Don’t look now, but Nintendo has finally placed some new offerings for your hard-earned Coins in the Rewards section of Club Nintendo. And they look awfully familiar: posters and DS card cases. There’s also a humorous shirt that sports Samus shooting her way through the Mushroom Kingdom (it’s for NES Remix, you see) but overall it feels like more of the same with a fresher coat of paint.
In the early 2000’s a new section on the Nintendo website called “My Nintendo” appeared, and sheets with codes on them started getting tucked in with the instruction manuals of most Nintendo-published games. This service eventually turned into Club Nintendo, first in Japan, then in Europe and eventually in North America. It’s a way for the company to collect data about the preferences of its customers in exchange for prizes if enough surveys are filled out.
One thing American fans noticed right away was that the prizes given away at the Japanese Club Nintendo were much better than the prizes the Western branches got. Custom controllers, stuffed Yoshi plushies, even alternate versions of entire games. Outside of Japan the choices were cheap posters, screen savers and “Grill-Off With Ultra Hand!” If anything of worth showed up in the American Club, it quickly sold out: for example the 3DS XL charge cradle, which would have made a lot of money as a real product, was only available for three days at Club Nintendo and has never returned.
Gradually the physical items have been disappearing altogether, replaced by Virtual Console downloads. Until today I had a theory that Nintendo was planning to shut down Club Nintendo for good, and the lack of choices as of late was their way of winding the promotion down. That theory gained extra “evidence” when Nintendo started printing the Club Nintendo codes on the backs of the game cover inserts, where few people would find them. And I thought for certain its days were numbered when the special prize for Gold and Platinum Clubbers this year was….more downloads.
Nintendo must still think there’s life in the concept, but if they don’t start making real effort, its fanbase may abandon it anyway.