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Is the End of Club Nintendo Also the End of the Physical Reward?
Club Nintendo’s 6 year run is quickly winding down and the ride has been rather rewarding to say the least. Currently sitting on my shelves are some pretty cool exclusive items that were only available for a limited time on Nintendo’s survey website. Although it can be argued that Club Nintendo has floundered over the past few years, especially in North America, it doesn’t take away the fact that Club Nintendo was the only place to get some really cool exclusive Nintendo items. For example soundtracks ranging from Majora’s Mask to Super Mario Galaxy , Hanafuda Cards decorated with classic Nintendo characters, t-shirts, posters, shoelaces, a Game and Watch console, a Mario hat, and even two collectable statues which are among some of the most impressive gaming gear to ever come out of Nintendo’s expansive merchandise catalog. March 31 was the last day to register for an account and get coins from surveys. June 30 will mark the end of the program forever. In the midst many gamers weighing their reward options before this exclusive club to Nintendo fans comes to a close, I find myself wondering if this will be the end of a physical reward system as a whole.
The Physical Reward is Totally a Product of the 80’s
As an avid reader of Nintendo Power growing up, I would always bug my mom to double check the mail-in insert found in the magazine before she mailed it off just to make sure that I would always get my reward. One of the coolest things about being a Nintendo Power reader was not only the expansive walkthroughs, tips, and the random stuff that was always included inside the magazine like a Star Fox origami airplane, or a Donkey Kong iron on shirt decal. But it was the physical rewards that you could get just for signing up and being a subscription holder. I have stacks of official Nintendo Power guides including Final Fantasy III, Super Metroid, The Legend of Zelda Majora’s Mask and many more that all came from just being a Nintendo Power subscriber. I still have shirts, belts, hats, toys, and even still listen to my Play it Loud CD every once in awhile when I’m feeling nostalgic.
Not only did simply being a Nintendo Power subscriber net you physical rewards, but Nintendo also included mini shopping guides that were inserted into the issues and the strategy guides themselves for even more exclusive physical items. I remember when Yoshi’s Island came out for the Super Nintendo and I received one of these guides in the mail which was full of plushies, hats, shirts, soundtracks, key chains, necklaces, and tons of other Yoshi’s Island merchandise that would just make your head spin. Before the internet ruled the world, being a kid in the late 80’s, early 90’s was not only about having access to all of these really cool and unique physical items that allowed you to show your friends and family your knowledge or admiration for a certain game. But more importantly physical items got people talking about the games that you were playing. Seeing a Super Metroid shirt at school just made people excited to try out the next big thing from Nintendo.
Why Do We Need This Stuff Again?
Looking back on it now, Nintendo has always been a company that understood if they were going to remain a household name then they needed to break out of the television and become more than just a platform for video games. And they did just that. Nintendo was everywhere back then. From Saturday morning cartoons to happy meals, to the millions of Game Boys stuffed into pockets and even on backpacks and in feature films. Nintendo seemed almost unstoppable; that was until a lot of us started to grow up. After a while when the Saturday morning cartoons became stale, and the over abundance of shirts and hats that were running rampant through Toys R’ Us and schools all across the world had begun to look ridiculous. It had seemed that the concept of the physical reward itself, going into the mid 90’s and into the early 2000’s, had started to become an outdated concept. Gaming as a whole quickly began to move into a time where the games themselves mattered more than the material items that were offered along with them. It was kind of weird personally when I received a Nintendo 64 dog tag from Nintendo Power when at the same time I was raiding tombs with Lara Croft on Playstation. Sure Star Fox 64 and Super Mario 64 remain some of my favorite games of all time, however there were unique and profound gameplay happening elsewhere and no one bothered you about signing up for rewards.
During this time the conversations about gaming had already begun to change from the gaming gear that everyone was wearing to the actual games themselves. I was shocked to discover that some of the kids in my sixth grade classes even knew what Materia was. The immersion of realism in gaming was far more important than what shirts or hats kids were wearing during class, or where you got them from. Games no longer were simply jump from this platform to that platform then beat the boss and repeat until you saved the world. Now games completely attached themselves to your cerebral cortex and never let their characters and worlds deplete themselves from your memory. Thanks to Chrono Trigger, Phantasy Star, Final Fantasy III and the like, gaming became something bigger than it once set out to achieve. This quickly made me realize that more and more people by the day were becoming interested in gaming because of the realistic nature that the games had to offer. Everyone at the start of the “3D” era was clamoring about how unbelievably good Final Fantasy VII was during lunch or how much fun it was to destroy your friends in Twisted Metal on the bus. I remember first entering the mansion in Resident Evil and just feeling completely overwhelmed by the amount of choices I had. There were just so many doors and I just never knew if I’d ever have enough bullets for what was lying behind each one. The N64 exhibited an insane amount of classic games as well like Majora’s Mask and Super Smash Bros so don’t think that I’m just bashing the N64 by any means as it still is hooked up to my T.V. today. However, with the increased draw towards realism and a sense of realistic authenticity in gaming, it seemed that the world that once offered Super Mario 64 hats or even Resident Evil 2 t-shirts as preorder incentives and rewards was rapidly shrinking.
