Nintendo, We Need To Talk About The eShop

This is a legacy editorial piece which appeared on The Gaming Couch’s initial website on May 22, 2020.

If you’re old enough, you might remember the “Official Nintendo Seal of Quality.” Unless you had bought a bootleg or unauthorized NES or SNES cart, the seal was inevitably on the cartridge itself, in the instruction manual, and on the box. That seal guaranteed that you had spent your money on a game that met Nintendo’s quality standards. That didn’t mean it was a good game, but it wasn’t something thrown together in a week to make a quick buck. There’s a long history behind that seal, but suffice to say that it existed for a reason.

1983. After years of incredible growth, the video game bubble burst. In North America, the industry went from being worth $3.2 billion to $100 million in just two years.

Though there were many factors, much of the fall was due to the over-saturation of the market. The video game industry was worth billions of dollars and people wanted to ride the wave. It seemed as though everybody had at least one game available for consoles. Even by the limited technological standards of the time, the vast amount of games that flooded the market were often of poor quality and put together quickly to cash in on a trend or a movie. 

Nintendo changed all that. It revived a dying industry. It saw how people were moving away from video game consoles, so it introduced North America to the Nintendo Entertainment System. It saw how a flood of games created a loss of publishing control, so it made developers submit their games for review before allowing anything to appear on their systems. And to build more trust with consumers, it introduced their seal of quality.

Fast-forward to 2020, what happened with the Nintendo Switch’s eShop? Why is it that so many people complain about not being able to trust a lot of the games they see on Nintendo’s official game store?

The eShop looks more like Apple’s App Store or Google’s Play Store than the Microsoft Store or the Playstation Store. In fact, it’s worse than Apple’s and Google’s stores. Nintendo’s shop lacks the two most basic functions any average consumer would expect from an online store: user reviews and user ratings. How can a company like Nintendo accept that its legion of fans are navigating the digital equivalent of the Wild West without so much as being able let others know if a game is just a cashgrab?

The impetus for this article came as I browsed the Nintendo Switch subreddit. I happened across this thread wherein user CaspianX2 warned the community not to purchase a game currently on sale for $0.75. The game in question is usually worth $22.75 on the eShop. The game in question is a free-to-play mobile game available on smartphones for free. How can we explain a free-to-play mobile game ending up on the eShop for $22.75, then suddenly dropping to next to nothing?

It’s a phenomenon colloquially known as “gaming the system”. If your game drops enough in price, it has a chance to be featured in the Great Deals section. The bigger the drop, the better the chance. And who isn’t looking for a great deal? This practice is nothing short of predatory, because the ultimate goal is duping unknowing and uninformed consumers into paying for something that 1) was free to begin with and 2) isn’t worth the amount that’s being asked. And how does Nintendo protect its consumers? It doesn’t. No user reviews, no rating system, and nearly no way to get a refund.

The fact that Nintendo doesn’t allow user reviews or ratings on its eShop is a disgrace. The fact that fans must create a subreddit to share reviews of the games on the eShop and to warn each other of low quality games is appalling. Nintendo used to be the defender of quality. Now it seemingly allows anything to be thrown onto it store, much to the detriment of its millions of customers

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