Is it Time to End Club Nintendo?

“Why should I join?”

That concise little question is displayed prominently on the North American Club Nintendo homepage. Rewards and member-only benefits it says, before linking you to a page of what real people are saying about it. Now, I happen to be a real person, and I’ve been a member of Club Nintendo since 2009. So, why should you join Club Nintendo if you haven’t already?

I honestly have no idea. And I’m not sure they do either.

Club Nintendo got off to a bit of a slow start in North America, in that it didn’t really get off to a start at all. It originally launched in Europe in 2002 and hit Japan a year later. After seeing all the nifty exclusive items Club Nintendo was providing foreigners, us North Americans began to salivate at the prospect of getting our own. Unfortunately, the US is a much larger nation than Japan, and thus delivering rewards is more expensive. It wasn’t until 2008 that Club Nintendo made it to the US, but when it did it was met with enough fanfare to make most presidents blush.

The launch was a bit bumpy, but only because demand was so high that they had to go offline for a week to fix their architecture. After that initial rough patch, things were great. The list of previous rewards offered through Club Nintendo is fairly extensive, and many of the year end platinum rewards were truly excellent. Sure, the catalog saw some dry spells, but collectible figurines did show up with regularity. Nowadays, though, things aren’t so much dry as they are barren. If you check the Club Nintendo site, these are the only exclusive rewards you can still find:

clubnintendorewardsphysical

If Nintendo was giving me coins, I wouldn’t take Grill-Off, and I’m almost positive those Nintendogs greeting cards have been there since the site first launched. Even the platinum rewards, once the enviable prizes for Nintendo’s most faithful fans, have been remarkably disappointing of late. Something that was once highly anticipated is now a complete afterthought, and while Japan and Europe continue to get a steady stream of amazing items, NoA seems to alternate between posters and novelty sandwiches.

This is largely a result of the switch to digital rewards, which undoubtedly blunt costs for the North American market. While I understand the decision, it completely undermines the original appeal of Club Nintendo. The promise of exclusive swag is the reason North Americans demanded it in the first palce. If all you want are extra games, PS+ is cheaper, more reliable, and involves infinity percent less surveys.

Some fans are less interested in gaming tchotchkes and are more than happy to take the games Club Nintendo hands out. If I wanted to buy a game I would just buy a game, but for some the idea of “free games” is enough to get them abord the hype train. Unfortunately, many jump off just as quickly when they see the disasters looming on the tracks. Club Nintendo’s offerings are not great these days:

clubnintendogames

There has to be something Nintendo can do to fix this. Maybe they could charge for shipping – I’m sure hardcore Nintendo enthusiasts will be happy to shell out to have fancy statues shipped right to their door. On the digital side of things, maybe they could charge more coins for something actually worthwhile. I know “make the items worthwhile” is an obvious suggestion, but Nintendo apparently missed that memo. Even if they started offering quality platinum rewards again, that alone might be enough to get people excited. Even if the requirements for platinum go up to account for costs, it would still be worth it just to get something better than Game and Wario, which I was hesitant to take for free.

Club Nintendo isn’t obligated to give us anything. We buy games because we want to play them, not to earn treats by jumping through officially licensed Nintendo hoops. Unfortunately, it’s come to the point where the rewards aren’t even worth the time it takes to type a code. You’re lucky if you get a sticker pack shipped to you, and most of the digital offerings are shovelware at best. This isn’t a rewards program. This is a garage sale where Nintendo throws out all the things they don’t want in exchange for some market research.

“Why should I join?” You shouldn’t. Just enjoy the games. A rewards program without any rewards is a tough sell.