This week it was announced that Nintendo of Europe had established an agreement with retailer GAME, for it to exclusively sell select download codes from the high street and its website; it's the first serious move to match up to similar download cards already available in Japan. The GAME retail group has stores across Europe as well as its online presence, so gamers across the region will have the opportunity to buy download codes redeemable in the eShop, often at prices lower than those on the store itself. While it's tempting to say, "why would I buy a download code from a shop?", there is a marketplace for this initiative.
The core reason why this idea has a valid role to play, and why a similar roll-out in North America would be worth exploring, is simply that some gamers like the idea of "going digital", owning games directly on hardware rather than on discs or carts, but aren't in the position — whether for practical reasons or as a personal choice — to use a credit card on the 3DS or Wii U eShop. There's the option, of course, of buying fund cards in stores at fixed values, but that leads to a Nintendo Points-esque fiddle where you need to spend more than the value of your game to top up your account; card fund increments rarely fit snugly with software prices. If your game is included in the GAME range of download cards, it's no longer a case of combining fund cards to make the download.
Considering there are gamers out there that prefer downloading their games to SD cards and hard drives, this could be a valuable outlet to pick up more Wii U and 3DS games; we shouldn't forget, either, how important trade-ins are to many gamers in order to enjoy the latest releases. Speaking to a local GAME manager at the Wii U launch last year, when there were whispers of Nintendo planning to introduce more download cards and options, it was made clear to us that redeemable codes for download games, DLC and in-game currency for the likes of the FIFA Ultimate Team mode on Xbox 360 and PS3, were among the most popular products in that store. Again, it may potentially seem like an alien concept to many in the Nintendo Life userbase — we're all connected enough to be sharing our Nintendo enthusiasm in an online community, after all — but we're not necessarily the target audience.
As was explained to us, a lot of younger gamers and their parents buy download product codes, as it's a more controlled means of purchasing these extras than saving credit card details on a system — with occasional media reports of enormous bills being accumulated by mischievous youngsters, caution isn't surprising. These are consumers that simply prefer paying directly to a retailer with cash in hand or by trading-in old games, and browsing any GAME store prior to this eShop announcement you'd see a significant area given up to redeemable download cards for various games on both PS3 and Xbox 360. It's clear that what we were told, in terms of the value of these products to the store, was absolutely right; why would GAME give up valuable shelf space to download codes if they weren't attracting sales?
So what about this initiative specifically? For one thing we have a decent selection to start off. The list of 3DS games is lengthier due to the larger catalogue, which is also restricted across both systems to Nintendo-distributed games; perhaps understandable for an initial foray into the market, but expansion to offer more third-party games would be welcome. The GAME exclusivity itself has pros and cons — a benefit is that it solidifies a key relationship with a major high-street retailer and hopefully will lead to greater stock of major releases, but the negative is a potential weakening of relations with other retailers. In truth it's a tricky situation and Nintendo can't please everyone, and it'll be interesting to see whether that exclusivity wears off in future.
What these cards also represent for GAME, at least we imagine this to be the case, is a lower risk. Less shelf space is needed, and we would speculate that it's less of a concern of excessive stock; we can't imagine that the cost-saving benefits for Nintendo — significantly less packaging, paper and, of course, no disc — aren't being passed in some way to the retailer. While that's admittedly speculation, GAME can advertise the exclusivity and perhaps attract additional custom from that target audience in the 3DS and Wii U camp. The retailer can also plug additional products such as SD cards — though hard drives aren't currently on the GAME website — while a minor concern will be that stores educate consumers to ensure they have the necessary storage for their download. From Nintendo's perspective, meanwhile, this is a good advertisement for the eShop in general, as these codes are still ultimately redeemed by launching the service on each respective system; we also believe, based on experiences with download codes from Amazon for Nintendo Land following launch day stock issues, that redeemed codes contribute to the Nintendo Network Premium promotion.
And then there's pricing. In a move that is arguably surprising, Nintendo is actively allowing GAME to undercut the standard eShop prices. Practically across the board GAME is offering downloads at a lower price online, and while examples such as Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate have the same price for a physical copy or download code, the just-released Fire Emblem: Awakening costs £39.99 for a physical copy — the same as the 3DS eShop — but the download code is cheaper at £34.99. That's just at the time of writing, and GAME actually offered Fire Emblem: Awakening at a much lower price as a pre-order, but is proof that there's wiggle room for downloads to be priced competitively. We doubt it'd be hard to find cheaper prices elsewhere, but once again it's all about the context of the target audience. In store prices are typically higher than these examples, but there's the convenience of paying with cash or making trade-ins to reduce the cost, while the website offers lower prices if you are happy to pay with a credit card.
The coming weeks and months will be interesting for this promotion, both for Nintendo and GAME. We've previously written about the importance of Nintendo retaining a solid presence in retailers, and Nintendo of America has recently released some impressive download sales; Nintendo of Europe's move will allow it to jostle for more shelf-space, get into the minds of high street shoppers and try to ensure that it can return similarly impressive eShop sales. Nintendo has often argued that download games are all about choice, so even if its own platform gets undercut by GAME, it ultimately brings the download store to the attention of more current and potential 3DS / Wii U gamers.
Focus now turns to North America, to see whether a similar high-street presence of download codes rolls out in a big way. We're not talking about the occasional release being on a redeemable card, but a sustained promotion covering a wide-range of titles in stores across the regions. The GAME / Nintendo of Europe deal, and its exclusivity, has some areas where the reasoning can be debated — as is always the case — but it certainly does the eShop's credentials no harm.
Are you interested in buying download codes from retailers? (187 votes)
Yes, I like the convenience of using trade-ins/paying with cash etc
Sometimes, if the downloads are cheaper than on the eShop
I'm open to the idea, but I decide on physical vs digital on a game by game basis
Not really, I prefer physical copies
Not really, I'd rather just use the eShop directly
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