Opinion: NSO+ could be a DLC-only answer to Game Pass, if Nintendo follows through
Nintendo Switch Online has always been a bit of a bizarre value proposition. The service is all but necessary for its online play, and it’s value-adding efforts haven’t always landed. Sure, having access to a growing library of NES and SNES games is nice, but the growth of that service has slowed pretty drastically since it launched, and it’s no Game Boy — a system that far, far more people would have nostalgia for. Still, at just $30 a year for an individual, and $55 for a family group of up to 8 people, it was significantly cheaper than similar paid-online subscriptions from Sony and Microsoft. It was worth it, just barely, for how relatively cheap it all was.
The introduction of Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack (which I’ll be calling NSO+ from here on in), then, presents a very interesting pivot for Nintendo. The introduction of both Nintendo 64 and SEGA Mega Drive games is a huge hit to the sweet spot of nostalgia that influences its key demographic: millennials with disposable income. This demographic has been at the forefront of the Switch’s marketing since day one, and it’s easy to see why. The Switch’s design philosophy of “pick up and play, stop when you want” fits neatly into the life of a busy millennial, perhaps more so than any other demographic in our current society. On paper, adding these systems to the service is a smart move… but in typical Nintendo fashion, it comes at a cost, and that cost is, as it always was going to, rubbing people the wrong way.
NSO+ effectively doubles the cost of Nintendo Switch Online, at $60 for an individual and $110 for a family group, and you have to lock in to a 12 month subscription; there’s no option with NSO+ for monthly or quarterly subscriptions here. That’s putting it closer to the same tier of pricing as PlayStation Plus, Xbox Live Gold, and perhaps most importantly Xbox Game Pass, a service that includes over 100 games for just $10 a month, although that does work out to double the cost of NSO+. Still, it seems like a big ask for just N64 and Mega Drive games, and it absolutely is — but Nintendo has also included a very curious value-add: the upcoming paid DLC for Animal Crossing New Horizons is included, at no extra cost, for NSO+ subscribers. Normally priced at $37.50 if bought separately, if you upgrade your subscription for one year of NSO+ it would be $7.50 cheaper for that first year to be subscribed rather than buy it separately. But that value only lasts for a year, and after that, if the Animal Crossing DLC is the main or only reason you’re subscribed, it would’ve been a better option to just buy the DLC instead.
However, this represents a fascinating opportunity for Nintendo. If — and that’s a huge, gigantic if here — Nintendo starts including all of its paid DLC in NSO+ going forward, then the value proposition gets a heck of a lot more interesting. Nintendo’s been no stranger to paid DLC for their first-party published games, with Splatoon 2, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Pokemon Sword and Shield, Fire Emblem Three Houses, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and even The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild all getting paid DLC. It’s very safe to assume that the company’s efforts in paid DLC will continue going forward. So imagine then, if you will, that all future DLC is included in NSO+. And hey, maybe Nintendo goes back and adds its existing paid DLC to the service too, alongside the launch of the next games in their respective series. Now, wouldn’t that be something?
It’d be a smart decision for Nintendo to follow through on this. Paid DLC sales are pretty much always much lower than the base games themselves, and subscription numbers for NSO as a whole could be higher — I can’t imagine every NSO subscriber is going to jump over to NSO+ either. This could be a great way to kill two Birdos with one stone, so to speak: increase playership of paid DLC, and give a healthy boost to subscriptions that pay off for the company over time. For users, even if only one similiarly-priced paid DLC releases each year, it would be cheaper to sub to NSO+ than it would be to buy them all separately, plus you’d get N64 and Mega Drive games included too. For family groups, the value proposition gets significantly better, too, especially if the cost is spread amongst 8 people.
Again, this is a huge if, and it’s very possible that this is a one-and-done for Nintendo. I’ve said it before on the Vookcast, but you should always expect the worst with Nintendo, and hope that the final result ends up striking a balance between the sensible decision and that worst case scenario. But should they follow through, and all first party (and maybe some third party!) DLC is included with NSO+, and it remains at its current price for the forseeable future, it would represent pretty fantastic value for money. And while Nintendo was absolutely never going to offer new games like Xbox’s Game Pass — Nintendo’s a conservative company, and they rarely even drop the price of their games, let alone give them away — a DLC-focused subscription service that also gives you access to the retro games of your youth would be a very fitting, very Nintendo take on a Game Pass-like service.
The only thing left, of course, is for Nintendo to announce more DLC for it. And we could very well be waiting a long, long time for that. Maybe forever.