Nintendo recently opened up and shared some info about the upcoming Nintendo Switch Online membership program. One of the benefits of becoming a paid subscriber (other than playing online, which will cease to be free in September) is access to a library of digital NES games. As fans suspected, Nintendo has confirmed this means there are no plans for a traditional Virtual Console on Nintendo Switch.
While this marks a shift in strategy for Nintendo, you can bet that they still intend to bring their classic games to Switch in some form. Nintendo hasn't elaborated on how they plan to release games from classic platforms like SNES and Game Boy Advance, but a likely option is that they will handle them similarly to the NES library. If that's the direction Nintendo chooses to go, it's fantastic news for indie developers.
In the year since Switch launched, it has established itself as a paradise for indie games. Nintendo's console has helped old games find new life, struggling developers get back on their feet, and previously unknown talents deliver surprise smash hits. Take a stroll around the eShop, and you'll see some incredible success stories in the world of indie games.
The Zelda-inspired Blossom Tales performed so poorly when it launched on Steam that the developer was on the verge of bankruptcy. After three months on Switch, Blossom Tales had generated 20 times as much revenue on eShop as it had in a year on Steam. This sudden influx of cash brought developer Castle Pixel back from the brink. If it hadn't been for strong Switch sales, they wouldn't exist today.
Shovel Knight has been on the market for four years, but just over one year on Switch. Even so, Switch sales make up 17.6% of all Shovel Knight sales. The 8-bit platformer has sold over 370,000 copies on Switch (out of 2 million total) despite the fact that it launched on numerous other platforms years ago. Only the Windows and 3DS versions of the game have sold more copies, and that could easily change as Switch sales continue to surge.
Stardew Valley has sold nearly 1 million copies on Switch alone despite getting it a year and a half after its initial launch. Celeste is selling better on Switch than any other platform. The list goes on and on. If you take a quick glance at the eShop's Top Sellers list at any given time, there's a strong chance you'll see around five or more indie games in the top 15.
The ability to take your games on the go with you is motivation for indies and AAA developers alike to bring their games to Switch, but there's a lot more driving the success of these smaller titles than just portability. Nintendo sees Switch as a system that's attractive to gamers that stopped playing. Nintendo is reaching out (quite successfully) to an audience that loved games in the 1990s and have slipped away over time. The Switch audience is ravenous for nostalgia. They want games that remind them of their favorite childhood gaming memories.
The lack of Nintendo-developed 8-bit and 16-bit games on eShop means that games inspired by them can thrive. Would Blossom Tales have been the miracle story it was on Switch if it had to compete directly with A Link to the Past and Minish Cap? Would Golf Story have topped the eShop charts shortly after launch if it was side by side with multiple Mario Golf games? Relegating classic Nintendo games to a service rather than individually purchasable items ensures that deserving indie games can continue to rise to the top and reach a wide audience instead of disappearing in the shadow of the classics that inspired them.