Posted by: seanmalstrom | January 23, 2016

Email: Cartridges make sense for NX

Hello, Master Malstrom!

Last May I made a prediction thread on a gaming forum. The gist of it was that cartridges would return for Nintendo’s new home console because if Nintendo is going into the direction of a shared library between two or more devices, then it should be easy for consumers to buy games for said devices. A storage medium that can be inserted in either device would be the most elegant solution. The most logical choice would be proprietary SD cards like the DS and 3DS have used, because optical media don’t make much sense for portable hardware. Another benefit would be that stores wouldn’t need to stock separate game boxes for home console and handheld devices, therefore allowing a wider range of games to be displayed in the Nintendo section.

In the last few years SD cards have rapidly increased in storage capacity, so unlike the cartridges of the past, they won’t be inferior to optical media. Mass production prices are comparable to optical media as well, so this shouldn’t be a serious issue either. Then there are the benefits for the video game hardware: For one, fewer moving parts inside increase reliability, and two, card-based hardware doesn’t need as much cooling which leads to a reduction of noise while playing games.

I shrugged off any concerns regarding Nintendo failing to meet industry standards because third parties wouldn’t give Nintendo a fair shake to begin with. The initial wave of Wii U titles was littered with poor ports and more than half of the upcoming multiplatform games at the time were skipping the Wii U, even though the console had yet to launch and cement its failure. One would have to be delusional in order to believe that third parties would be rushing back to Nintendo, if only the Japanese console manufacturer met all of their standards. Nintendo is free to do as they please, also because it is Nintendo software that sells Nintendo hardware. Third parties will come around to make games once the hardware sells, and if it sells, then specifications aren’t that important anymore. If there’s money to be made, it’s hard to ignore.

The bottom line was that there a lot more reasons that speak for cartridges than against it. If the wall between Nintendo home console and Nintendo handheld is supposed to be teared down and most (or all?) games are supposed to be available for any NX device, then it would be counter-productive for the entire endeavor if each device had to be fed with a different storage medium.

Suppose there were different storage media for NX and you owned at least two devices: With Nintendo’s upcoming account system, you could have the solution to buy a physical copy for one of your devices, register it and then get a free download for your other device (before you moan that Nintendo will always want you to buy two copies: Nintendo has already begun to toy with crossbuy on Wii U and 3DS last year). On the other hand, if the storage medium was the same for both devices, you could simply plug your cartridge in the machine you want and would be ready to play. Of course, this doesn’t rule out that you could still register your physical copy to your account and get a free download for any of your registered NX devices; so keep your cartridges at home for your console while you go all digital for your handheld.


NX is about leveraging DeNa (or whatever name that online company Nintendo bought). NX is about a new relationship of game ownership. Instead of the console and game being a system in itself, it will be the game having a connection to Nintendo’s account system. NX may have Funky Hardware Gimmick, but the fundamental relationship will change. Iwata told us this.

I like cartridges because they can be collected and can only be taken away from my cold dead hands. I want Nintendo’s online system to be more like GoG, instead, it will likely be more like Steam.

Instead of the platform being the hardware, the platform will be the account. All I want is to be able to take my Super Mario Brothers to any Nintendo hardware. That does not mean I yield ownership to that Super Mario Brothers game.

I want the games to go multi-console (within Nintendo consoles, present and future). What Nintendo will likely do is make the games tethered to the account so that the platform is now online and console hardware have become nothing more than Extremely Expensive Controllers. What! You doubt this? What is Nintendo hardware today but an Extremely Expensive Controller? If the platform is the Nintendo Account System, then instead of controllers that plug into  the console, it is consoles that plug into the account system…. hence, the consoles become Extremely Expensive Controllers. And, of course, we won’t actually own any of the games. I can see it now: “You must get permission from Nintendo server to use your copy of Super Mario Brothers, which is 30 years old, to be on your handheld device.”

I’m a consumer! I am selfish! Iwata says I am king! With my rump on my throne, I demand that my experience with Nintendo does not go backwards because of the re-definition of the platform to not be hardware. If Nintendo did that, it would be a worse disaster than the Wii U (“How is that possible?” Well, we didn’t think it could go lower than Gamecube, but Nintendo did it!). In the long line of generations of consoles, the customer experience is supposed to GO UP. It would be like putting out a console that didn’t allow you to use different controllers or placed the controls on the hardware itself like Generation 1 PONG machines.

To me, cartridges are not a gush of nostalgia but an example of ownership stability. CDs do not last. You cannot own downloaded games. Nintendo thinks it is providing the same experience with Amiibos, but Amiibos are not cartridges.

There is no reason for me to buy games if they do not last or I do not own them.



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