Loyalty programs are weird. Companies want your business, and the illusion of free stuff (after tons of purchases) is a proven way to retain repeat business. I get it. But there are great examples of it, and just as many (if not more) on the other end. In the world of video games, each of the “big three” console-makers have a loyalty program. Sony has a rewards program that extends to other services and a credit card, Microsoft has a couple within the Xbox ecosystem, and Nintendo has My Nintendo, formerly known as Club Nintendo. Unfortunately Nintendo has been lagging behind for a while, ever since the branding changed. A recent update was made, ostensibly making it better, but the response hasn’t been so hot.
Club Nintendo was awesome. Back when I was a broke fool going to college, I had a ton of fun picking up a new Nintendo game, ripping it open, and typing in that code on the Club Nintendo site to get those precious coins. It was even more fun to pick up a used game, and discover that the code inside was still valid. Hitting that platinum tier felt like a sense of accomplishment, like by enjoying my hobby and supporting my favorite kinds of games, I was getting something that looked at felt like a reward.
Then, I could cash those coins in on merchandise. And it wasn’t just normal-ass merchandise that I could pick up rolling into a GameStop or Toys R Us. Club Nintendo had stuff you couldn’t get anywhere else, outside of eBay auctions. Get games, get points, then get cool, unique stuff that you couldn’t get anywhere else. I still have 3ds game cases and neat posters (of oddly high quality) that remind me of the good old days. One of my favorite, little trinkets of goofy nerd merch is a little box of Nintendo hanafuda cards.
I get it; giving that kind of stuff away, even if the exchange rate for coins was likely unbalanced in favor of Nintendo, was expensive. That’s especially true in the era of the Wii U, when Nintendo was struggling a bit. Club Nintendo eventually regressed into free digital games, which is still pretty cool, but obviously not as great as exclusive, physical merchandise. The writing was on the wall, and eventually Club Nintendo would shut down. My Nintendo, the replacement, didn’t even start up right away, which was a big ol’ red flag by itself.
My Nintendo was intriguing at first. Coins came from buying games, sure, but Nintendo also introduced a different tier of coins that members could earn for free. Through logging into the eShop, signing in on a weekly basis and playing Nintendo’s mobile games, free points could be earned and cashed in for little things, like mobile and PC wallpapers, some unique software (Zelda Picross!), and some eShop discount coupons. But for the longest time, even the gold points were just offers for a different set of coupons.
Now, Nintendo has updated the service to make gold coins convert to actual, real money that can be used for eShop purchases. That sounds awesome, but the fine print is horrific. The exchange rate is nonsense, for one. It’s one cent per gold coin, and you get significantly less coins for buying games physically. From there, it’s only select games you can use your coins on in the first place. So in order to get more than a few dollars off a game, you have to buy a ton up front, and since coins expire after a year and coin eligibility expires after a game has been out a year, well, you have to spend so much money on games how is there going to be anything left by the time you’ve built up a reasonable discount?
It’s a real shame. The update sounded so promising, perhaps even a step up from the discount coupons. But it’s actually worse, like significantly worse. It feels like logging into My Nintendo isn’t even worth the effort now. Sure, as a person who likes 3DS themes, I’ll still check in every now and then, but I also like physical media. It feels like, despite how invested I was in Club Nintendo, my dollars aren’t worth anything anymore, And for people who are all in with digital, and are all in with picking up every new Nintendo game on launch – what do they get? Not much more. Bleh.