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The Great Virtual Console Crash of 07
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on July 23, 2007   |   Episode 129 (Show Archive)  

   

Four players can get together and play Battle Lode Runner for the TurboGrafx-16 ... not that any of these people would even think about downloading a non-Nintendo game!
When the Virtual Console was first announced back in 2005 it sent a shockwave through the classic games community. It's one thing to be able to play your original PlayStation games in the PlayStation 3, but we're talking about using your next generation game system to play games that are more than twenty years old. These are consoles that we grew up with, including the Nintendo Entertainment System, the Super NES, Sega Genesis and TurboGrafx-16. The Virtual Console seemed like the perfect piece of technology, a console that was pushing the industry forward with innovation while still respecting the games that got us to where we are now.

But the Virtual Console has yet to live up to its full potential. While Nintendo is quick to point out the popularity of its downloadable service, there is trouble on the horizon if a few of the Virtual Console's problems aren't ironed out. Make no

Online there are a lot of T-Shirts designed to fit the average old school gamer (no pictured)!
mistake about it, we want the best for the Wii and the Virtual Console, but if something doesn't change I fear that we're headed for the great Virtual Console crash of 07!

There are so many individual problems with the Virtual Console that I hardly know where to even start. Part of me just wants to brush off my complaints and be happy that at least Nintendo is giving the service a shot. But at the same time I worry that if somebody doesn't say something then nothing will ever get done. Nintendo isn't one of those companies that are exactly proactive about getting stuff done, especially when it's stuff that all of the other companies are doing. Just look at how long it has taken Nintendo to even think about adding online gaming into their games ... and despite their best efforts their online games are still plagued with amateurish hang-ups (like friend codes). Nintendo needs a shot in the arm, and while they may never see or read this article, at least I will feel better venting my complaints and having the problems on the record.

If Nintendo only plans on addressing one problem I can only hope that they end up adding some sort of free trial for their Virtual Console games. While this may not sound like that big of a deal to some gamers, I assure you that this means

Boy is this guy going to be disappointed when he gets home and turns on Call of Duty 3 for the Wii!
everything to the companies re-releasing games for the TurboGrafx-16 and (to a lesser extent) Sega Genesis. The addition of a free trial is the difference between somebody buying a game and somebody completely ignoring it.

There are a lot of games where a demo wouldn't really matter; I have a hunch that a free demo wouldn't help sales of Super Mario Bros. or Legend of Zelda. Nintendo's classics are always going to be popular, mostly because they are games that we've all played on other systems. But what about all those games that you haven't

With a name like Chew Man Fu it makes complete sense that nobody would buy this puzzler, but if you had a chance to play it for a few minutes you would see how great it is!
heard of? How many people are going to throw six to eight dollars at something that could be absolutely terrible? This is the problem plaguing the TurboGrafx-16 and lesser known Sega Genesis games. Instead of being a place where games that were passed over years ago could be rediscovered by a whole new audience, the Virtual Console has turned into a sick joke where long-forgotten classics are once again ignored.

If you've never heard of Chew Man Fu then chances are you aren't going to spend the money to see what it's all about, even if it's only six dollars (600 Nintendo Points). The problem is that there are tons of high quality TurboGrafx-16 games that most Nintendo-loving gamers would like if they gave them a chance. Are you a fan of games like Advance Wars? Then maybe you should spend the six bucks on Military Madness, one of the best strategy games of all time. Or what about a genuine classic like Ninja Spirit? This is the kind of action game everybody would flock to if they knew how good it was, yet it's Ninja Gaiden's more popular name that everybody wants. With a way of

Military Madness is one of those games everybody should have bought, yet since it's a no-name title it failed to drum up the support it deserved ... again!
sampling these games some of these classic games wouldn't be ignored. Who knows, with a way to test out the games maybe somebody would actually seek out and buy Super Star Soldier and Dragon Spirit over the far more popular Gradius III.

Beyond not having any demos (or adequate descriptions) of the Virtual Console games, Nintendo's other big issue is that the games are too expensive. Obviously this is nothing new, people have been complaining about the price of Virtual Console games since they were announced. But it wasn't until recently that Nintendo had some competition when it came to other download services.

Within the last few weeks Microsoft and Sega teamed up to add two 16-bit classics to the Xbox Live Arcade. Right now gamers who want to relive the Genesis era are able to download Sonic the Hedgehog and Golden Axe over the Xbox Live Arcade service. And that's just the beginning, Sega (and Backbone, who are in charge of porting these games to the Arcade) have stated that there are more to come ... including a few titles that will take full advantage of the Xbox Live multiplayer functionality. So far all of these games have come priced at a mere five dollars, down from the usual eight dollars that these games were priced at on the Virtual Console.


Not only is Golden Axe three dollars cheaper on the Xbox 360, but it also sports online multiplayer!
While three dollars may not sound like much, in truth that's almost half off the price of the Virtual Console game. What's more, unlike the games you download on the Virtual Console, these Xbox Live Arcade versions come with leader boards, online multiplayer (where applicable), the choice between updated and original graphics, and the all important achievements. The fact that some real time and effort has gone into re-releasing these games is appreciated, and the idea that they are a full three dollars cheaper than their bare bones Virtual Console counterpart makes me wonder how long Nintendo will be able to get away with charging so much for their 16-bit titles.

