I never would have expected Nintendo to outdo the competition when it comes to something connected with its online services. But it turns out that’s very much the case with gift cards.
I am a digital game enthusiast. I recognize the downsides of digital “ownership,” be it the potential for companies to cut off your access on a whim, change the text of your books, outright refuse your money, or otherwise demonstrate the ephemeral, you’re-actually-only-licensing it nature of the medium. But when it comes to playing games, I am lazy and impulsive: I oftentimes want to switch between a bunch of different games in rapid succession, and, well, my back hurts, and I don’t want to get up each and every time and switch a new disc in, as much as my cat loves to see those get sucked into or pop out of a console. And I especially don’t want to be in a different room from my game collection if I’m carrying my Switch around my house. The very thought gives me chills.
As such, I’ve switched almost exclusively to buying digital games. Digital storefronts on consoles, and especially the Switch eShop, are far less likely to offer the same quality of deals as you find on physical games, so I’m forced to make my own deals. That primarily involves buying gift cards when they go on sale–the best offers usually knock the price down by 20%, which means getting 20% off of whatever I ultimately buy (and that stacks on top of any sales these digital stores might offer). It’s the best way to save money without sacrificing that digital convenience I so desperately crave.
Those 20% offers don’t happen all the time, and not always on the system where I most need some cash in my virtual wallet, so I was delighted to find Xbox Live, PSN, and Switch eShop gift cards all 20% off at Costco recently. Typically, I would buy these cards digitally, so as to avoid the need to manually type in all of these codes (worsened by Costco selling these $100 gift cards in four-packs of $25 each). But I decided to buy physical gift cards because, with the sale ending that day, I wanted to ensure I didn’t forget to order them online, where I might become distracted by, say, a story about Jack Black’s genitals being censored on The Kelly Clarkson Show. As you do.
When it came time to finally crack open the packaging, I realized I would need a coin to scratch the cards. Unable to find one (am I to forage in the sewers?), I considered using my fingernail or a pair of scissors, despite knowing that doing so had once caused a gift card to be rendered unreadable for me. Lo and behold, I opened the Switch cards first to discover a wonderful surprise in the form of two words: Peel Off.
Yes, at some point since I last bought physical gift cards–no doubt by resorting to desperately trading in my copies of Wii Play, Pinball Hall of Fame, and de Blob for what I can only assume was a pittance–the gift card industry has made the greatest technological advancement of my lifetime by replacing scratch-off codes. It’s the best discovery I’ve made since I found out, six years after buying it, that an Instant Pot is designed to hold its own lid.
Absolutely delighted, I entered code after code, only to learn Nintendo inexplicably appears to have a cooldown timer of sorts that prevents you from redeeming too many codes in a short span. I was so pleased with this quality-of-life improvement that I didn’t even mind, because I know better than to expect anything to go completely smoothly, as I learned this week when chimney repairmen at my house asked me to explain how they should reinstall certain pipes.
Undeterred, I moved on to my Xbox gift cards, ripped the packaging open (no scissors or hand-mangling required for any of this!), and was disappointed to find that they retained the classic scratch-off codes. Taken aback, I opened the PSN gift cards and misfortune struck again: more scratch-off codes.
Perhaps this is an older batch of Xbox and PSN cards I purchased, but the difference may come down to the manufacturer. Based on the back of the cards, Nintendo partners with InComm Payments, whereas Microsoft and Sony both use e2interactive’s Fastcard. I don’t know how long these peel-offs have been a thing, but they are wonderful.
Whatever the case, I can’t help but feel I have arrived in my own personal Twilight Zone episode, in which an online-adjacent aspect of Nintendo’s operations is actually superior to that of Microsoft and Sony. Toss in the resurrected Game Voucher program, and those two companies should start taking some notes.
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