“This game sucks! So why does it have the Official Nintendo Seal of Quality on it?”, or some variation thereof, is a common refrain from within the gaming community that has been around for… well, perhaps as long as the seal itself.
A common misconception is that the seal (also known as the “Official Nintendo Seal” and “Original Nintendo Seal of Quality,” with another variation “Official Nintendo Licensed Product” used for merchandise) is meant to be a guarantee that that the game they are playing is a “good” game. This is, of course, a logical fallacy. Taste is subjective, and what might be a “good” game to one person may seem terrible to another, as even games widely derided for being terrible by a community (Mega Man X7 and Sonic the Hedgehog from 2006, for example) have their fans.
So what is the point of the Seal of Quality, then?
As with many things, its origins can be traced back to The Great Video Game Crash of ’83. While the facts may vary, common knowledge says that the home video game industry in North America died due to the glut of terrible software produced by unauthorized publishers/developers, flooding the market and effectively turning many customers and retailers off to the medium. As Nintendo of America tried to reestablish some sort of ground in revitalizing things, they established their third-party licensing program which restricted how many games a publisher could release in a year (a move to encourage them to put forth only their very best), and saw to it that cartridges produced for the Nintendo Entertainment System were done through them.
Incidentally, this is why NES cartridges manufactured by unlicensed publishers such as Tengen or Color Dreams, had such a vastly different look. It can be inferred that while Nintendo couldn’t stop them from publishing unlicensed games for their console (provided they were able to circumvent the lockout chip themselves, something Tengen was shown unable to do legitimately), use of the same style of cartridge or unauthorized use of the Nintendo Seal would be an infringement of trademark.
With their approval of acceptable content and the manufacturing of official NES “Game Paks”, the games would be given the Official Nintendo Seal, which — according to their website — “is your assurance that the product has been evaluated and licensed by Nintendo for use with its systems.” In short, it states that for the most part (occasional glitches aside), the games bearing the seal will run as they are supposed to, and won’t brick your console or catch on fire or anything like that.
The most recent version, which labels an “Official Nintendo Licensed Product,” seems to have dropped the “Quality” part in an effort to dispel the aforementioned confusion over whether it indicated whether a game was actually “good” or not. During their heyday, SEGA also had their own Official SEGA Seal of Quality and Official SEGA Genesis Seal of Quality. However, successors in Sony’s PlayStation and Microsoft’s Xbox did not carry their own seals, leaving Nintendo as the only major platform holder who continues to issue such a seal branded on their hardware and software to this day.
The website goes on to state “[i]f a product does not carry one of the seals listed above, it is likely not licensed by Nintendo. Unlicensed products and accessories do not undergo Nintendo’s testing and evaluation process. They may not work at all with our game systems, and they may have compatibility problems with certain games or accessories.”
This has become significantly more relevant in recent, as following the 5.0 firmware update, a number of Nintendo Switch owners have reported that their systems have bricked when using a “third-party” dock instead of the included dock from Nintendo. It’s been difficult to verify online, but one key culprit, the Nyko Portable Docking Kit, does not seem to bear the seal on its box, indicating it’s not an official third-party.
Nintendo of America seemed to verify this while cementing the importance of the seal, telling Kotaku “Unlicensed products and accessories do not undergo Nintendo’s testing and evaluation process. They might not work at all with our game systems, and they could have compatibility problems with certain games, the Nintendo Switch system itself, and other licensed accessories and peripherals.” As such, they naturally urge Nintendo Switch owners to only buy officially licensed products.