Readers of this site (and more specifically the This Week In Defunct Games episodes) will already know that when compared to your standard video game compilation the Virtual Console looks like a giant rip off. A perfect example of this is the Sega Genesis Collection, a $20 disc that comes with some 30 games. If you were to buy that disc you would get each game for less than a dollar, a great value no matter how you slice it. On the other hand, you can buy each of those games individually for a

It's your choice, you could spend $20 on this brilliant collection ... or you could buy all the games for the Virtual Console for $240!
staggering $8 each. They are the same games, the same codes, the same emulations ... only one is more than eight times the price of the compilation counterpart. If you were to buy every game in the Sega Genesis Collection via the Virtual Console it would run you some $240. That's right, that's 12 times the price of the Sega Genesis Collection, and with the Virtual Console you still don't get the cool developer interviews, game previews, and informative trivia about each title. If there's anybody out there who can justify spending that much money to have it on the Virtual Console then we need to have a conversation about basic economics.

Of course, when it comes right down to it your Wii can barely hold 30 Sega Genesis games on its puny little hard drive. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate that Nintendo managed to keep costs down, but with only a few hundred megabytes of information to use up there's not a whole lot of room for classic games. Things are even trickier when you start to add on some of the better Nintendo 64 games (like

It's all fun and games until you are forced to buy a new SD card to store all of your Virtual Console games, then swap games back and forth just to have a fun old school experience!
Paper Mario), titles that take up a considerable amount of space. Factor in the upcoming Neo Geo games and it looks like you won't have much room left over for those brand new Wii Ware games coming out next year.

The good news is Nintendo allows you to copy your games to an SD card. So fans of classic games are forced to run out to their local Best Buy and pick up a large SD card that they can use to store the excess Virtual Console titles. Unfortunately as of right now you can't play your games from the SD card, so you'll find yourself constantly having to swap games from the hard drive to the memory card and back to the hard drive again. This isn't the end of the world, but how many times have you had to swap your Xbox 360 hard drive because it was too filled up with classic console (and arcade) games?

What's frustrating about this whole situation is that it is all so easy for Nintendo to fix. How hard can it be for Nintendo to offer a firmware upgrade that allows you to run your Virtual Console games from your SD card? And why not give us some sort of demo service so that we can see what obscure games are worth the money or not

Ryu's mad that Street Fighter II and Street Fighter II Turbo both cost the same amount of money ... and you don't want to see Ryu when he's mad!
based on five minutes of play time? Nintendo wouldn't even need to create a new game out of it, they could easily put some sort of timer on each of the downloads that shuts them off after a certain amount of time, a perfect solution that would improve the visibility of some of the low key titles for the Sega Genesis and TurboGrafx-16.

And while we're at it, why not discount some of the games that have been on the service for a long time? It's common practice for game publishers (and even console manufacturers) to lower their prices after their products have been on the shelf for a long time, if nothing else this reinvigorates sales. Why should people spend $8 on Street Fighter II now that Street Fighter II Turbo has hit the scene for the exact same price? There's no reason that every NES or Genesis or TurboGrafx-16 or Super NES game needs to be universally priced, some games are just worth more than other games.

Of course, Nintendo would argue that there's no reason for them to change what they are doing. As of right now the Virtual Console is an overwhelming success, they are making millions of

One only has to wonder how many of the 4.7 million Virtual Console downloads are due to this pair of Italian plumbers!
dollars off of people buying their games for a second (and even third or fourth) time. But not everything is as rosy as Nintendo would have you believe, sales are down for the Virtual Console games despite the fact that there are many more Wii units on the market. Last June Nintendo announced that they had sold some 4.7 million Virtual Console games over their download service, which definitely sounds impressive. But what Nintendo isn't telling you is that those numbers are down based on how many consoles are in homes. Given how many Wii's are in the channel that number should be well over the six or seven million unit mark, which proves that some of the excitement over these classic consoles has dissipated.

Of course, the reason for the declining sales figures could be based on any number of problems. Perhaps everybody has already bought the games they wanted or maybe the people buying the consoles don't care much about downloadable games. Or maybe it's because people are starting to realize that these game are overpriced and that it's a crapshoot when it comes to buying games you've never heard of. By comparison Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade business is gaining speed every month, especially now that they are offering classic console titles like Sonic and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

And while Nintendo's Virtual Console will probably not fizzle out this year, it seems clear that unless they do something to address some of these concerns sales could continue to drop. Worse yet, third parties supplying games to the Virtual Console could feel that all too familiar sting of playing second fiddle to Nintendo's war chest of triple-A titles. At this point it seems like the only games that are selling in large numbers are the tried and true Nintendo classics, the Mario and Zelda games, if you will. How long will it take before the third parties start to catch on that they are

It would be a bit much to say that the Virtual Console is doomed, but if Nintendo doesn't change a few things about their download service I'm afraid there's going to come a time when nobody cares what games they offer us!
sending their games out to die in this climate and start porting their games to other, friendlier download services? The Wii is hardly the only game in town, and if Sega's Vintage Collection continues to sell well on the Xbox Live Arcade it stands to reason that you'll see some of the other classic game publishers moving their titles to Microsoft's (and maybe even Sony's) console. And who knows, maybe this will push more publishers to GameTap, the computer service that is just waiting to break into the mainstream.

The good news for Virtual Console fans is that getting your game on the Wii's download service is still relatively cheap, you don't have to spend much money converting it or making it work on multiple systems. So for the time being the Virtual Console still looks like it will be a viable place for a lot of retro releases. Without a doubt I hope that Nintendo can make something big out of the Virtual Console, but at the same time I worry that without anybody pushing them to improve their download service could be an absolute disaster. The ball is in your court Nintendo, it's time you make the Virtual Console the download service you promised ... not the download service you delivered!
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