On September 18th, 2018, Nintendo launched an online service that, to put it lightly, hasn’t been super well received. I mean that in the same way I mean the actor who played Jar Jar Binks wasn’t well received at a Star Wars convention. One of the better parts of this service is the ability to play select NES games online, complete with save states and nifty compatible NES controllers. It’s a nice little dipping sauce for some particularly terrible nuggets, ones that Nintendo feels like charging us extra for. But as much as I hate to ruin what little positives I dug up for the service, my mind can’t help but ask “I wanted the games, why couldn’t I just buy them?”. Going forward in the industry, I think we could be asking that very question a lot more. With this trend of games becoming part of a streaming service, and the possibility of games being exclusive to these services sooner rather than later, I think we need a Virtual Console style service back.
Okay, so no, the NES Online App isn’t really a streaming service. But I think it’s a step in that general direction, even if it is several steps behind Microsoft and Sony’s efforts. Everyone and their fat corgi are jumping into the Netflix model of streaming. And when movies do something, Games try it on the double. We have PlayStation Now, Xbox Game Pass, and that weird new Google Chrome game streaming thing to boot. I have nothing really against this model as it is. A service where you pay monthly fees to play a variety of games is great if you are someone who doesn’t stick to games very long. The person that buys a game and sells it back to Gamestop in about a month, you know? Even if you are that person though, the streaming model isn’t perfect. For one, as I implied a few sentences ago, companies are jumping on this because it worked for Netflix so incredibly well. If they could find a way to stream backhanded compliments about your co-workers to your brain, I’m sure we’d see record high passive aggressive workplace tension. Video Games sound like a logical next step on paper, but like so many times before, the people rushing for the oranges fail to recognize they’re running toward spray painted apples. The number one problem is lag. When a movie freezes up on stream, it’s annoying, but waiting it out isn’t that painful. Having a game freeze is far worse, as it’s interrupting your focus. You are much more likely to quit a lagging game than a lagging movie. Tell me, what would you rather do, wait in a line at the bank, or step on a thumbtack? The thumbtack is usually more annoying because it stops your forward motion and often forces you to readjust yourself, whereas in the line you would be mostly passive regardless. It’s annoying, but I don’t see anyone tossing fat corgis at the wall for waiting in line or waiting for the new season of Castlevania to buffer. There will always be some sort of lag for someone out there, so it’ll never be the ideal way to enjoy a game.
Another problem is investment time. Raise your hand if you have one or more DVD’s that you haven’t touched in years? It’s nice to have them of course, but let’s be honest, you’ll only ever use that DVD four or five times in your life, three of which will be when you want to show your friend that movie. Streaming it once and never talking about it again makes more sense, as you’ll get approximately the same satisfaction rate streaming it. Games, even in the most limited of designs, are different each playthrough because of the player itself. Nobody besides speedrunners play a game the exact same way. That element of randomness, plus the average games 30-100 hours run time, means more value overall. If someone spends that much time on anything, they’ll want to keep it on hand more often than not. Not buying a hard copy at that point is like spending all of your free time with a girl, buying her things, writing passionate poetry about her, and giving her a diamond ring with no desire to date her at all.
Like I said, there’s merit to wanting to have a game streaming service. But it should never be a replacement for physical and downloadable games. Besides overall price, the biggest difference between using a streaming service and actually owning a copy of the game is a shift in who controls your purchase. You buy a copy of NES Golf on any of its available platforms, and it’s your copy forever. Leave it on an online service and Nintendo could pull the plug before you can say Wiiware. It may not matter in the short term, but for preservation’s sake, it’s detrimental. This is the gamble of any online only distributed content, but at least in the case of Wiiware closing up shop, backups exist on SD cards and Wii consoles the world over. Once these services get to the point where there will be streaming only games, no one can ever own them again. Completely lost to time. With a service like Virtual Console, the preservation step is stupidly easy. You buy it and own it, on your hard drive until it dies.
I don’t think everyone should buy classic games to have them stored on their hard drive, but it should be an option. The industry absolutely needs a better way to preserve their history. Hundreds of games have already been lost to time, and more will join them if we don’t do something about it. The streaming service model is completely backwards as a way to save our games. It’s about as effective as writing a book on a chalkboard. So I say bring back the Virtual Console. Bring Back PS1 Classic. Applaud The Xbox One Backwards Compatibility option. Do everything we can to get the industries history recorded, safe and sound.
This is a discussion worth having. Why not discuss it in the comments and in the forums? As always, thank you all for reading!
HautDeForme is a collector, a self proclaimed historian, and most of all, a player of video games. When he’s not writing about that, you can find him writing music for no particular reason and advocating for the localization of Mother 3, whether people listen or not.