The Beginning of the End
The rise of Brady game guides and websites like Gamefaqs.com really hindered the need and even the want for “free” guides that Nintendo would provide through Nintendo power. I remember printing out tons of guides and codes from Gamefaqs for free and keeping them in either the game cases themselves or in folders. Why pay $30 a year for a subscription to a magazine that would provide outdated news and tips when sites like 1up and GameSpy provided an arguably better and more connected experience that was updated regularly? At the same time Prima and other companies were creating really beautiful walkthroughs that could be bought for a fraction of the price of a Nintendo Power strategy guide through Nintendo’s subscription based service. I remember in 2000 when Final Fantasy IX arrived and inside the case was a pamphlet for a new online walkthrough service that offered tips and tricks by the company formally known as Square Soft called Play Online. The moment I went to the site and created a log in, I had already begun to experience the new digital world that was quickly ushering out the analog era which spoke for the physical reward.
Nintendo seemed to realize that they were indeed beginning to become out of touch with their fan base and that they needed to offer a more connected approach to their games and their consumers. And if Nintendo intended to stay relevant in the next generation of gaming then they needed another way to be able to connect with their fans. After several attempts to revive Nintendo Power Magazine like the complete revamp in 2005 that focused more on the Nintendo gaming community, in 2009 Nintendo retaliated with Club Nintendo, and in 2012 Nintendo published their last Nintendo Power issue and with it the last physical items offered through a Nintendo Power subscription. As a side note, why Nintendo Power online isn’t a thing today is beyond me.
The Physical Reward’s Comeback
Nintendo had switched their focus from a magazine subscription based service to a “free” online survey program that offered its fan base an outlet to connect with the games that they were creating. Club Nintendo really began to take off after Nintendo Power was officially over and it offered fans a brand new way to get the items that they have come to know and love from Nintendo. This new survey based concept didn’t really require fans to do anything really except to buy the games that they were planning on buying anyway and then fill out surveys based on what the player thought about their purchase. In just about every GCN, Wii, DS, 3DS, and Wii U game case there contained a pamphlet that could be used to receive online coins for completing surveys. The coins would then be used to purchase a number of exclusive items from Club Nintendo’s catalog that was constantly rotated and updated. What Club Nintendo did very well was get people excited for upcoming games that would have exclusive Club Nintendo posters and other gear. Why not complete a survey on Club Nintendo if you get a soundtrack for doing it? It seemed that Club Nintendo was a viable way for fans of Nintendo to get the gear they wanted while also voicing their honest opinions about the Nintendo games they were playing.
What was even better about Club Nintendo was that at the end of each year, if you racked up enough coins then you would either be rewarded with an elite gold or platinum status gift. These gifts were only available to elite members and it was the only way to get some of the best physical items ever granted by the company. Many of the statues and soundtracks that were made available to Nintendo’s fans were only available through becoming a gold or platinum member. At first, this all made Club Nintendo seem great because instead of just reading about new games coming out, I felt like I had a small part in shaping the way that Nintendo actually created their games and I was being rewarded for it. Since I felt that it was my direct streamline into the mind of Nintendo, I poured countless hours giving my thorough reviews and ideas of what I thought about certain Nintendo games that I played and why I played them. For instance I was able to voice my opinions about Skyward Sword’s wonky controls, the difficulty of Donkey Kong Country Returns, and the weird wheel for Mario Kart Wii that I just felt was unbalanced. All the while as I bought my games and completed surveys I was getting the same quality physical rewards from Nintendo that I have come to know and love. It was almost like it was 1991 all over again. Almost..
Club Nintendo and its Share of Problems
Everything had seemed to be back to normal in the land of Nintendo because as a fan, you just expect to receive stuff from the “Big N” that you could put on your shelves or on your head. Club Nintendo seemed plausible at first until I noticed several major loopholes in Nintendo’s strategy of offering this exclusive Club to its fans. For starters, I first noticed it when I went to GameStop to pick up a preowned copy of Twilight Princess for the Wii. To my surprise when I got home and tried the Club Nintendo code that was still inside the game case, the club’s code was in fact still active for some reason. It made me instantly start to wonder how many people actually used the service for physical items at all.
