It was March 1997. I was 15 years old. I remember it like it was yesterday.
I collected my pocket money, hard earned savings from a gruelling paper run and some change I scooped up between the cushions of my parents sofa. I walked nervously to the counter at a Comet retail store in Glasgow, Scotland and laid down a ludicrous £350+ on a brand newand two games, Super Mario 64 and Pilotwings 64.
The Nintendo 64 had just launched and it cost me everything I owned on this earth. It sent me to the cleaners.
Hilariously, just two months later in May, Nintendo announced a £100 price cut. I was heartbroken.
If you’d told me then that 25 years later it would be possible to play Super Mario 64, alongside a library of classics for the piddling price of $5 per month, I have no idea how I would have reacted. Violently? Possibly. Most likely I’d have collapsed into a pathetic foetal ball, shedding real, visceral tears for the exorbitant amount of money I’d just poured down the drain.
What a time to be alive. On Tuesday in the glorious year 2021, Nintendo fans can easily access the glorious past for next to nothing.
In September 2018, Nintendo launched Nintendo Switch Online, a service that, like Xbox Live or PlayStation Plus, allowed users to play games like Fortnite or Mario Kart 8 online. In addition to the ability to play current games online it provided access to a host of retro NES and SNES games, all for the fairly low price of $20 per year.
As of Tuesday, Nintendo has expanded that offering. Now you can subscribe to an Online Expansion Pack to the online service which gives you additional access to a selection of Nintendo 64 and Sega Mega Drive games (alongside — bizarrely — new DLC for Animal Crossing). The catch? The service costs more. A significant amount more. Instead of $20 for an annual subscription to the service, the expanded package costs $50 collectively per year.
Is it “worth it”? That’s a loaded question and I don’t even know where to start. If you’d have asked 15 year old me, in line at Comet to lay down his life savings for a Nintendo 64 and two — just two — video games, he’d have snatched that deal with all the power his spindly adolescent arms could muster. But when I asked on Twitter if the Expansion Pack was unfairly priced, people went buckwild.
The broad consensus, in my Twitter mentions at least, was an additional $30 for access to a rotating cast of N64 and Mega Drive games was much too much. Many complained about the additional cost, or compared it to the value of competing services like Xbox Game Pass or PlayStation Plus. Some took issue with the quality of the games available and wondered how regularly Nintendo would add new titles. All fair points. For me, the ability to easily access a broad library of games I love, across multiple retro platforms, for what amounts to less than $5 a month makes total financial sense. The ability to play online on games like Splatoon 3 when it finally arrives is a bonus.
But value is subjective. One reply stood out to me.
Particularly this point: “the way people perceive the value of entertainment products is fundamentally broken”.
I’d go one layer deeper. I’d argue the way people perceive video games specifically is completely and utterly broken. Beyond repair.
Right now we’re all over the shop. On Xbox Game Pass we have access to entire library of cutting edge video games for $15 a month. Yet one single video game not available on Game Pass could potentially set you back $60. Then we have the question of the games themselves. Smaller scale indie games like, say, the newly released Inscryption on PC, are expected to be cheaper by default than AAA productions like Deathloop on PS5. Why?
Should video games really cost more because they cost more to produce? Nobody pays more money to see the latest Marvel movie at the cinema because it has a bigger budget than an Oscar-winning indie flick like Nomadland, so why do the same with video games? Consider major titles like Fortnite and Apex Legends that you can literally play for free and you have a smorgasbord of confusion. In this wild environment where anything goes, who’s to say what individual video games are worth?
It’s complete chaos.
By most measures, $50 for 12 months of access to dozens of rotating classic video games should represent value for money. Is this package not valuable because the games are old?
The Nintendo Online Expansion pack is a weird, messy package dropped into a rapidly evolving marketplace where the rules and concepts of “value” are constantly in shift or — worse — contradicting one another.
Is the Nintendo Online Expansion unfairly priced? If you think so, then yes. Is it also an incredible deal that gives you access to a host of classic video games? Also yes. It exists at every point of the value spectrum because in video games the rules of value don’t make sense.
The same people who balk at paying an extra $30 dollars for classic video games might easily fork out the same amount on Fortnite skins. And that’s okay. Your mileage will vary. Are you the type of person who’ll play Mario 64 for 10 minutes then never use the service again? Maybe this isn’t for you. Maybe you’ll spend the next month replaying Ocarina of Time in its entirety. If so, this is the best money you’ll ever spend.
Me? I’ll happily fork out some extra cash. The 15 year old that once queued up at Comet to drop his life savings on a Nintendo 64 is happy — and furious — at the exact same time.