Nintendo clearly loves its fans. Of the three current heavy hitters in the console wars, Nintendo is the only one to offer a Loyalty Program at no charge, as a reward to longtime and frequent customers. Sony offers PlayStation Plus, which is a marvelous program, but at a monthly cost – same with the revamped Games with Gold for the Xbox 360/Xbox One.
Club Nintendo closed in 2015. It’s replacement – dubbed My Nintendo – has received a very lukewarm reception, and the recently unveiled way of using earned coins (reward currency) for Nintendo Switch games has further frustrated many fans. One thing is clear to me… while it was hip to complain about Club Nintendo down the stretch, it was head and shoulders above what is being offered now. Let’s take a look back at what made Club Nintendo so special.
Club Nintendo was launched seemingly everywhere else in the world before it finally hit North America in 2008. Registration for the new program was marred by frequent website crashes and whatnot – something Club Nintendo users would frequently encounter towards the end of the program, making it a full circle-like of website woes. Long, mysterious PIN codes began to show up in game cases for Wii and DS games, as well as hardware. In America, you would get “coins” for registering your products and taking a survey – in other regions, you could obtain “stars”, and you would save them and cash them in on exclusive merchandise.
Rewards R Us
At fiscal year end (which would be normally in late Spring), Club Nintendo would reward you with a bonus item, free of any deduction in coins/stars as a thank you for those who reached a certain level of buying throughout the year.
The Elite Awards usually amounted to a $10 eShop game, a $5 Virtual Console game or, in later years, a nice desk calendar with original artwork. But the Platinum Awards were where it was at! For those who earned 600 coins in the year (a user could get up to 50 coins per game purchased/survey filled out, and 100-150 for a console purchase) you would be at the exclusive level to get something really special.
The first rounds of Platinum Awards were amazing. Among the first was a wearable Mario hat, a Super Mario statue (which fetches a good amount on eBay today), a badge set, limited edition posters and more. Club Nintendo was great.
But the real meat of the program was free games and random merchandise that would be offered throughout the year. Free games would be offered for coins every month – although the available titles would be selected by Nintendo, and many would end up repeating as time went on. But the merchandise often would be exciting and one-of-a-kind. I personally scored a Super Mario Starman Messenger Bag, decks of Animal Crossing and Mario Party playing cards, Animal Crossing and Mario 3DS carrying pouches, the Super Smash Bros soundtrack 2-CD set, Pikmin tote bag, History of Mario T-Shirt, Wii Remote holder, Animal Crossing DS card game case, Super Smash Bros posters, Animal Crossing posters, etc. I cashed in a lot, and you could probably get the feeling that I like Animal Crossing. Other rare items were offered including a couple great Game and Watch collection games for the Nintendo DS, unique styluses, and other items ranging from other T-Shirts to a much sought after Luigi’s Mansion figurine.
And, did I mention the shipping on everything offered down the line was also free?
Club Nintendo seemed like a dream.
Anger, Resentment, and Counterpoint
People can never seem to be happy, and the complaints held some merit. Users began to “grumble grumble” about filling out repetitive surveys after their purchases that Nintendo never seemed to take into consideration. People were frustrated with the forced selection of free games every month. And people began to write off Club Nintendo as a joke when rewards stopped being refreshed in a frequent manner.
Personally, I always found people complaining about a free program to be a little absurd. Club Nintendo was a completely free program. Some would say that we earn the coins to get the “free” stuff, so we are in a sense paying for it – but that is a backward way of thinking. I didn’t buy games to get Club Nintendo coins… I bought games to play the games. The Club Nintendo stuff was a bonus, which is what it was meant to be. People would say we paid in the time we spent answering surveys and stuff… but again, I can’t get mad about spending two minutes or less to earn coins that would get me free games and merchandise. I spent more time on the toilet each day and it is a far less rewarding experience! Sure I got tired of the sameness of their offerings, but I couldn’t complain – how could I whine about something that was free… and by free I mean didn’t cost me extra out of pocket money. Club Nintendo was always meant to be a rewards program bonus, and I never looked at it as anything more than that.
Decline and Closure
The decline in Club Nintendo became apparent in North America around 2012 when the same old rewards would be present and fresh offerings were few and far between. Tired old merchandise like Mario and bland Nintendogs postcards and cheap screensavers would always greet me when I would log in to check which free games were offered. Gone were the days when CN would break out something special every other month it seemed. The Platinum Rewards also took a hit, dwindling from
amazing Mario statues to a deck of Mario Party playing cards.
In its final two years, the year-end rewards went to all digital download games, with the Platinum members getting a choice of a selection of full-priced retail games (ranging from a value of $15-$50). When it happened in 2014, red flags were raised, and when the ending of Club Nintendo was announced in 2015, at least we were prepared for the end of the line.
To its credit, Club Nintendo of America trotted out some of its best merchandise at the end, including a Majora’s Mask messenger bag, sleek Duck Hunt posters, an 8-bit Mario T-Shirt, the aforementioned 2-disc Super Smash Bros Soundtrack CD and more. And they practically unloaded every digital game they ever offered in one lump selection sum. The final Elite/Platinum awards featured downloadable games up to a monstrous $50 in value. So, Club Nintendo went out with a bang – and offered up rewards that I wish the program did more often.
In Moratorium and the Future
Club Nintendo provided me with a lot of great collectible merchandise that I couldn’t get through any other means. Being a huge Animal Crossing fan, I cashed in on everything from decks of playing cards to posters to game card holders and more. I used my Starman messenger bag in New York when I visited the Nintendo World Store, like the proud Nintendo Nerd that I am. When I open up games now and they don’t come with a Club Nintendo code, I still weep a little inside. It was like losing a good friend who would pat me on the back and tell me thanks for supporting him. My Nintendo debuted in March of 2016, and it was met with a big resounding thud. It was clear from the beginning that the program was set to be heavy on rewarding people who bought digital games over physical ones, rewarding more coins for those purchases over boxed copies. Whereas Club Nintendo put an emphasis on digital content, My Nintendo does the same, but specializes in disappointing discounts on the retail eShop prices of games as opposed to actually offering free content as rewards – unless you count a parade of mobile and PC wallpapers as a thrill. Cashing in coins for dollars off of new Nintendo Switch (downloadable) games is good in theory until you realize that one coin equals one penny, so a stash of 700 gold coins from hundreds of dollars of purchases only nets you a paltry $7 off – and even then on a “select” title.
I mentioned that it was absurd to complain about a program that is free. It was true for Club Nintendo, and it is true for My Nintendo. But it just feels a little frustrating for a rewards program to start off so well in the form or the former, and end up so lackluster in the form of the latter.
One thing that My Nintendo has done, though, is make people realize just how good Club Nintendo was when it was around, proving that we really can take things for granted – until it’s gone.
Related: Swag Haul from Club Nintendo