I was dumbfounded to find out when I started asking my friends and family if they used the club codes in their games and their response was either no or they asked me what Club Nintendo was. After the conversation they usually ended up just giving me a stack of their codes and patted me on my head and sent me on my way. To me I felt like a leprechaun rolling in coins, to them I just looked like a grown man child giggling for unknown reasons. As it turns out a lot of people never actually even used the service because it was just too much of a hassle to go online, make an account, and fill out several surveys for coins. But how could this be?! Some of my friends are huge Nintendo fans and I was shocked that they just didn’t want any of the products that Nintendo was offering to its Club Nintendo users. In the end it seemed as if they just wanted the games and didn’t really care about the items that the company was still trying to offer people.
Unlike being a Nintendo Power subscriber, which required each user to pay annually for the magazine that paid for the physical rewards, Club Nintendo in theory never required you to buy any Nintendo product which is a huge problem for any company. Sure, the now used games were once purchased so I guess it can be argued that they weren’t just free codes. However, many of the pamphlets either were just never used at all or it allowed for one person to open up several accounts to gain items then resell them on eBay for a price. It was because there was nothing that would forbid someone from just simply taking these pamphlets out of the used Nintendo games and gaining all of the coins without ever having to spend a dime on Nintendo products. There are videos of people doing this all over YouTube if you don’t believe me. This may sound like no big deal, but it was Nintendo that was footing the bill for the shipping and the manufacturing of all of these items. So it was never really free for anyone involved. Not Nintendo, not the gamers who bought the games, not the people that took out codes and sold these items on eBay, and especially not the people that were buying Club Nintendo products on eBay. This was eventually rectified by Nintendo when they started printing the codes on the inside art sleeve of the games instead of including a removable pamphlet. However it was evident that the damage had already been done by that point and the end of Club Nintendo was inevitable. What made this even more obvious was that the last 2 years of being a Club Nintendo gold or platinum holder only netted you digital content. That’s right the soundtracks and the statues that Club Nintendo gave out were now a thing of the past.
Besides having removable pamphlets that would grant anyone that sweet Nintendo gold, the survey process itself was quite flawed. Some games had up to 3 surveys that you had to fill out if you wanted every last coin that you could squeeze out of a game. There was a pre-purchase survey, why you were interested, a registration survey, why you bought it, and an after play survey which seemed to cover all of the basis for voicing your opinion about the game you were investing your hard earned time and money into. In the end though, the amount of coins you would receive for games was skewed for the amount of time and money that you technically spent on the particular game. New games that cost you $59.99 could net you up to 80 coins where older games or portable games ranging from $29.99 to $49.99 would get you anywhere between 20 to 40 coins. Essentially if coins were the equivalent to dollars, it made Club Nintendo a place where Super Metroid on Virtual Console would cost you somewhere in the ballpark of almost $200 and that’s just not cool however you look at it. You just can’t possibly think of that as a reward when you could just buy it on the eShop for $8 when a complete physical copy on the Super Nintendo goes for around that price.
Digital Content Replaced Physical Items
As the analog age evolved into a digital one, Nintendo’s competition both Sony and Microsoft were offering gamers free exclusive content through their new digital reward systems. Playstation Plus and Xbox Live Games with Gold offered free games and fantastic discounts on games and content that gamers wanted to play for an annual membership. Shirts and hats seemed a bit useless when you could get a selection of free game to play every month. Did you know that Xbox Live has been around since the dawn of the Xbox? That’s right since 2002 Microsoft has been offering gamers’ ways to interact with their ecosystem and as of 2013, Xbox Live has evolved to be one of the best online services offered by a gaming company. Sony’s Playstation Plus Program was introduced in 2006 and has also created an interesting reward structure that is similar to Microsoft’s and the baseline is simple. Become a member, start saving and earning free games. There was no need to really tell Sony or Microsoft what I thought about certain games because I was receiving them for practically nothing so how could I complain? Club Nintendo’s “free” games just weren’t cutting it if you had to pay 3x as much to just get a Virtual Console title.
With the rise of digital rewards, the physical reward started to kind of seem like a gimmick. What was the monetary value that Nintendo was associating with the items that were being given away on Club Nintendo? Was it the time and money that consumers spent on the codes and games? Was it the thoughtful discourse given to Nintendo by its legion of fans? I’m not really sure of the gain that Nintendo had seen with continuing a similar reward structure, mainly because Sony and Microsoft’s programs are working fairly well for both their fans as well as each respective company. Considering that it’s the subscribers themselves that are paying for server maintenance and upkeep. When I want to play a game online on Xbox Live I’m 95% sure that I will be able to because I pay for it. When I want to do the same on Smash Bros for Wii U or Mario Kart 8, the experience freezes, stalls, and stutters at times and there’s just nothing like getting hit with two blue turtle shells by a driver that constantly has an endless ring of items circling them at all times.
