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Nintendo’s nuclear option: Make back catalogue of games available for free

Everyone in the gaming industry is abuzz over the slow uptake and poor sales of the Nintendo Wii U, prompted by a slow rollout and the need for a huge download for the console to even work.

Once installed and running though, it's an excellent networked system with an array of games, old and new, that highlight the compatibility of the machine with the previous Wii.

The Wii U itself is unusual because it comes with a gamepad big enough to play all the games without a home TV, and it can run in parallel with a TV set broadcasting a cable channel. When the TV output of the Wii U is enabled, the gamepad acts as an auxiliary input device. A complicated lash-up may be daunting. All I know is kids and adults like the thing once they use it. I personally think it is remarkable. Unfortunately, none of this is helping sales.

Nintendo discusses the ace up its sleeve every so often but the company has refused to bite the bullet. Some call it the nuclear option. The idea is to release all previous Nintendo games, right up to the games for the Wii that preceded the Wii U, for free.

No company has a back catalogue as huge as Nintendo. Most of these games are bringing the company zero income as people quickly transition to new games, but they are all playable and many are still modern and fun.

The games could be rolled out online for download on demand, and users could store the games locally. There is some evidence that Nintendo is planning something like this since the company began to promote a 2TB add-on hard disk for the Wii U system. Who needs that much capacity?

I have to assume there is a debate at Nintendo regarding the rollout of the entire catalogue for free. Some executives are probably arguing all these free games will distract from the new Wii U-specific games, meaning while the console sales may skyrocket, the cash cow games themselves will fail.

This sounds logical but in actuality users want new material and the old catalogue as a novelty to satisfy their need to horde old games. If the user went broke tomorrow and could never afford another new game, he would have plenty of old games to play. This depression-set mentality is common during economic downturns, making this the perfect time for Nintendo to go for it and open the floodgates.

Nintendo is not in the same rat race as Microsoft and Sony. It has always maintained a separate channel as both a game console and a portable gaming company with the popular Nintendo DS. Thus it can experiment and evolve within a different realm.

Now is the time for the grand experiment. Give its customers thousands and thousands of pounds of relative value if they buy a Wii U. Free games for everyone!