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Nintendo drops Virtual Console model in favor of subscriptions

Focus turns to the Nintendo Switch Online service for future monetization of classic games

In a post on the official Nintendo website last night detailing the Nintendo Switch Online service, the name "Virtual Console" was conspicuous only by its absence.

Upon reaching out to Nintendo, Kotaku learned that this omission may be a permanent one, as the spokesperson replied via email: "There are currently no plans to bring classic games together under the Virtual Console banner as has been done on other Nintendo systems."

The Nintendo Switch Online service debuts this September. Last night's announcement included pricing, feature, and membership details as well as how its classic game service will work. Subscribers will be able to download and play 20 total classic NES games at launch (including Super Mario Bros. 3, Donkey Kong, and The Legend of Zelda) with more games promised later on.

Virtual Console has been a popular request for the Switch since the system was announced. As a doubly effective approach to combating software piracy and monetizing old games, its presence on the Wii, Wii U, and Nintendo 3DS systems earned Nintendo a reputation for keeping its classics alive. Since launch, Virtual Console kept titles from the NES, SNES, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Nintendo 64, and many other systems affordable and easy to acquire where original copies would typically fetch high prices at used game stores or online.

Nintendo's statement closes the door on further Virtual Console speculation as it continues to emphasize its new model for releasing classic titles. By shedding the Virtual Console label, Nintendo reserves the right to recreate audience expectations for such releases. With Nintendo Switch Online subscription games, Nintendo commits to at least a console-worth of the more popular titles in a subscription-based model. While there has also been word the company was planning to add GameCube games to the Switch's offerings, that report emerged months before the system's launch, and has not been corroborated since.

Nintendo Switch Online isn't Nintendo's only plan of attack, nor are other publishers ignoring the shift. For Nintendo's part, it has the NES Classic and SNES Classic retro consoles and Arcade Archive games such as Punch-Out!! Then there's Hamster's growing library of classic Neo Geo titles on the Switch and upcoming collections such as Sega Ages and Capcom's Mega Man X Legacy Collection keeping old games selling on modern systems.

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Rebekah Valentine

Senior Staff Writer

Rebekah arrived at GamesIndustry in 2018 after four years of freelance writing and editing across multiple gaming and tech sites. When she's not recreating video game foods in a real life kitchen, she's happily imagining herself as an Animal Crossing character.