Germany is taking Nintendo to court over the Switch eShop Pre-Order clause that states that all pre-orders are non-refundable. And whilst I have and probably will continue to defend Nintendo from a variety of silly criticisms… not so much on this one.
This isn’t going to be a massive post because the fundamental argument underpinning the case is actually something we get as standard on a variety of other platforms as well as on physical media; that we are allowed, as consumers, to change our minds for whatever reason. Maybe a game starts to look… questionable in terms of its design or angle. Maybe you’re just going to be short that month and would prefer that £50/$60 back in your bank account. Maybe something else takes your fancy and you’d rather have that – this is more of an issue with the Switch right now, with 2019 shaping up to be a packed year for the Nintendo Switch and likely that will include a variety of shadow-launches of games we want… but we already spent our allotted monthly gaming allowance on something else that we now don’t actually want.
Changing your mind is not a crime and Nintendo should be open to refunding those pre-purchases. I’m kind of with the EU courts on this one. That seems like a perfectly reasonable thing in a digital age.
That said, I’m actually relatively surprised that ANYONE is allowed to take money for an advance purchase like this; most of us still order physical at retailers, even if that is moving more and more to online shops like Amazon, and on the whole… most of us are used to plonking down our pre-order and not be charged until the day the game actually ships. Call me crazy, but I happen to think that’s a relatively reasonable way to do business on pre-orders; not that I support pre-orders, especially not so far in advance when there’s literally no footage of the game in question, but on the whole – I am of the belief that if you pre-order something, you should be charged when the game is available for download, and not a day sooner.
Yes, this could mean that companies start being sneaky with “pre-loading”; you can have it sitting around in your home screen for weeks or months before you can actually play the thing, but again – I think that should be no sooner than a week before release. I think that’s enough time for modern internet speeds to download the required content.
We’ve seen how sneaky and how dishonest some companies can be. And Nintendo… really isn’t one of those companies. It isn’t a Bethesda, trying to sneak Fallout 76 to market despite the fact it clearly needs far more time in the oven. Or an EA, pushing out an incomplete product to the market to patch it down the road like Mass Effect: Andromeda. And it’s certainly not a Square-Enix, shadow-launching a game like The Quiet Man to the market because it’s the literal worst game of the year. Oh whoops, I think I might have spoiled my Worst Game of 2018 there. How clumsy of me.
Nintendo tend to be really good on all of these fronts; they give plenty of information, they tend to show gameplay in advance and keep people posted on what is to come. Plus, Nintendo’s games are top-drawer when it comes to technical finesse – which is what makes the occasional misstep like 1, 2, Switch! and Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival so much worse – they’re mechanically and technically sound enough that you realise that they’re terrible on their core design merits, not because some poor overworked studio half-arsed the end result. A highly polished turd… but y’know… it’s still a turd…
Nintendo has no reason to hide behind such a pre-order scheme. On the whole, their games are second-to-none. Few companies can boast the kind of qualatitive consistency that Nintendo offers its customers. In a sense, it may be why most pre-orders on Switch don’t get cancelled like this, or why few have kicked up a massive stink – there’s no point. It’s not like people think they’re going to get burnt by Nintendo on this front. They’re confident enough that Nintendo is going to deliver what they want, when they say it’s available.
Personally though, I think the New Nintendo needs to shake off this vestige of Old Nintendo. Not just because it’s legally and ethically the right thing to do – don’t charge peoples cards until you’re actually ready to pre-load the game, or release the game (whichever comes first, usually the pre-load now that I think about it duh) – but because… it’s good PR. It’s a strong pro-consumer move. Customers are still likely to pre-order. And because Nintendo, few are going to honestly cancel those pre-orders even if they have the option. Because Nintendo. Seriously, Nintendo isn’t really going to lose here on Nintendo games.
And it might be salient to make those changes now… because I suspect third parties are going to hit the Switch quite hard in 2019. Projects will be nearing completion. Games will finally be dropping. The Switch has done well enough – and is selling well enough thanks to a ridiculous Holiday period – that it’s just impossible to ignore any more (and I can be fairly sure shareholders are acutely aware of the high software sales happening on the Switch). And that’s going to mean the likes of Square-Enix, Capcom, EA, Activision-Blizzard, WB Interactive and many more. All of whom have demonstrated, on other platforms, just how sneaky they are. Release a game and patch in microtransactions a few weeks later, or shadow-launch a game clearly being pushed out to die on the market because reasons.
Having the option to refund a game if such things become apparent before a release is… probably going to be a critical change. It will save Nintendo a world of headaches here. It managed to avoid the lions share of the Gen-8 Third-Party Walk of Shame, it’d be a real pity if because of one kind-of-dumb eShop policy the Switch was quickly pulled down by the very thing whose avoidance of that has given it such a high consumer opinion.
Nintendo really shouldn’t be fighting this. The next year is going to be critical as the wider market piles into the Switch with more reckless abandon, and Nintendo needs to be able to keep its own head above the water.
Still, as I’ve said before. Never underestimate Nintendo… or its uncanny talent for snatching defeat from the jaws of a victory that’s effectively being handed to it on a silver platter.