Actual stars might be cheaper

A contemplation on whether things that are “free” are actually free in any meaningful sense. Somewhat long and a bit rambling, so I’ll hide it behind a break to save page space for those who don’t want to read it.

Today was spent largely in quiet contemplation; it’s Sunday, and apart from Church in the morning, I spent a large proportion of the day lying on the sofa helping my back heal up so I can get back to some paying work.
I also unpacked the copy of Wii Sports Resort I picked up yesterday to give it a spin. One of the first things that fell out of the box was a “Personal Invitation” to join “Club Nintendo“. Leaving aside the images of Princess Peach in a bikini that this suggests (I’m sure you can find that somewhere online, if the mood were to strike you), it’s actually a marketing effort on Nintendo’s part to shift its own titles locally. You “register” each title (via a rather hideous code printed in the “invitation” booklet — somebody really should tell Nintendo that having codes with “O” and “0” in them is poor form in this day and age) and receive “stars” to spend in the Australian version of the Stars catalogue. It’s a scheme that Nintendo’s successfully run in the US, Europe and Japan, with varying levels of supposedly “free” swag in return for your stars.
Except, of course, that nothing is really free, now is it?
Firstly, there’s the fact that for each title you register, you’ve got to fill out a short and rather inane survey, indicating age ranges of the likely players of each title — there seems to be no penalty for just saying you’re the only one who’ll play it, every time — as well as how frequently you game (although the shortest period is only “within the last twelve months”, which leaves many hardcore gamers left out) and where you heard about the game. I actually had a few “invitations” from other games to submit today — I’d not bothered before — and had to scratch my head over a few of the questions. Like, for example, for New Play Control: Pikmin. Had I played a previous game in the series? Well, yes — Pikmin 2 for the Gamecube. Except that New Play Control: Pikmin is the remake of the first game in the Gamecube series, so it technically comes first, but was only released in the New Play Control version this year, whereas Pikmin 2 came out in 2004, but it’s the sequel to the content in Pikmin which is technically identical to the content in New Play Control: Pikmin, so have I….
*Alex’s head explodes. Look up scanner.gif for a visual example if you really must*
Leaving the inane survey stuff aside, there’s the actual cost of the games and the stars you get for them. I’ve got to admit, this was something that piqued my interest, as I had a small collection of games, and I know the attach rates for most consoles isn’t that high. If Nintendo wanted to appease the low-title-buying-masses, then presumably they’d offer high star values for games — especially as you only get stars for Nintendo’s own titles, not just any Wii game — wouldn’t they?
You get 250 stars for “joining” (but by then you’ve already purchased a game, so even they’re not “free”) and then generally 250 stars per extra Wii game, although for some reason the aforementioned New Play Control: Pikmin only netted me 150. I guess it was cheaper, but then to balance it out, the much more expensive Wii Fit was only worth the “standard” 250 stars. I’ve no idea if DS games now come with them — certainly nothing in my DS collection has had an invitation in it. Across Wii Fit, New Play Control: Pikmin, Super Smash Brothers Brawl Melee, Mario Kart Wii and Wii Sports Resort, I ended up with a grand total of 1,150 Stars.
In RRP terms, you’d have to spend $500 at retail to get those points, although some canny shopping might get you them a little cheaper. I say a little, because Nintendo’s first party titles don’t tend to drop in price anywhere near as quickly as their competitors. Whether that’s a sign of quality, a sign of market dominance or something else again is anybody’s guess…
Anyway, what can I get for my 1,150 points? Not much, it turns out. I could redeem for a Wii Stand (which I don’t want), but literally everything else in the catalogue would require more Stars. Quite a few more stars, in fact. At the time of writing, the breakdown is like this:
Mario Print Face Towel 1300 stars
Wii Remote Stand 1000 stars
Nintendo DS Game Case and Stylus Set 1800 stars
Nintendo DS Game Wallet 2000 stars
DS Game & Watch Collection 2500 stars
Given the average $100 price point for a game and 250 stars per game that they’re currently “giving” per game,  a quick bit of cash translation means that you’ve got to spend the following:

Mario Print Face Towel
Wii Remote Stand $400
Nintendo DS Game Case and Stylus Set $720
Nintendo DS Game Wallet $800
DS Game & Watch Collection $1000
Which makes the three-game Game & Watch Collection the most “expensive” DS game ever made. Odd, that.
Although it does somewhat point to where I suspect Nintendo reckons the actual market for stars, redeemed “points” and what it’s actually offering in the catalogue actually is. It’s not casual gamers with low attach rates. It’s not the kid-friendly market that Nintendo has for so long been identified with.
Nope, it’s mature gamers and long-term Nintendo fans of a certain age. Rather like mine, actually — the three games in that collection are all Game & Watch classics (there’s two of them in my display cabinet right now as a matter of fact) with the highest appeal to thirty-something gamers who grew up with the things. Thirty something gamers that Nintendo presumably thinks have enough disposable income to spend a thousand bucks on other games in order to get them. Other than that you’re looking at a moderately cute washcloth, and then stands and cases that could be purchased from your local department store for around $20 each. Maybe $30 if you wanted Mario’s face painted on the side.
Don’t get me wrong — there’s nothing wrong with “free” and in a certain respect these are “free” — but they’re not generous when you consider 3/5ths of the “free” content is very ordinary, 1/5th is a face towel and the final remaning title consists of three classic games that you could certainly buy online in their original format (and probably boxed) for quite a bit less than a thousand bucks.

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