Nintendo’s guide to getting it right in the digital space

So Nintendo’s numbers are down annually for the first time in three decades. The 3DS is selling well, but profits aren’t what Nintendo was expecting due to last year’s price cut. Does this all mean that Nintendo is behind the times and is doomed to a fate similar to SEGA? Not likely. Nintendo has an ace up its sleeve in the fight to stay relevant that to other company in the business it talking about right now, and believe it or not it has to do with what they are doing in the online space. Don’t believe me? Read on to find out my thoughts on Nintendo plans in the online space, and what I think they should do in the next generation.

If Nintendo is really serious about competing with Xbox Live and the Playstation Network with Wii U and 3DS, the time to do so was yesterday. Sure the 3DS has made major strides in the right direction, but it is still a long way away. In Nintendo’s recent financial briefing, they have said as much. They also seem to be serious about their commitment to digital space with New Super Mario Bros. 2 scheduled to be released on the eShop and at retail simultaniously, which is a first for Nintendo. Digital sales of a full retail product is almost unprecedented in the console space. Vita is doing it, but the same can’t be said for releases on Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii. If Nintendo wants to take the digital bull by the horns, here is a roadmap of what they should already be planning at Nintendo HQ.

Day and date digital/retail release of games
This is a no brainer. Sure, sometimes on other platforms full retail games will release on their respective online stores, but usually it isn’t until a couple of months after the game is released in stores. With their new stance on digital, it looks like Nintendo plans to change all of this starting in August with New Super Mario Bros. 2 on the 3DS. Sure big box retailers such as Wal-Mart and GameStop may not completely approve of this move, because they will see a drop in their new game sales, but it will only be good for the industry. Developers will see a bigger profit margin on each sale, and the used game market will effectively shrink due to the nature of digital. See, everyone wins.

Adequate storage medium

In 2006 Nintendo launched a system with a paltry 512 MB of internal flash memory, and even then, that wasn’t enough. It took nearly 3 years for Nintendo to launch system menu 4.0 that finally allowed games to be loaded from an SD card. That wasn’t good enough. The 3DS launch was a bit better, as included with each system was a 2 GB SD card, and Nintendo needs to follow suit with Wii U.
It won’t be enough to simply include an SD card with each system, as games on HD consoles can easily reach the 8 GB mark. No, Nintendo needs to pack in some sort of hard disk drive with Wii U, which will invite more users to download items from their online store. At the very least, the Wii U should provide support for USB external hard drives, allowing consumers to choose for themselves.

Nintendo must gain 3rd party support for their digital service
If the eShop is to not only survive, but thrive, Nintendo must take a cold hard look at themselves over the past decade. Nintendo has, since the advent of the N64, had problems courting 3rd parties to develop for their home consoles. Some of the issue was the high cost of cartridges. Another issue has been the high licensing fees to develop for a Nintendo platform. Nintendo needs to resolve all of these problems and then some with Wii U and 3DS. Invite big publishers like Activision and Capcom to release their big titles on the eShop at a reduced cost on all licensing. Not only will Nintendo continue to profit on each sale, but it will entice other publishers to follow suit at the promise of a high profit margin on each sale. Nintendo CAN survive on the backs of Mario and Zelda, but moving forward, they need the support of all the major 3rd parties.

Flexible, Steam-like pricing stucture

Go on admit it. There you were sitting on your computer, you booted up Steam, and there it was. Super Awesome Shooter 2012 is on sale! Only $19.99! Sure you’ll click buy. Fast forward a few months and the game was only ever booted twice, but hey, it was on sale.

This is the type of marketplace Nintendo should strive to achieve with its own eShop. Steam Sales are the lifeblood of the platform, and only help to generate interest in the games. It’s much easier to have a lightning sale on a digital item than one at retail, for all it takes is a flipping of a few switches and boom, instant profit. Make it happen Nintendo, our bodies are ready.

Background downloading
There is nothing more frustrating than getting so excited about a game, only to have to wait and wait for it to finish downloading. Sure, downloads take time, but come on! Let me at least boot up another game in the meantime while I’m waiting for my download to finish. There is no need to sit there watching as Mario continuously collects coins. Fix this.

License transfer of previously downloaded titles
This one may be a longshot, but seeing as how it was possible to do so from DSi to 3DS, it isn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility. I may be in the minority here, but I have over 50 titles downloaded to my Wii, and it sure would be nice to have the ability to transfer those over to Wii U. Not only will it provide the Wii U with an instant library of titles, but many longtime Nintendo fans will be more inclined to use the service knowing that whenever the next console comes along, all of their previous games won’t be stuck on a last gen system.

If Nintendo can continue to champion the digital movement while continuing to cater to those customer who would prefer a boxed copy or who do not have access to broadband internet, they could very well have again bottled lightning like they did with Wii. Nintendo could even sell download codes at retailers, allowing customers without credit cards to get in on the download goodness while still appeasing their retail partners.

What do you think? What other ideas should Nintendo implement into their upcoming digital platform? Disagree with any of the above points? Let us hear it in the comments below!

Eugene lives in New Mexico and has been a life long gamer since getting his hands on an NES. Always partial to Nintendo, Eugene has made it a point to keep informed on all things Mario.