No Cross-Buy? No Buy!

The year is 2016. Competing consoles have full-fledged online efforts backing their console and software. Purchases are tracked digitally, automatically, and conveniently. It’s not much different in the smartphone and tablet arena either: buy a game on your iPhone, play it on your iPad. Pretty simple! Pretty commonsensical!

That is until you step foot into the realm of Nintendo, where it’s like pulling teeth to get consoles and handhelds to talk to each other. The realm of Nintendo, where we all have Nintendo Accounts, My Nintendo accounts, and NNIDs, and we only have a vague idea of how those all fit together.

The realm where you buy an old SNES game on your Wii U and it’s not there on your 3DS.

We’re talking about cross-buy, and more specifically, the lack of cross-buy.

Nintendo’s Virtual Console service is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. After a decade of offering their classic titles for sale digitally, how has Nintendo’s service expanded? Well, the answer is unfortunate: barely.

Virtual Console made a small jump from Wii to 3DS with restore points. The next real iteration was on the Wii U, which implemented the 3DS improvements plus customizable controls and a few other small perks.

The nice thing was, it was really easy to transfer your VC games from Wii over to your Wii U console!

Oh – wait… no, it wasn’t. You had to buy them all over again. Sure, Nintendo gave you a slight discount for owning the same software on Wii, and the service recognized that, but rather than letting you access your VC games on Wii U’s home menu with the new perks, you had to pay again or just deal with the outdated features and slog through old emulated Wii menus.

Nintendo doesn’t charge for operating system software updates, why should they charge when Virtual Console technology is upgraded?

I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard the news that Super Nintendo games were coming specifically to the New 3DS as an exclusive feature over the previous generation’s model. You can’t expect me to believe that the original 3DS couldn’t run Super Nintendo games – that would be absurd. But they desperately needed some unique features for the handheld (because they couldn’t make more than one exclusive game for it), so SNES VC titles were the answer.

I own quite a few SNES games on my Wii U, and by this time, Nintendo Network IDs were a thing. They have already been implemented. NNIDs were supposed to be the answer to all our 21st century problems with Nintendo’s online systems – it was supposed to track our purchases, unify the different Nintendo platforms… it was supposed to bring balance to the force!

Yet another implementation of the Virtual Console had arrived with no mention, no promise, not a peep about cross-buy.

I had been frustrated about Nintendo attempting to sell us the same exact retro software over and over again for quite some time, but I held onto hope that Nintendo was going to make good on their word to use NNIDs and make the whole Virtual Console experience more cohesive. When they came out with NNIDs in March (launching alongside Miitomo) and then put SNES games on the handheld, it was finally the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The straw being the terrible value proposition from Nintendo that shows they have a broken business model for their classic titles.
The camel’s back being my willingness to put up with it.

I boycotted SNES Virtual Console titles on 3DS, and in fact, I haven’t bought a single VC title in the time since. I’m through with it. I don’t have $8 (per game) x 10 (titles) for every new console iteration they come out with… for the same games!

Let me rephrase that… I do have the money, but I don’t have the will to spend it on this stuff time and time again. I have plenty of nostalgia for Nintendo’s older games, but I won’t allow them to keep using that against me.

It’s not $8 – it’s the principal.

Okay, maybe I am planning on buying the NES Classic Edition! But that’s different…

The point is, I’ve been burned too many times. I’ve invested too much in this broken, excuse for a digital platform called the Virtual Console and seen it count for nothing when new hardware comes out. Nintendo’s online systems and their business sense isn’t smart enough to allow my purchases to carry over, but I am smart enough to avoid the same traps over and over again!

Nintendo, listen closely: You don’t burn your early adopters. You don’t make your die-hard fans pay twice.

You don’t punish people for buying your games early!

You reward these customers. You say: here, you have a big collection of VC games on your Wii? We spent 700 man hours figuring out how to make those transfer over to your Wii U home menu, for free, and now you can keep enjoying those titles just as easily.

You reward your loyal customers. You take the information about their SNES purchases connected with their NNID and you download those games automatically onto their 3DS, so they open it up and see a surprise gift on their menu screen. I know you can do this stuff – you send me random demos all the time.

Because of so many bad past experiences with the Virtual Console, I’ve turned a deaf ear to the service. I won’t be playing another classic Nintendo game digitally until they address this issue.

I’m waiting eagerly for the Nintendo Direct where Kimishima, Reggie, or Bill Trinen takes the stage and announces the new direction for Virtual Console, a cohesive experience where Nintendo respects my investments in their software.

Until then, I’ll be ignoring all press-releases and the insignificant drip-feed of the same old games every week.

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Scott is an author and a lifelong fan of video games. Conqueror of punishing platformers such as Celeste, Super Meat Boy, N+, The Impossible Game, and Super Mario Bros. 2: The Lost Levels. You can find him constantly changing his main character in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, stuck inside a VR headset, or helplessly addicted to Fortnite.