When Nintendo’s loyalty reward program, Club Nintendo, shut down in 2015 it was a mixed blessing. On one hand it meant an end to a program that was highly divisive; one that seemed to offer very little reward for the money people spent on games and the time it took to fill out a seemingly endless amount of registration codes and surveys. On the other hand, at least Nintendo was offering both physical and digital rewards to its fans, something the other hardware manufacturers were not.
So, when the company announced that it was replacing Club Nintendo with a new and improved reward system, many of us were excited to hear more. Prior to it launching, Nintendo outlined some of the benefits of the new service, now called My Nintendo. The membership would work across all platforms, including the 3DS, Wii U, Switch, PC, mobile, and even at places like theme parks. They promised customized rewards for each person based on specific games purchased. In theory this meant that if you bought a game like Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia you might receive a special discount on its Season Pass or perhaps a free wallpaper for your smart phone. Unfortunately, this level of integration still hasn’t been implemented.
The new reward program was supposed to be designed to award gamers points not only by purchasing Nintendo software, but also by playing the games. Those points could then be spent on digital content, such as 3DS themes and Mii outfits. Alternatively there would be other items to spend points on, like discount coupons and original physical merchandise.
While it’s true that some of these plans have materialized in the current My Nintendo rewards system, they’re often half-baked and some have seemingly been left out to die. The lackluster rewards are bad enough, but the way in which points are earned is also a big letdown. When the program was first announced, Nintendo made it sound like they were ripping a page out of Ubisoft’s Uplay (Ubisoft Club) playbook. For those unaware of what that is, basically Ubisoft sets up specific goals in its games and if you are able to hit them you’re rewarded with points, which can then be used to purchase digital goods for the games you already own. For example, let’s say you get 30 headshot kills in Ghost Recon and earn 50 Ubisoft points. You can then spend those points to unlock a new gun or a customized outfit in The Division. Basically it’s sort of like having an Achievement or Trophy system baked into each individual game, but the rewards are so much better.
Nintendo has done this with its mobile initiatives. You get points for completing certain objectives in Miitomo, Super Mario Run, and Fire Emblem Heroes. These points can then be used to purchase digital items for those games. I had hoped Nintendo was going to do the same thing for its Switch titles. Imagine how cool it would be if you earned reward points for beating each Divine Beast in Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Perhaps those points could then have been used to purchase a limited set of armor in the game or some other cool items. We all know that Nintendo is against a system-wide achievement system similar to what’s found in the competition, but they had a chance here to one-up the other guys by implementing some challenges on a game-by-game basis and rewarding the community with some awesome in-game rewards. This would not only encourage more customers to sign up for the free My Nintendo account, it could also extend the playtime even more for those opting to try to beat the challenges set forth by Nintendo. I’m not suggesting ridiculous achievements, like collecting 900 Korok Seeds, should be a thing, but it would be fun if smaller challenges were presented, like maybe 100 head shots with the bow while vaulting off a horse. These could push players to try new things and reward them for doing so.
As it stands, none of the Nintendo Switch games give you points for playing them. You do get points for purchasing games, but here Nintendo punishes those who buy physical copies by only rewarding a fraction of the reward. On a $60 game like Zelda, you’ll get 60 Gold Points for purchasing it through the eShop, but only 12 points if you purchase the game at a retailer. Obviously Nintendo wants you to buy your games digitally as they get a much bigger cut of the pie (the whole thing!), but do they have to make it so obvious? Oh, and what about those gamers out there purchasing Wii U and 3DS games at retailers? They get nothing!
Of course, all of this complaining about points is kind of moot if the rewards aren’t any good, and let’s be honest, we had it so much better with Club Nintendo. At least with the old reward system we could redeem points for actual physical merchandise, even if most of it was just boring stuff like notepads and pens. The company originally promised that My Nintendo would also let you redeem your points for physical merchandise, which has yet to happen.
Under Club Nintendo, they would switch out their digital rewards every now and again so you could spend your points on free software, usually Virtual Console games. Even this is not available in the new program, instead only offering 30% off select software by spending points. Really the only free items that are made available by spending points are wallpapers for your PC and mobile devices, 3DS themes, and a few unique digital downloads, such as Zelda music. The program started with a bang by offering Zelda Picross, a completely original game for the 3DS for free with points, but unfortunately that trend hasn’t continued. As of this writing we’re still waiting for Nintendo Switch rewards. Perhaps they’re waiting for a firmware update to allow for new backgrounds to be able to be downloaded, or for the Virtual Console to arrive, or are reticent to give discounts on newer games.
When all is said and done, My Nintendo is simply a mess of a rewards program. It doesn’t offer great ways to earn points by playing games (you have to play their mobile stuff to earn any points this way) and even if you amass a bunch of points, the rewards leave much to be desired. With the launch of the Switch Nintendo had a golden opportunity to rewrite the rules of how a loyalty rewards program could work and they squandered it. They could have rewarded players equally for buying software digitally or physically and made it even more exciting to earn points by completing specific tasks in their games. With no physical items to purchase with points and most of the rewards only offering a percentage off of software most Nintendo fans already own, the whole program becomes a waste of time for many of us. It’s unfortunate because this could have been so much more. Thankfully there’s still time to turn the ship around and make the service something special to loyal customers. Will Nintendo bother?