Over the holidays we’re republishing some of our best features, interviews, opinion pieces and talking points from the previous 12 months from staff and contributors alike — articles that we feel represent our best of 2021. In them you’ll find our usual mix of thoughtfulness, frivolity, retro expertise, gaming nostalgia, and — of course — enthusiasm for all things Nintendo. Enjoy!
Most fans would agree that Nintendo’s current eShop for Switch could use some work. Sure, it serves its purpose well from a purely transactional standpoint, but there are some glaring issues at the heart of it. The layout makes it difficult to just casually browse and find interesting new titles. User reviews used to be a feature, until Nintendo decided the eShop was better off without them. Worst of all, there’s no catchy music. The company has never been completely on the ball with its online offerings, but even given the fact that the sheer number of games on the system are bound to create discoverability issues, it would be difficult to argue that its latest iteration of the eShop is also its greatest.
Luckily for us, that doesn’t mean that digital shoppers have to suffer for the duration of this generation. A fan named Michael Fairley decided to step up where Nintendo won’t and put together an impressively useful site to help Switch owners find the best prices for the games and hardware they want. Deku Deals has become the indisputable gold standard for researching any purchases on Nintendo Switch, so we thought we’d speak with Michael to discuss his site at greater length and pick his brain regarding Nintendo’s own efforts in the digital storefront space.
Nintendo Life: First off, could you take a moment to introduce yourself?
Hi! I’m Michael Fairley, and I’ve been running Deku Deals as a one-man project since 2018. I live in Seattle, Washington, and I’ve been a professional software developer for the past decade. In my free time I like playing video games, listening to podcasts, reading books, and writing code.
What’s your experience been like running Deku Deals?
Running Deku Deals is simultaneously one of the most rewarding and most challenging things I’ve ever done. Some days, I’m really proud of all that I’ve accomplished with the site. Other days, I just look at my to-do list and feel overwhelmed. But generally, I like solving complex problems, and the site’s users always keep me going, so let’s call it a net-positive.
If any, what have been some unforeseen challenges that surprised you?
Dealing with complex/messy data is one of the most complicated parts of running Deku Deals. Some examples: a game with “2” in its name might be listed at some retailers with “II” or “Two” instead; there can be different versions of the same game in different regions — sometimes with slightly different release dates or names; and in one instance, there are actually two completely different games that have the exact same name. I’ve had to put a lot of work into making my automated tools handle these types of situations (when I would much rather spend my time building user-facing features).
In what ways does the site’s current state differ or align with your original vision?
When I first started the site, it was narrowly focused on only the few features that I personally wanted, namely wishlisting and deal notifications for Switch games. Some of the main ways it has expanded beyond that are all of the search and recommendation tools for finding new games, being able to track the collection of games you own, and the recent additions of PlayStation and Xbox.
How has community response affected your development plans for Deku Deals?
Requests from Deku Deals’ users have had a huuuge impact on the site! It turns out people have lots of different preferences about how they buy video games. For instance, some people never want to deal with cartridges and prefer to only buy digital versions of games, whereas other folks are very interested in having a collection of games on their shelf and only want to buy physical copies… so I’ve added options to filter the entire site by format. Similarly, kids tend to have lots of free time but not a lot of money, which inspired the Bang for your Buck section on the site.
The biggest thing the eShop needs for discoverability is to personalize the games it recommends based on the games you’ve played and wishlisted.
What were some of the most requested features from users of your site that you haven’t seen implemented yet in the eShop?
The biggest thing the eShop needs for discoverability is to personalize the games it recommends based on the games you’ve played and wishlisted. Steam does this really well; everyone’s Steam homepage looks completely different, and it does a great job of guiding you towards games that you’re probably interested in. In contrast, the Switch eShop just shows everybody the same few categories, with the same games, in the same order.
How do you think Nintendo could better improve its eShop interface and usability?
From a usability perspective, the eShop is just wayyy too slow. The pages take much longer to load than they should, and even the animations run poorly. It’s also a little ridiculous that putting the console to sleep while the eShop is open will usually cause it to close with an error message next time you turn the console on.
Why do you think Nintendo doesn’t iterate on its shop design or features very much?
I think there are a few different reasons. 1) It’s not in their company DNA. Nintendo’s online services have never been amazing. And it seems like Nintendo aims to release the best thing they can, but then don’t iterate on and improve it after the fact. 2) Nintendo’s different regional branches operate independently. Each of them run their own websites, and there are completely distinct ways to browse games online for North America, Europe, and Japan, which are all completely separate from the eShop app on the console itself. This likely leads to split attention, duplicated effort, and siloed data, preventing them from coming up with an amazing, unified shopping experience.
I think it’s important that Deku Deals continue to run smoothly, have accurate data, and be user friendly, so that people keep wanting to use it.
What are some new features or changes you’re working on?
Adding PlayStation and Xbox to the site took a solid six months of work. During that time, lots of things broke, and I didn’t prioritize fixing bugs or site maintenance. So I’m taking some time to do that now. I think it’s important that Deku Deals continue to run smoothly, have accurate data, and be user friendly, so that people keep wanting to use it. I do have some new features in the works that should be ready in the next few months, but nothing I’m ready to publicly announce just yet.
What are your thoughts on expanding the site’s development beyond a one man operation?
I have a lot of mixed feelings about this. On one hand, Deku Deals is my baby that I’ve put a ton of love and effort into. At the same time, the site would definitely benefit from more people working on it, especially folks who have different skill sets than mine. That will probably happen some day, but I’m still not quite sure how and when I want to make that transition.
Last question: what games have you been playing lately?
Metroid Dread — I love the Metroid series, flaws and all. Death Stranding — I recently got my first PlayStation ever, and am working my way through the best of the PS exclusives. Echoes of the Eye DLC for Outer Wilds — one of my all-time favorite games (not to be confused with Outer Worlds!)
Our thanks to Michael for taking the time to answer our questions — you can follow him on Twitter @michaelfairley. Be sure to visit Deku Deals and give it a try, too; it’ll cause you to both save and spend more money than you ever thought possible.