The announcement during yesterday’s Super Mario Maker 2 Direct presentation that Nintendo is offering a new digital deal to Nintendo Switch Online subscribers has met with mixed opinion and a little confusion. Some fans have reacted with dismay that it’s a digital-only promotion and the savings tend to vary wildly depending on the games you choose and the region you’re in. On the other hand it’s something of a first for Nintendo. Discounts on games that have yet to be released? For a company that traditionally reduces its software prices only very rarely - and usually was part of a budget 'Player's Choice' line - this is big news.
If you missed the announcement, here’s a quick recap: Switch owners with a paid membership to the console's online service – the snappily titled Nintendo Switch Online – are now able to buy a pair of 'Game Vouchers' which can be redeemed for a selection of Nintendo-published games both old and new (or even unreleased). Prices vary according to region, with a pair of vouchers costing £84.00 / €99.00 / $99.99. Vouchers can be redeemed separately and expire 12 months after purchase, so you can wait for up to a year if there’s nothing you fancy (or don’t already own) in the current line-up.
There are some caveats to bear in mind, though. You will need to have an active subscription to redeem the vouchers, and users of the 7-day free trial also can’t buy them (you must be a fully-fledged NSO subscriber). Of course, you’re out of luck if you prefer physical carts, too; this promotion is digital-only.
Using this scheme, UK gamers could end up making some significant savings, especially if they’re new to the console and choose their games cannily. For example, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is £59.99 at the time of writing, as is Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. That makes a combined total of £119.98, meaning that purchasing them using Game Vouchers nets you a saving of £35.98. You also earn Gold Points as you do with any other eShop purchase, giving you 5% (or £4.20) to spend on the next thing you buy from Nintendo's digital store.
Those games are the two most expensive currently in the 'programme' (as it's called in the UK), and therefore inflate the savings. If you want to get the very best value for money, you’d be wise to avoid £39.99 titles such as Fitness Boxing, The World Ends With You: Final Remix and 1-2-Switch. However, even with games that cost £49.99, you’re making a saving of £7.99 on each title’s RRP, and that includes Mario Maker 2. A launch discount for a first-party Nintendo title? That's unheard of.
The savings in the US are a little less impressive, with price variations also reducing discounts somewhat in comparison to other territories. While Smash Bros. costs $59.99 and £59.99 in those respective territories, Mario Maker 2 is $59.99 in the US but £49.99 in the UK. There are still savings to be had, though. There’s also some confusion as to how much of a going concern this will be, with the Nintendo of America website highlighting that it's a limited time offer:
Fans with a paid Nintendo Switch Online membership can purchase a pair of Nintendo Switch Game Vouchers for just $99.99 through July 31, 2019.
Confusingly, it also states that ‘the selection of eligible software will continue to grow over time’, mirroring the UK website’s sentence that ‘more software will be added to the list of available titles as it is released’. Neither of those small print statements sound like it’s a time-limited deal, but that’s certainly the case in the US.
We contacted Nintendo UK who confirmed that there are no plans to end this offer and that the July limit applies specifically to the US; as suggested by the ‘Game Voucher Programme’ name on these shores, this looks to be continuing indefinitely. Presumably Nintendo of America's differing approach is down to the company being keen to avoid upsetting retailers in any way. As noted in the Nintendo Life office, there sadly aren't many retailers left in the UK to upset.
Ultimately, for gamers it’s a discount on first-party Nintendo games – including ones that are yet to release – so anybody who’s gone digital this generation will want to look carefully at the list for any titles they might have missed over Switch’s first two years. Couple the first-party output with some select third-party developed games like the upcoming Astral Chain and Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order, and we imagine most readers would be able to pick out at least two games that would make the promotion worthwhile, especially in the long run.
When viewed alongside the current ‘Go Digital’ sale on eShop, this makes it absolutely crystal clear that Nintendo is keen to double down on the benefits and cost-saving that digital distribution offers. We’re still a long way from physical carts going away – Nintendo’s audience perhaps more than any other video game company's skews younger and the ability to trade in games and give physical gifts is especially important to that demographic, not to mention vast swathes of gamers for whom internet connectivity is an ongoing, persistent issue or who simply prefer to have physical media on the shelf. The company won't be leaving those gamers behind any time soon.
However, it does highlight how Nintendo is keen to push users who are able to go digital in that direction. More and more young players are now thoroughly accustomed to digital-only games - many of them have grown up with apps and a total lack of physical media. The nostalgia and attachment some of us have to ripping the wrapping paper from a fresh cartridge on our birthday doesn’t necessarily transfer to kids these days – arguably most would prefer a card with eShop credit that they can spend how they like.
So, while these savings might not be earth-shatteringly generous, especially when compared to deals on other platforms, this is a significant step for Nintendo given its history of fiercely protecting prices of its first-party games and avoiding sales for so long. Arguably, it brings a version of the 'Player's Choice' or 'Selects' line to the digital store, but includes a much larger range of games.
We'd still expect a cheaper line of boxed games to come along at some point, although the beauty of going digital only means you don't have to worry about shelves with a handful of ill-fitting budget-line boxes - hands up if you've got a couple of irritating silver spines spoiling your GameCube shelf. Anybody?
For Nintendo, this Game Vouchers programme displays characteristically slow progress, although it's a step in the right direction that digital-only gamers will want to investigate. We doubt it'll tempt any die-hard physical players to cross over to the 'dark side', but these aren't insignificant savings, especially on brand new releases. We'll have to wait to see if Nintendo of America bring the promotion back periodically, but it'll be tough to avoid grabbing at least one pair of these Vouchers over the coming months.
Feel free to share your opinion on the Game Voucher promotion in the comments below.