There was some surprising news today with the upcoming closure of Club Nintendo, bringing an end to Nintendo's only consistent consumer loyalty programme. There have often been promotions to encourage gamers to buy and enjoy more systems and games, with the Nintendo Network Deluxe / Premium promotion on the Wii U being a notable example. When that closed at the end of 2014, however, the question was simple - what's next? We hope that the eventual successor to Club Nintendo will answer those questions.
The issue has certainly been on our minds in recent times, prompted by the end of the Wii U promotion in particular - we highlighted incentives for loyal customers as a New Years resolution for Nintendo, and also included the same thought as a key feature we wanted in the 14th January Nintendo Direct; it didn't make it into those broadcasts, but hasn't been far behind.
To kick off with the soon-to-be-departed Club Nintendo, in some respects it's not a significant loss. It's a promotion with infrastructure very much catered to the Wii / DS age, and has become increasingly out-of-touch as the years passed by. In Europe rewards are largely in the form of physical items and a handful of digital wallpapers and ringtones; some pricier treats have worth scrabbling for, such as a Super Mario Galaxy soundtrack CD. Like many of these schemes the rewards demand a lot of purchases, and the surveys required for each and every claim of stars is a bit of an abomination; too many tick-boxes and the same questions over and over again.
The North American equivalent is different, arriving later back in the day and incorporating a coins system as opposed to the stars in PAL territories. The rewards approach is separate, with monthly download options and an increasingly limited set of physical merchandise choices, with the digital games often looping around with the passing of each month. Elite Rewards have been a source of extra annual treats, however, with attractive options prior to 2014's download-only approach.
It's difficult to be overly critical of Club Nintendo, as it's always been extras for 'free', as it's targeted at those most eager of fans that buy plenty of titles anyway. Nevertheless, it's been in a little bit of a rut, drifting along with occasional pleasing moments but often passing by unnoticed. Its fiddly survey-based approach and hit-and-miss rewards combined to strip it of potency.
Compared to the Wii U's Premium / Deluxe promotion, Club Nintendo was certainly 'of its time', an age when online was largely an activity for PCs alone. The Wii U service utilised the Nintendo Network ID to better effect, automatically logging home console eShop purchases and attributing points which, after a time, led to a code for $5 / £5 / €5 in funds. It was still a little archaic in that you had to manually check a website and obtain a redemption code - when it could in theory be automated to add funds to your account - but as a promotion with the home console it worked nicely. The key was that it was genuinely quite rewarding; you could typically buy a full-priced retail game on the eShop and be relatively confident that a small discount off your next purchase was due.
Nintendo has been clear that a new customer loyalty programme will arrive later in the year, and it's worth noting that it's been publicly pondering its next option since January 2014. Satoru Iwata said the following at that time, which is wordy but indicative of what could come next.
If we succeed in the redefinition of video game platforms that I speak of today, our account-based connections with consumers will become very clear. For example, until now it has been taken for granted that software is offered to users at the same price regardless of how many titles they purchase in a year, be it one, five or even ten titles. Based on our account system, if we can offer flexible price points to consumers who meet certain conditions, we can create a situation where these consumers can enjoy our software at cheaper price points when they purchase more. Here, we do not need to limit the condition to the number of software titles they purchase. Inviting friends to start playing a particular software title is also an example of a possible condition. If we can achieve such a sales mechanism, we can expect to increase the number of players per title, and the players will play our games with more friends. This can help maintain the high usage ratio of a platform. When one platform maintains a high active use ratio, the software titles which run on it have a higher potential to be noticed by many, which leads to more people playing with more titles. When we see our overall consumers, they generally play two or three titles per year. We aim to establish a new sales mechanism that will be beneficial to both consumers and software creators by encouraging our consumers to play more titles and increasing a platform's active use ratio without largely increasing our consumers' expenditures.
As we've highlighted in our year's end and pre-Nintendo Direct editorials, we're fans of the PlayStation Plus model and would welcome something similar, though we're doubtful that Nintendo would want to adopt a yearly subscription-based promotion. The Wii U's Network Promotion is a greater indication of what could come, while Nintendo's shown through one-off deals - such as the Smash Bros. CD and Mewtwo DLC offer on Club Nintendo - that it's more than willing to give us incentives to buy the biggest games.
A unified promotion that adopts a number of these ideas, utilises the Nintendo Network ID and functions across both the Wii U and 3DS - eShop and physical goods - could certainly do much to help fans and all Nintendo systems owners feel more appreciated. Satoru Iwata spoke of "flexible price points" and inviting players to try games, too - Nintendo adopted the 'introduce a friend for rewards' idea back on the Wii, so over a number of years the company has been trying out different concepts. The challenge is to bring the best of these ideas together, tie it to our accounts and make it intuitive, easy and rewarding to use.
In their own ways Sony and Microsoft reward those that pay regularly for content, particularly those coughing up an annual fee. Nintendo can top these programmes by taking a variety of ideas and forming a cohesive whole, a promotion that gives loyal fans more; hopefully with the minimum of fuss for the gamer and, in the name of all things sacred, no surveys. It could be a useful tool for promoting the Wii U and 3DS in this generation, but also set the template for future platforms.
Finally, it'll be a pity if the name Club Nintendo is entirely lost. As a phrase it's excellent, playing into that human instinct of wanting to belong to a group and have an affinity with other gamers. Unfortunately, all of the negatives we highlighted above - stagnant catalogues, low reward for big money spends, tedious surveys - means that the name may be considered in a poor light. It's a brand with history - in the form of third-party magazines in the '90s, particularly - but our instinct is that it'll be ditched.
Overall, we don't think the upcoming end of Club Nintendo should be something to mourn. It was far from perfect and - thanks to its out-dated approach and design - was ignored by many; these factors make its demise inevitable. It's a time for optimism, we'd suggest - Nintendo has talked the talk in terms of rewarding loyalty and enticing consumers in smart ways, and it has occasionally done so in some promotions, but now it has a chance to walk the walk.
We'll be seriously disappointed if the big N produces a re-skin and tweak to the Club Nintendo formula. It has a chance to utilise its own Nintendo Network and hardware to deliver a programme far grander, smarter and enticing. For dedicated fans, there's optimism that loyalty will soon be rewarded in greater ways; that'll benefit both us - the gamers - and Nintendo itself.