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Sunday, September 4, 2011

Why We're Whining About the Ambassador Program

There are two camps on the whole 3DS Ambassador Program: Those who whine that it's not enough and those who say that those who are complaining should just shut up already. I fall into the the former group, but I can see both sides.

First of all, yes, Nintendo is giving away free things. For those on the outside looking in, it’s easy to say that Nintendo didn't have to give early adopters anything at all for buying a 3DS early. It could have just absorbed the publicity hit and moved on. Instead, Nintendo gave you a little something as a "thank you" and you're whining about it? Come on!

I can understand this point of view. On the one hand, Nintendo didn't have to give anyone anything. On the other hand, it kind of did.

Nintendo bases their entire reputation on goodwill and warm, fuzzy feelings. No other major company does this. Microsoft thrives on their network architecture. Sony thrives on their powerful system. Nintendo doesn’t work that way. They trade on the years of built-up nostalgia to remind people of how happy they are when they play their games.

This explains why Nintendo knew they needed to compensate early adopters of the 3DS. It's not in their blood to tell their users to suck it. Doing so would destroy the good feelings that Nintendo tries to engender. Therefore, Nintendo understood that it had to do something to placate their users.

They chose to give away free downloadable games to the tune of 10 NES games and 10 GBA games. On paper, it sounds great. Free games! The going rate for NES games on the Wii Virtual Console is $5, and GBA games could be reasonably priced at $8-10. Ergo, Nintendo is handing us $130-150 of free games! That's awesome! What are we complaining about?

However, let’s consider which games Nintendo is giving away. Super Mario Bros., Zelda and Metroid are great. Zelda II and Donkey Kong Jr. are all right. The other games are barely the equivalent of iPhone apps. That’s why people are whining. Nintendo wants us to be happy with them. However, instead of really going all-in and trying to give us something great, they’ve handed us warmed-over scraps.

That leads us to the next problem, though: What games could they possibly have given away that are better than the ones they’re giving us?

Dr. Mario,” you may say. Yes, but that would eat into sales of Dr. Mario on the eShop. “Tetris.” Same thing. “Mario 2 or 3.” What if they’re planning on releasing those with the GBA games? “Mega Man.” Not Nintendo’s to give away. Ditto with Metal Gear or any number of possibilities.

There were really only a few options better than the ones we were given: Punch-Out, StarTropics  or Kid Icarus. Of those three, Punch-Out isn’t the same in Japan as in the States, StarTropics was never meant to be released in Japan, and Kid Icarus isn’t very good. I’m sorry, it isn’t.

So now what? What can Nintendo do after the first part of this program has blown up in their face? The entire fate of the success or failure of this program now rests in the hands of their GBA offerings. We’ll cover those tomorrow.