In a business as volatile and prone to studio closures as the gaming industry, there are few companies that can hold their own as well as Nintendo. Despite numerous duds and missteps, they still command a healthy piece of space in the minds of gamers the world over. Everyone knows Mario and Link, and even their second stringers rake in the bucks. Most game publishers would kill to have Kirby in their IP book. Still, Nintendo’s Wii U languished on shelves right out of the gate, and the 3DS didn’t become a hit until drastic changes in pricing and marketing were enacted by the company. The fact is that Nintendo’s hardware business could end up living or dying based on the success of the upcoming Switch. With this in mind, there is a step that can be taken to stack the odds in their favor: start releasing legacy titles from NES and SNES on Steam.
There are many benefits to consider. Last year’s Classic Edition debacle saw that there is a voracious appetite for classic games. There simply weren’t enough units to go around and the people who made the most profit was not the manufacture, but scalpers (read: scumbags) making a killing on eBay. Nintendo’s defense was that they only wanted to produce what they were certain would sell so as to avoid eating the cost of unsold units, a la the Wii U. With Steam, there are no physical shelves to worry about, obviously.
Admittedly, Nintendo does have its own digital store. As we are focusing on legacy titles, the Virtual Console offerings cover pretty much all of the titles that this suggestion would have released to Steam, so there is some potential overlap in market share. Still, a common refrain among PC enthusiasts is that they will purchase a Nintendo console just for the latest offerings from the company. The thing is that there are many other lapsed Nintendo fans who use Steam as their gaming hub that could use a reminder. Having NES and SNES offerings available on their platform of choice stands a good chance of boosting the sales of the Switch. Essentially, it would act as advertising where the audience pays for the ad.
There is also piracy to consider. Not every PC gamer who is a fan of Nintendo will pony up for a Switch, admittedly. Some are just stuck on the flexibility that the PC platform can offer in terms of inputs, displays, and hardware configuration. Therefore, they are just going to use one of the many emulators and ROM dumps freely available online to play Metroid on their platform of choice. That solution does come with some potential pitfalls. Assuming it can be found, one never knows if a ROM download won’t come packing Trojans or other malware. An accomplished computer enthusiast might be able to strip the garbage out, but many won’t, potentially compromising their rig or adding it to some botnet. Why not, instead, offer up a legal alternative and make a little extra cash on the side? Plus, not every game is emulated perfectly. Nintendo could offer up the best quality version that would make it worth the cost by virtue of having the original files and documentation on implementation.
The worldwide market should also be considered. There are many nations where consoles, such as even the classic Wii, are a rarity or missing all together while PCs are prevalent. Based on anecdotes from a Serbian friend, most gamers there only have PC for an option. While piracy in general does run rampant, there is also heavy interest in Steam and a desire to purchase from there whenever possible. They know of Nintendo, but have mostly only been able to play the games through emulators. Again, this is anecdotal evidence from one person, but should be explored.
It should be noted that this suggestion is specific to legacy titles. As Nintendo wants to control their hardware platform and earn licensing fees, it would make no sense for them to publish a theoretical Splatoon 2 on both PC and Switch, cannibalizing the sales of their console version. While the idea in mind is to start with their 8 and 16-bit era games, it could prove profitable to expand to N64 and beyond. In the end, that is what a company truly wants: profits. Right now, there is an untapped market that is hungry for Nintendo’s titles. The proof lies in the glut of knock offs and tributes of the classics that permeate the Steam store. Failing to sell the real deal is leaving money on the table and doing gamers across the world a disservice. The risk is minimal and the rewards could drive more interest for Nintendo’s latest offerings released to the Switch.