeed true. On the PS+ front, it's to each his own. I don't have the time to play half the things I get from PS+, but what I do get from it is more than enough to warrant the $50 a year's price for me.



Lyndexer said:

I don't see why low selling games didn't get discounts earlier. Though,I don't know if this would be a good time to put discounts considering how I'm saving my currency for later games around the holidays.



KFlow325 said:

Mega Man 3 WOULD STILL BE FUN! But NES megaman is pretty dang awesome just by themselves...all 6....



Ren said:

good point about the VC and gamepad. I still use my Wii for all the great games I've downloaded, VC and WiiWare. If those worked through the WiiU AND played on the gamepad, I'd get up and buy a WiiU right now.
But somehow they figured they'd use the same model as if it's early days online and trickle out all that content like it's a prize. All that cool functionality and the great Wii download library is locked on the old Wii? that's crazy talk; I'm still playing retro city and happy as a clam, why do I need HD unless I can use all my VC titles on the little pad? I'm not going to dump all my classics and start over to buy them again just to play Nintendo Land and 'almost' ports of year old games.



SpaceApe said:

Love the idea of the E-Shop but Nintendo still lacks good games. It has some but not enough and still lacking in the dlc support area such as ME 3 and Black Ops 2.



Dpullam said:

I'm glad to see that Nintendo's digital services are improving. Now if only the Wii U would get more retail games. At least Windwaker and Pikmin 3 are on the way.



DerpSandwich said:

Nintendo has always been stingy with their pricing. I mean, a game on 360 or PS3 will go down to $20 sometimes under a year, but Nintendo's first party games will stay at full price for the majority of the system's life cycle! They're also really good at charging full price for very simple/easy to develop games.

Having said that, I was incredibly glad when they started rolling out discounts on both eShops. I was nearly jumping for joy when that handful of games went on sale on the Wii U eShop a few months back. Discounting games is a great strategy and very important in this new digital age, and I'm so happy to see Nintendo getting in on it when I honestly thought they never would.



datamonkey said:

I just hope that Nintendo sort out this ridiculous limitation on downloading mature content in most European countries due to German laws.

It is an easy fix. All they need to do is use geo-location on IP addresses to determine which users are in Germany or not. Why this has not been done is beyond me and shows NoE to be even more useless than they already appear.



Sun said:

I read the article and I agree with the bigger part. Nintendo needs to offer freedom to developers and the prices must go down. But if you look at eShop you still see Pilotwings Resort at 44.99€ and you can either laugh or cry at it because it doesn't make any point. eShop needs to improve its own reputation.



datamonkey said:

My real concern with the pricing is if retail games disappear completely we will be left with no alternative to the high eshop prices.

This will simply mean I get to play less games....



Slapshot said:

@ThomasBW84 Yep. It really hurts the console when it comes to Nintendo's online strategy. I think come its next console, we definitely won't see this happen again.

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