Nintendo Switch Online + Experiment Pack?

So I feel like by far the most interesting thing about the recent Nintendo Switch Online announcements has gone completely unremarked.

As a quick refresher - Nintendo Switch Online (NSO) is the paid subscription service for Nintendo Switch, roughly analogous to PlayStation Plus or Xbox Live Gold. Some of what NSO provides is standard for this space - the ability to play multiplayer games online, cloud-based backups of save files (well, mostly), occasional game trials and discounts and other little bonuses. The unusual thing is that it also grants access to a library of NES and SNES games.

Recently it was revealed that a higher subscription tier dubbed the Expansion Pack is coming. By paying extra on top of the normal NSO cost, you can additionally get access to a library of N64 and Sega Genesis games.

Now, there’s a lot to be said about the merits of these offerings and whether they are worth the cost and how they compare to previous-generation’s Virtual Console offerings and the approaches taken by Microsoft and Sony (not to mention how things work on PC) and so on and so on. I’m not here to talk about any of that.

What’s much more interesting to me is that the NSO Expansion Pack will apparently also include access to the upcoming paid DLC expansion for Animal Crossing: New Horizons. That’s fascinating.

First off, I think this is the only time I’ve ever heard of a situation where - through normal/legit/expected means - you can lose ownership of DLC without losing ownership of the base game. I immediately wondered how that was going to work, and Nintendo have explained it in the last paragraph here. It’s definitely accounted for.

But this is also just super weird from a strategy standpoint, right? The NSO Expansion Pack includes a library of retro games… and the DLC expansion for one particular game you may or may not have and which can be bought directly for a fairly low price compared to the ongoing cost of the subscription.

(Though it is worth noting that at least this is a game where it’s decently likely that families may own more than one copy - Allie and I share an NSO family subscription and both own AC:NH; if we bump up our NSO subscription then we will both get the expansion which we’d otherwise both have to buy separately. Larger families with more copies of the game benefit further.)

So it’s hard to imagine this being a real driver of NSO Expansion Pack subscriptions, and it’s hard to imagine it being worth it for Nintendo to put in the infrastructure required to support it for a single game.

So… what if this is just the first?

It may be too late for the existing DLC expansions for, say, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, Luigi’s Mansion 3, and Splatoon 2, but what if the inevitable ones for Breath of the Wild 2, Splatoon 3, maybe Metroid Dread, and so on get added to this too? What if the NSO Expansion Pack… ends up packing in the expansions for most first-party Nintendo Switch games?

I find this to be an exciting idea. It would go a long way toward justifying the high cost of the NSO Expansion Pack (moving up to that higher subscription tier more than doubles the price) and provide both cross-promotion and lock-in. If you sub for N64 games and an expansion for AC:NH, but also get access to the Splatoon 3 expansion, you are now that much more likely to pick up Splatoon 3. And then once you have a bunch of games for which you have the expansion through your NSO sub, it’s that much harder to justify dropping the sub - meaning that you’re more likely to keep giving Nintendo that sweet, sweet, recurring revenue.

But Nintendo haven’t framed things in this way at all. They haven’t even said that AC:NH is the first game to have its DLC coming to the NSO Expansion Pack, let alone promised that other games would get the same treatment. That’s what tells me this is probably an experiment.

What concerns me is that Nintendo has an extremely established history of experiments on good ideas executed halfheartedly and then abandoned. This one reminds me a lot of Mini Mario and Friends: Amiibo Challenge, which was the start of a great way to add cross-promoting value to the Amiibo ecosystem but was immediately dropped. And the lack of commitment would hurt the game-expansions-on-NSO-Expansion-Pack experiment even more, because for it to work the game expansions have to be designed in such a way that they can be added, removed, and re-added to a player’s account without breaking their save file. That’s extra design and development work and constraints, and it seems hard to justify without a consistent top-down mandate. I wouldn’t be surprised if the “experiment” fails because most games simply don’t bother making their expansions easily drop-in/drop-out and so can’t be part of it.

If Nintendo had also announced that their existing first-party games with DLC expansions were getting patched and those expansions were also coming to the NSO Expansion Pack, and that upcoming games would use this as well, I’d be really optimistic about this and interested to see it unfold. As is, I’m expecting maybe one or two more currently-in-development DLC expansions to join AC:NH on NSO over the next year or so, and then Nintendo will never speak of it again.

I hope Nintendo proves me wrong.