This week, I finally received one of the last rewards I'll ever get from Club Nintendo: a 3DS XL Pouch styled with The Legend of Zelda pixel art. In the past, I've received desk calendars, a Mario Hat, a Majora's Mask soundtrack CD, and free digital games from the now-defunct loyalty program.
Earlier this year, Nintendo announced its plans to retire Club Nintendo, and it's no longer possible to take their weird, little surveys and redeem those precious coins for all manner of strange, Nintendo-themed goodies. Even though they weren't always perfect, I'm going to miss this program, and I sincerely hope Nintendo has replacement in the works.
And, actually, I think it might be something they announce next week at E3.
Iwata has indicated that Nintendo's recently announced plan to expand to the mobile device market via a partnership with DeNA will entail some kind of new, connected loyalty program. Details on the new program have been quite light, and the only timing announced has been "at a later date." So is E3 a likely venue for finally announcing this program? And, if they do, what will it be?
One of the biggest reasons for announcing a new loyalty program at E3 is directly related to another recent announcement by Nintendo: Zelda for Wii U has been delayed from 2015 and won't be making an appearance at the show. That leaves a Link-shaped hole in both Nintendo's show plans and their holiday lineup.
While it's unclear which game might try to fill the void for this holiday, announcing a new rewards program could help generate some excitement in the wake of losing the Zelda hype train (which I assume is from The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks). Either way, Nintendo needs something big to capture headlines at this E3, and this could be it.
Whenever they announce it, though, it's exciting to consider what it might be. We can actually look at a few clues to give us an idea of how the new program could work:
#1. DeNA is a mobile-first company
Nintendo is moving into mobile, and they're doing so with partner company DeNA. They have a proven track record in the mobile space, and Nintendo has indicated that they will be relying on DeNA to help shape a new loyalty program. It stands to reason, then, that this could be the perfect bait to lure even the most diehard, mobile-averse Nintendo fan to download an app.
By only making it possible to sign up for the program via some kind of Nintendo "hub" app that helps bridge the gap between mobile and consoles, Nintendo could jump-start the number of customers opting in to the new program.
#2. A unified, easier points-tracking system
For all its faults (limited quantities, slow shipping, tedious surveys, etc.), Club Nintendo was actually Nintendo's earliest attempt at a sort of unified account. You could link many of your consoles (DSi, Wii, 3DS, and Wii U) to your account, and it would automatically log any digital purchases from your linked systems.
Retail purchases, however, were another story: collecting scraps of paper from game boxes and entering lengthy codes manually was hardly a fun process. A new program needs to have a more elegant solution, and QR codes could be their best bet. However, Nintendo has announced plans to make some future amiibo out of playing cards, so it's possible they could rely on NFC technology to make this even more magical (depending on production costs).
And, most importantly, let's hope that this also ties into a truly unified account system that stems to other parts of Nintendo's ecosystem, including a way to create a singular download list to make it easier to upgrade and replace systems.
#3. No more physical goods
While Nintendo has always had a penchant for plastic peripherals, they haven't historically made actual toys or figures. That, of course, all changed with the launch of amiibo. Club Nintendo did offer some physical goods, like this sweet Luigi's Mansion figure, but they're now reaping the benefits of selling toys. As such, it's hard to imagine them justifying the production costs of other toys and figures that are given away, essentially, for free.
Even toward the end of Club Nintendo's life, we saw Nintendo lean heavily on digital goods. Most notably, they upset fans when the 2015 Gold/Platinum "Elite" rewards were announced as digital-only game download codes. Sure, there were some good games on there, but the only way you'd qualify for these rewards was if you were a very frequent Nintendo shopper. That meant you probably already owned a good portion of these games. Compared to a rare, physical good, they just didn't stack up.
I fully expect the next generation program to rely more on digital rewards, but they need to be more unique than download codes for free games. Special Miiverse stamps, Mii outfits, or unique 3DS themes are just a few ideas of ways to provide otherwise-unavailable unique content for loyal fans.
#4. No more surveys
A big part of the original Club Nintendo involved filling out clunky surveys about the games you'd purchased, including "post-play" surveys that were unlocked after a certain number days spent with a game. By completing the surveys, you earned more coins, and you got more rewards. The problem is: surveys are a hassle to do, and Nintendo was only getting the same opinions again and again. No fun for us and questionable data for them.
We've already seen a few of Nintendo's consoles ask permission to share activity/console usage data back to headquarters, and I have to imagine they're getting more information by watching player data than they are by asking a bunch of questions on a website. There are more creative ways they could get our opinions, too. In Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, each mission (upon completion) gives you the chance to add a quick star rating. Nintendo could likely develop even more creative ways to "gamify" feedback right within their experiences. Having that data tied back to your unified profile and cross-platform purchase history would make it even more powerful. I expect their new program will be much subtler in this regard.
With Nintendo's digital event at E3 just a few days away, we'll soon see if they, indeed, have any plans to announce the successor to Club Nintendo. Maybe they wouldn't dedicated valuable minutes and seconds to an "extra" program that only the company's biggest fans would care about, but I hope they do.
In the mean time, I'll just keep waiting for my very, very last Club Nintendo award. One more desk calendar to remember what was a unique, if flawed, program. Here's to the future, Club Nintendo.