Nintendo’s Digital Distribution Makes Surprising Leaps (…For Nintendo)

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For something like 10 years now Nintendo has been the butt of every conversation about video games and online infrastructure. I’ve sometimes been in defense of the ideas behind what the company is trying to do, and with recent efforts you have to admit they’re getting better, even if there’s one glaring issue left they need to resolve.

Nintendo recently announced they’re finally bringing pre-loading to the Wii U and 3DS this fall and next year respectively. I honestly didn’t expect them to do this any time soon, if ever. You can’t even pre-order digital games on Nintendo systems yet can you? People still criticize the 3DS eShop’s design, and let’s not even get to virtual console. But with developments like this and the recent activation of the web eShop, Nintendo’s getting there. During the years of the original Wii who even thought Nintendo would be one of the first game console manufacturers to offer digital purchases of full retail games? I also think Club Nintendo has been a great rewards program.

The one thing that still bugs me though is how Nintendo continues to control their digital account system. First, all digital purchases were tied to the Wii, so if something happened to the console you were probably screwed out of getting your games back. In some cases I heard Nintendo could look up your Club Nintendo digital purchase history. Content migration was (and still is) handled straight from machine to machine. Then the company recently introduced its NNID login system and improved it to the point where you have one wallet across the Wii U and 3DS. And technically as I hear it your purchases are no longer strictly tied to hardware… but customers still can’t migrate accounts on their own. If something happens to your machine, Nintendo needs a police report before they’ll migrate you to a new one.

All I want from Nintendo now is a setup just like Sony’s or Microsoft’s (or better yet Valve’s) where I can simply log in to a 3DS or Wii U and get all my purchases. Sony and Microsoft have been surprisingly on top of this with the PS4 and Xbox One, letting people just log in to their accounts on a friend’s console and download their games — the digital equivalent of bringing your copy over to a buddy’s house. You’d think Nintendo, with its preference for local multiplayer, would naturally do something like this.

I keep asking myself “why,” and I can’t think up any really solid reasons for Nintendo’s account control system. Despite all its advancements Nintendo is still a pretty conservative company in a lot of ways. They’re still hesitant to put online play in some games for instance. It’s reached a point where some fans just learn to deal with it “because Nintendo.” Maybe they just want to maintain that power over people’s purchases. The closest thing to a “logical” answer I can think of is this kind of system is a bit more secure. If someone cracks your NNID password they can’t just log in on their own hardware. I hear Xbox Live accounts are commonly stolen and sold second-hand, but I’ve never heard of that going on with NNID accounts.

This current system however is the only obstacle that’s stopping me from going all-digital with my 3DS purchases. You think I want to drag my Super Smash Bros. and Pokemon X game cards everywhere I take my 3DS? This thing should by all rights be treated as an iPod for Nintendo games.

The other big reason however is I want this to eventually open the door for cross-platform purchases of Virtual Console games. That’s the one thing that, for me at least, would instantly make VC by itself almost worth the price of Nintendo’s hardware. Sony’s been doing this for years with PS1 Classics between the PSP, PS3, and VIta. Imagine just buying a copy of Contra (which inexplicably still isn’t on Virtual Console) and being able to play it on your TV and on the go.

Hopefully all this speculation about Nintendo’s next round of hardware being an iOS-style shared architecture platform pan out. A unified VC would be just one of the major perks of a console and a handheld sharing an entire library of software.

BULLETS:

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