NSO Isn’t Game Pass, But Nintendo Is Learning The Benefits Of Subscription Models

Image: Nintendo Life

In Nintendo’s February 2022 Direct, we found out that yet another boon is being added to the rapidly-expanding number of benefits that come with Nintendo’s Switch Online Expansion Pack: The 48 DLC tracks for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. We already have access to the catalogue of N64 games (which are being sllllooowwwly rolled out), Mega Drive games, and the Animal Crossing: New Horizons Happy Home Paradise DLC, for a few extra bucks a month.

On Nintendo Life, we’ve talked about the NSO Expansion Pack a lot. We’ve looked at its relative value compared to Sony and Microsoft’s (very different) subscription services, said it’s great value for some people, despite the fact that it proved extremely controversial when it was revealed. When we asked for reader opinions, the polls came back pretty negative, and later on, we all pretty much universally agreed that the catalogue of games was expanding too slowly for the price of the subscription. And early results from a poll we ran today suggest that, which the upcoming Mario Kart 8 Deluxe DLC tracks aren’t nothing, there’s a sizeable number of players for whom the higher tier Expansion Pack isn’t sufficiently attractive. Yet.

It’s been a mixed bag so far, and I’m certainly not here to sway your opinion on the Expansion Pack. I’m a subscriber, and I’ve not really seen a huge amount of value from it, besides the Happy Home Designer DLC and being able to relive the nostalgia of Banjo-Kazooie‘s godawful camera controls.

Here’s why I think Nintendo’s extremely cautious approach to the subscription model might — eventually — result in something far more substantial.

I used to work in charity fundraising, specifically with regular donations — people who agree to donate £5 a month, rather than a lump sum of a few hundred quid every now and again. The most important thing I learned from that job is that companies would much rather have a steady, small, but predictable income than one that’s all over the place, even if the latter earns more money in the long run.

Why is that? Because steady income is easier to budget. If you know you’re getting £5 a month from someone for the next two years, then you can safely assign that money to pay for something you need — say, someone’s salary, or rent. It’s harder to budget with unpredictable income, as anyone who’s ever been a freelancer can attest to.

It's... almost good value, right?
It’s… almost good value, right?

If Nintendo can continue to make the Expansion Pass more enticing to a wider range of people, it’ll be able to more effectively handle its incoming profits — so you may be wondering why it didn’t just make it irresistible from the start.

I can speculate: With any new business proposition, there are bound to be risks. With the Expansion Pass in particular, Nintendo would have had to invest money into the infrastructure, the UI, the emulation, and a team of people to set it all up, without a clear idea of whether or not it would get a significant return on that investment. Sure, Nintendo has piles of cash, so it wouldn’t have been a huge dent, but investors — who basically have a stranglehold on publicly traded companies — really, really hate to see money being “wasted” without a significant return. Sigh.

Look at all those 30-year-old games!
Look at all those 30-year-old games!

So, Nintendo would have likely been trepidatious and cautious about their first foray into expanding the relatively-new subscriber service, and hopefully now that it’s proved a little more popular, we’ll be seeing a lot more stuff getting added as incentives to make the package really enticing.

Xbox Game Pass began as a massive gamble […] a proposition that has only become successful because of its support.

It’s not the only subscriber service that’s making waves in the games industry, either. Xbox Game Pass is, without a doubt, one of the best things you can do with your money right now, as long as you have either a PC or an Xbox. It gives you access to a colossal library of games both new and old, with very little risk to the player — if you hate something, you’ve lost nothing but your time. It didn’t begin that way, of course.

Xbox Game Pass began as a massive gamble. To mitigate that risk, Microsoft primarily focused on old games, and new games — like Rare’s Sea of Thieves — from studios it owned. It’s easy to say that the gamble was worth it, five years after the Game Pass’s launch, but hindsight is 20/20. The truth is that Game Pass was, at first, a proposition that has only become successful because of its support. The more people who buy Game Pass, the more money Xbox has to pay developers for day-one Game Pass releases, and thus the cycle sustains itself.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that day-one game releases are not going to come to the Nintendo Switch Online service. Nintendo’s subscription service, and its fans in general, are both far more focused on the past — I mean, just look at February’s Direct, which was almost entirely about remasters of old JRPGs, ports of ancient, niche PlayStation games, and games like Triangle Strategy, painted with the sepia-toned brush of nostalgia despite being wholly new. Even the Mario Kart 8 DLC is a bunch of old tracks for an eight-year-old game.

"It can't be eight years old," you say, but it IS. I checked. Sorry
“It can’t be eight years old,” you say, but it IS. I checked. Sorry

But I do think that the Expansion Pack will continue to grow in scope, and become better value as it does. I’m not imploring you, dear readers, to invest early in order to encourage Nintendo — the burden of proving the value of the service is on the company. But I do think that Nintendo has finally cottoned on to subscriptions being not only the future of games, but the future of how people want to play games. Instead of $70 for one game, why wouldn’t you prefer to pay $15 for access to a trove of games?

The way I imagine it going is that, instead of Sony’s PS Plus, which gives you free games every month, and Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass, which gives you access to everything in the Game Pass catalogue, Nintendo will forge its own path and create its own incentives. We already have free trials for games and access to Nintendo’s NES, SNES, Mega Drive, and N64 games, plus DLC for a couple of games — but we could get early access to big games a week before release, or access to online services like Splatoon 3‘s multiplayer, earlier than others.

The main downside — as we’ve seen with subscription services like Spotify — is making sure that the developers see their fair share of profits, and that smaller indie games don’t get shut out. But that, my friends, is a can of worms for another day.

And also they send you cake on your birthday, and you get free hats in every game you own
And also they send you cake on your birthday, and you get free hats in every game you own

For now, I’ll leave it at this: If the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack keeps getting better, some day it’ll be a no-brainer. Nintendo has a potential goldmine on its hands, and all it has to do is keep digging.



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