Nintendo’s games are accompanied by some of the catchiest and most iconic music in all the video game sphere. If you’ve played through a Mario, Zelda, Metroid, F-Zero, or Kirby game, you can likely remember a slew of excellent songs and iconic themes in a wide variety of genres that helped establish the vibe and feel of the game. Nintendo clearly has a high bar of quality for the music they put in their games (Yoshi’s New Island notwithstanding…), showing that they greatly value what music and sound can add to a game. However, Nintendo is also one of the stingiest companies when it comes to letting their fans listen to their music outside of the games themselves.
While most other publishers make their games’ soundtracks readily available in various media formats and streaming services, Nintendo hoards their music like Wario hoards his stash of gold coins. They don’t seem to have an issue with the very idea of releasing their music to the public, as they have released limited edition CDs as game pack-in bonuses or rewards for the now defunct Club Nintendo; but they almost never seem to give them wide, general releases. That decision is both a disservice to fans and a bad business move.
Valve CEO Gabe Newell is often quoted as saying “Piracy is almost always a service problem and not a pricing problem.” In saying that, Newell was stating that consumers would always opt for the path of least resistance to get the product they desire. If you make the official methods of acquiring the product the most painless and convenient route, most people would happily shell out cash to get it instead of opting to pirate it illegally. While he was specifically talking about video games themselves, this applies just as much to the music contained in them. Nintendo is fiercely protective of their IP, being extremely quick to issue takedowns or cease-and-desists to anything they view as a violation of their properties. This is understandable, but it’s strange that Nintendo is so fiercely protective of their music when they offer no official methods of accessing most of it. They will quickly strike down an entire YouTube channel’s worth of unofficially uploaded music but won’t officially put it up for sale on any storefront or include it with any streaming library.
By not providing their fans with an official and convenient way to access their music, Nintendo is leaving money on the table. Super Smash Bros Ultimate is probably as close to a definitive library of Nintendo music that you can get, and it even has a listening mode where you can turn your Switch’s screen off and just listen to the tracks. But not everyone wants to lug their Switch around just for music when they already have a phone with unlimited access to all their other favorites. It would be an extremely “Nintendo” thing to do, since they love having their own little walled gardens, but they don’t even offer their own proprietary music streaming app. Adding such a thing to their Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack could do a lot to increase the value proposition of that subscription.
By neglecting to provide fans with official access to their excellent and varied music library, they are missing out on getting everyone more involved with their IP while also creating another revenue stream. Letting people enjoy the music outside of the games could make them appreciate the games more and form deeper connections to their IP. While being the owner of some of the most beloved properties in the world, Nintendo makes some strange choices in regards to what they do with them.