Last week Nintendo finally rolled out its new rewards program. After a year of only letting players redeem coins for discounts on Wii U and 3DS games, people can finally start leveraging their purchases to save money on Switch games. Compared to the rewards programs elsewhere in gaming, it's actually pretty good.
Editor's Note: Many of the rewards programs mentioned in this article are not available in Australia. They have been left in for comparative purposes.
The updated version of My Nintendo rewards lets you collect coins for purchases and use them directly for discounts on whatever's in the eShop. Previously, you could only redeem them for specific coupons (50% off Earthbound on 3DS) and, once upon a time, physical merchandise (I'll always cherish my Mario-themed stationary). The new program has come under a lot of scrutiny, in part because since rewards expire after a year. Switch early adopters who already bought a bunch of physical stuff during it's first year have also been left in a rough spot (more on that below).
Curious about how Nintendo's program stacks up with others, I decided to do a quick comparison between all of the major rewards programs for digital and physical game purchases. No one's going to get a ton of free games using any of them, but some are still better than others.
Since you'd need to buy 20 games to get one free one using Nintendo's program, I'm using that as the basis for comparison, with the savings noted at the end of each section. With that in mind, here's how they all measure up, starting with Nintendo.
Unlike some others, the My Nintendo rewards program is pretty simple. Every dollar you spend in the eShop gives you five gold coins worth a cent each off other purchases. When you purchase physical games, you have up to a year to redeem them on the store for 1 per cent back in coins. For reasons beyond my comprehension, coins expire annually, but since you can redeem as many of them as you want with every digital transaction, that shouldn't ever really be a problem.
Some fans have bemoaned the fact that this only cashes out to one free, full-priced game every 20, but 5 per cent back is 5 per cent back, and still better than most other rewards programs. In effect, you only need to spend $US1,200 ($1,528) to get 21 digital games instead of the $US1,260 ($1,605) it would cost without the rewards discount.
Personally, I prefer physical games, so the bias toward savings on digital purchases is kind of a bummer. That said, 5 per cent back is on par with many of the most competitive credit card rewards programs. Do I miss Club Nintendo posters and calendars? Yes. Compared to the other video game-based rewards programs currently out there, though, Nintendo's could be a lot worse.
Savings after buying 20 new digital games: $US60 ($76).
Sony Rewards gives you one point for every dollar you spend. If you insinuate yourself into the Sony ecosystem you can earn even more: Subscriptions to PlayStation Vue, Playstation Now, Playstation Plus, and Playstation Music each add another multiplier. If for whatever reason you had all three, you'd be getting four points per dollar. But wait, there's more! If you get the PlayStation credit card, you'll automatically be bumped up to the 5x multiplier.
What do all these points get you? Basically, every 1,000 points nets out to $US10 ($13) in PlayStation Store discounts. That amounts to 1 per cent, which isn't great. Although with the credit card in hand, you can start racking up 5 per cent back on all digital purchase. You can also collect points in other ways, like redeeming the trophies you earn playing games, but you'd need 10 platinums to get $US10 ($13) back that way. When you compare Sony Rewards to how much you probably save through PlayStation Plus discounts on select games, it's pretty paltry.
Savings after buying 20 new digital games: $US32.60 ($42).
Xbox Live Rewards is a somewhat convoluted program so hold tight for this section. There are two mechanisms for savings on Xbox One, the first being rewards credits and the other being MyVIP gems. You get rewards credits and MyVIP gems for things like increasing your gamerscore, taking surveys, and completing challenges (like, say, buying eligible horror games close to Halloween). 1,000 rewards credits translates to $1 in credit on the Xbox store. Meanwhile, gems can be cashed in for prizes like shirts and controllers as well as discounts, but they also unlock higher MyVIP ranks as you earn them. MyVIP ranks determine how many rewards credits you get back with every digital game purchase, so gems are actually the key to taking advantage of the program's real savings. You start at rank 0. From there rank 1 will get you 1 per cent back on digital purchases (2 per cent if you're a Gold member) in the form of rewards credits, all the way up to rank 5, the highest, which gets you 5 per cent back (or 10 per cent with Gold).
If you're able to max out your MyVIP rank, 10 per cent back on digital purchases is pretty good. You only get one gem per dollar spent on qualifying stuff, however, and $US1,800 ($2,290) in digital purchases is the minimum threshold to reach rank 5. Plus, your rank only gets calibrated annually based on the previous year's expenditures. $US150 ($191) a month isn't a ridiculous amount to spend on the Xbox store, but it's still a lot. Unless you are committed to doing challenges and trying to game the system, most players probably fall into the 4-6 per cent money back range of the MyVIP system, assuming they have a Xbox Live Gold subscription. For comparison's sake, this would put it on par with what Nintendo offers, though it's also more complex and a bigger pain in the arse depending on your perspective.
Savings after buying 20 new digital games: approximately $US60 ($76).
The PowerUp Rewards program recently added another tier. There's now "player," "pro," and "elite pro," the last two of which require an annual subscription of $US15 ($19) and $US30 ($38) respectively. A pro membership yields 10 per cent off pre-owned products and 10 per cent more store credit for trade-ins, while the elite pro is twice that. You also get points, 30 per dollar spent at the elite pro level, which amounts to about 3 per cent back, although you can only use the points to redeem specific coupons, rather than a direct 1:1 discount. Plus, the whole program is geared toward used games, so it won't really help you with purchases of new games.
Savings after buying 20 used games (at $US55 ($70) each): approximately $US121 ($154).
To compete with GameStop, Best Buy introduced the My Gamer's Club program a few years back. It's $US30 ($38) for a two-year membership that offers 20 per cent off new games, 10 per cent extra trade-in credit, and 10 per cent off pre-owned games. It's basically the PowerUp program except half the price and with a steep discount on new stuff. It also gives you two points per dollar spent on new games, which equates to about 2.5 per cent back. That discount (400 points can be redeemed for a $US5 ($6) off coupon) can be applied storewide, not just on games.
Savings after buying 20 new games: approximately $US252 ($321).
At $US100 ($127) a year, Amazon Prime is much more expensive. If you have an Amazon credit card, you normally get 3 per cent back for purchases at Amazon, but Prime bumps that to 5 per cent. In addition, Prime also offers release-day shipping for new games (if you don't mind getting them late in the day) and 20 per cent off pre-ordered games.
Savings after buying 20 new games: approximately $US203 ($259).
Target doesn't really have a conventional rewards program, or one specific to video games, but the REDcard, which can be either a debit or credit card, gives 5 per cent off on all purchases minus other discounts.
Savings after buying 20 new games: approximately $US60 ($76).
Walmart only offers a credit card and its points program is only 3 per cent back.
Savings after buying 20 new games: approximately $US38 ($48).
So the good news is that 5 per cent back on eShop purchases is pretty decent on Nintendo's part. At the same time, console rewards programs in general remain a little obtuse and underwhelming. Digital storefronts like Steam don't even have them (although they do have big sales several times a year). I miss the days of getting an annual Mario poster or some other rare and esoteric Nintendo artifact thanks to the Club Nintendo program, but finally getting discounts on Switch games, though long overdue, is a decent alternative, all things considered.