Let’s Do the Math
In 2014 Microsoft’s Xbox Live gave away over $500 in free game to subscription holders through their Games with Gold program. Some of the free games in 2014 for Xbox 360 included Gears of War, Sleeping Dogs, Dark Souls, Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, Dishonored, and many other titles. The subscription as many of you already probably know works like this, you pay $59.99 annually that not only comes with free games but also includes other perks like the ability to play online multiplayer, use party chat, DVR cloud storage, upload studio on and more on Xbox One. So for $60 a year, you get your money’s worth. What’s even better about this is that you don’t even have to pay the full $60 because every once in a while you’ll find 50% off for the service on eBay or Amazon. I just recently picked up a year’s subscription for $35 on cdkeys.com and it’s a steal for everything that Microsoft offers.
Playstation gave away over $1000 of free games and discounts in 2014 across the Ps3, Ps4, and Ps Vita. Some of the games included Arkham City, Bioshock Infinite, Injustice: Gods among Us Ultimate Edition, TowerFall: Ascension, Muramasa Rebirth, Fez, and Dragon’s Crown. Like Microsoft’s Games with Gold, I am fairly happy as a Playstation Plus subscriber because I get a lot of value out of simply being a PS Plus member. Nintendo’s free Nintendo Network is seriously lacking as it is merely a service that provides Nintendo players an online experience without any perks from being a user like cloud saves or even party chat. The service itself as I mentioned before suffers from lag and well, cheaters. Between the Nintendo Network and Club Nintendo, fans of Nintendo have really been getting subpar treatment when compared to other reward systems out there right now. Don’t get me wrong, I love every shirt and poster that I ever received from Club Nintendo however, I would have loved to experience games that I just can’t afford even more. One of the biggest issues for many Nintendo users is the fact that many of the fans that purchased Club Nintendo eligible products weren’t even redeeming them on the Club Nintendo site. And I’m sorry but $200 for Super Metroid… c’mon.
The Future of Physical Items
Even though I enjoy the rewards granted to gamers in the digital era, I am still a firm believer in the physical reward. I don’t know maybe it’s just because I’m old school and I really like the thought of being able to bring up my future child into a world where Super Metroid t-shirts and Mario 64 hats are cool again. However this is simply not the world that we live in anymore. The Physical reward is a relic from the past that really only serves the purpose to look cool on shelves. I get a different response when I wear a Mario shirt now than when I did before the digital age moved in. I never get into really long discussions about level designs or bosses based on the shirts or hats I wear anymore. Today’s age of gaming resides in the trophys and achievements that are waiting to be unlocked. Being a gamer today isn’t about what shirts and posters you can get from a game you love, it’s about raising your online gamer score and living that realistic authenticity through the games we play.
If people want to own physical items based on their favorite games and continue to wear and collect physical items from a company then I believe they will always be able to hunt them down in one way or another. For example Yacht Club Games, the creators of Shovel Knight, just released a Shovel Knight plushie on We Love Fine’s website that is available to own for $28. Other sites like Etsy.com can deck you out in numerous game deco from the likes of The Last of Us or you can even search on Amazon or even JC Penney’s for Mario and other Nintendo gear.
As a long time fan of Nintendo, I believe that what the company needs to do is offer its fans games and other exclusive content for the Wii U and 3DS. For instance how about if you purchase a specific Atlus title, then you get a discount on something in the eShop? Kind of like the Fire Emblem Awakening special that offered owners a chance to increase their wallets by $30 if they purchased Shin Megami Tensei IV. They could also take advantage of early adopters and offer them special racing costumes or exclusive characters in Mario Kart 8 which can only be unlocked by purchasing the game on day one. I think concepts like these speak volumes to gamers today with the occasional free game peppered here and there. I’m not saying that Nintendo needs to follow in the footsteps of Microsoft or Sony because Nintendo has never been one to follow, but I would have loved it if when A Link Between Worlds was coming out they had made A Link to the Past available for free on Wii U. It was available to download for $8, but why pay for it again when I still have it on Super Nintendo?
In a perfect world, Nintendo would be able to maintain a balance between both physical and digital reward items. I would love for there to be a physical reward for buying a game as well as getting exclusive in game content or monthly free games. I hope that with Nintendo’s new partnership with DeNA they can work together to maintain the old Nintendo that we all have come to know and love and embrace a new and exciting plan for the next generation of gamers to come. Here’s to you Club Nintendo, the ride was well worth it.
What do you think? Want to share some of your gaming gear? Sound off in the comments or let me know on Twitter @lyfismyn.