Part of the Nintendo Switch’s forthcoming paid online service will be a “monthly game download,” an offering seemingly similar to Microsoft’s Games with Gold and Sony’s PlayStation Plus. Here’s the description of the service from Nintendo’s site:
Monthly game download
Subscribers will get to download and play a Nintendo Entertainment System™ (NES) or Super Nintendo Entertainment System™ (Super NES) game (with newly-added online play) for free for a month.
If you are familiar with how the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 offerings go, you’d be forgiven for reading that as if you had a month to add a specific game to your library and then, so long as you remain a subscriber to Nintendo’s paid online service, you have access to those “free” games. For Xbox One, the backward compatible Xbox 360 games are actually yours to own ... forever. But on Nintendo Switch, it means you have a month to play the game and then it’s no longer available, you’d need to buy it to continue playing.
Even though we don't know what this paid service will cost (maybe it's really cheap?), this is making people very upset. You can click through to read the replies to Wired’s Chris Kohler after he confirmed the news.
Confirmed by NOA: Monthly free classic game on Switch is indeed only available for that month. More deets on Virtual Console before launch.— Regular Chris Kohler (@kobunheat) January 13, 2017
Sheesh, even my explanation was unclear. Sorry.— Regular Chris Kohler (@kobunheat) January 13, 2017
After a month, you can no longer PLAY the monthly Switch online classic unless you buy it.
The point about Virtual Console games is a good one because, while the idea of digital rights and ownership of digital goods has gone from something new and challenging in the media space over the last 20 years to something more or less settled, here’s Nintendo continuing to extract maximum value from its back catalog. When players upgraded from the Wii to the Wii U, many were surprised to learn that they had to rebuy the often decades-old games they had already purchased. This is true, again, on the Nintendo 3DS systems.
While purchases made on an Xbox 360 work on an Xbox One (if the game is supported at least), and while purchases made on a Kindle or an iPhone or any number of digital media devices follow you across generations, Nintendo has historically resisted giving customers that kind of ownership.
It’s unclear how Nintendo plans to handle ownership of Wii U Virtual Console games — will you need to buy them again? — but this initiative, in addition to being a markedly lesser value than its own competition, continues Nintendo’s tradition of treating its library as a premium offering and not something to be given away.