OPINION: Nintendo announced today (Feb 16) that it’s planning on shutting down the eShop for both the 3DS and Wii U in 2023, which means you’ll no longer be able to purchase digital games for either console.
I personally think this is a massive mistake, as it means a large number of games that didn’t see a physical launch will now be inaccessible.
And even big profile Wii U and 3DS games that did have physical releases, such as The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds and Pokémon Sun/Moon, will likely become difficult to buy with the inevitable price surges. The GameCube’s Paper Mario – The Thousand Year Door currently costs a whopping £95 on GameCube, and that’s hardly an uncommon trend for legacy Nintendo games.
This news will come as a massive blow to 3DS and Wii U owners, or those who were planning on purchasing the consoles to check out some of the older games they may have missed. But it’s also reinforced my concerns with the future of digital-only consoles.
We’ve seen a few digital-only consoles launch in recent years, including the Xbox Series S and PS5 Digital Edition. And while Nintendo hasn’t launched a device without a disk drive or cartridge slot just yet, I reckon it’s only a matter of time, since the digital-only concept would allow the company to make an even more portable handheld console.
But given Nintendo’s clear lack of interest in preserving digital marketplaces for ageing gaming devices, I probably wouldn’t want to ever purchase a digital-only console from the company. Imagine being unable to make any further game purchases just 10 years after the console launches. It’s an anti-consumer tactic to force players to purchase the next-generation console, and such behaviour needs to be criticised.
To make matters worse, Nintendo isn’t very good at providing access to its back catalogue of games. If you want to play Halo 3 or Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, you can play them on the modern consoles via subscription services such as Game Pass and PS Now. Nintendo offers a similar service, but it’s limited to NES, SNES and N64 games. You’re out of luck if you want to play Metroid Prime or Wind Waker on Switch.
Of course, Nintendo isn’t the only company guilty of neglecting preservation. Sony announced last year that it was going to shut down the PlayStation store for the PS3 and PS Vita. Fortunately, the company did end up making a U-turn due to backlash, but it still shows that major video game companies don’t care too much about keeping digital marketplaces accessible for the long term.
If companies such as Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo really want to push digital-only consoles in the future, they really need to get more serious about digital preservation. I think the time of console-specific marketplaces is coming to an end, and we should now see a more concerted effort to creating evergreen digital storefronts like Steam.
While PC players don’t have to worry about sperate console generations, the Steam Deck shows that it’s still possible to have games labelled to indicate whether they supported by your hardware. Games that work perfectly well on the Steam Deck are given a ‘Verified’ label, while those that have some limitations (such as being better suited to keyboard and mouse) are instead classed as ‘playable’. And finally, select games are flagged as being unplayable, usually because the anti-cheating software doesn’t support Linux.
Such a system would work well with consoles, as it would clearly show users which games are supported on Switch, while allowing the older consoles to access the old library of games. There would be no need to create completely different digital storefronts every time a new console hits stores.
Of course, getting the likes of Wii U and 3DS games running on the Switch is far more complicated than getting PC games working on the Steam Deck, but there’s no stopping Nintendo emulating its back catalogue to get them running on modern consoles. It seems to be slowly doing this with Nintendo Switch Online, but not at a fast enough pace to make up for the closure of the Wii U and 3DS eShop next year.