Club Nintendo works like this: every console or Nintendo-published game comes with a code. Register that code to your account and you get a set number of coins. You can exchange those coins for cool rewards like digital game downloads and exclusive items with a limited print run, including Kirby stickers, gold Wii Nunchucks, or a gorgeous set of traditional Hanafuda playing cards hearkening back to the time before Nintendo made video games.
So when Nintendo announced their end-of-year prizes for Club Nintendo members this week, some fans were disappointed to learn that the free loyalty rewards were downloadable games instead of the unique prizes offered in the past.
Many club members already have several – or even all – of the games offered as rewards. Club members receive a free gift if they accumulate 300 coins, or a Platinum gift for 600. Games are worth 10 to 50 coins depending on retail price, so it’ll probably take a few hundred dollars’ worth of Nintendo purchases to reach the coveted Platinum level.
If you manage to accumulate that many coins, it’s quite likely you’ve already bought all or most of the games on the list (or at least the ones you wanted). Congratulations. Your end-of-year prize is your second choice from six months ago.
In the past, the advantage of Club Nintendo was that the awards weren’t just free products. I’ve been a member since 2008, when it launched in North America (it debuted in Japan five years prior to that). Over the years I’ve exchanged my coins for digital games, as well as some nice year-end gifts. I usually end up with a small Nintendo-themed calendar. Last year, I received a great soundtrack from The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask.
Those Nintendo calendars aren’t revolutionary, but they were just for members, like the old mail-order toys you would get from exchanging the points you clipped out of Kool-Aid packets. The toys or prizes you got were often kind of weird – that Wonder Bread He-Man was particularly strange – but you were the only one that had it.
Making digital games the sole reward yet again shines a light on Nintendo’s lackluster digital games service as a whole. If I’ve spent three hundred dollars to get a $3.99 copy of Metroid, I’d sure as hell like to be able to play it on every Nintendo device I own instead of just the 3DS.
Meanwhile, the gifts for Club Nintendo Japan have drawn frothing growls of jealousy from fans stateside (or province-side, I guess). They manage to out-do the North American prizes in every way, ranging from classy (Super Mario 3D World soundtrack CD) to wacky (Super Mario-themed packing tape) to fan-service (check out that Yoshi plushie!).
Measured against similar subscription services such as PlayStation Plus – which offers members free games every month – there’s a startling gulf when looking at Club Nintendo’s “pick one” approach for the year, even if it’s not an entirely fair comparison. Club Nintendo demands a bit more of your time and metadata (filling our surveys and personal reviews gives you extra points), and is separate from other services like online multiplayer.
Still, longtime fans are bound to feel disappointed if they’ve been members in prior years when Nintendo offered something more special as a reward. Exclusive prizes may not mean a lot in the long run, but they had a VIP feel, as though you were finally getting your ring from the Stonecutters.
This year, you’ve won a retail product in exchange for buying hundreds of dollars’ worth of retail products. “Thank you for your loyalty,” the Nintendo’s prize page reads. The “L” word stings more than it really should.