The Wii Shop Channel Shutdown Signals Dark Times Ahead
January 30, 2019

I have no personal interest in getting a tattoo, for numerous reasons including the fact I am a wuss and hate needles, but I have occasionally wondered what image I might have printed on my body if I were to make an exception. I believe I've finally narrowed it down to a 1up mushroom or (just to be ironic and amuse myself) an invincibility star. You can see what those two things have in common: Nintendo. I'm a huge fan, and so this is probably the most "anti-Nintendo" post you'll ever see me write. But I have a reason.

Today, as you might know, the Nintendo Wii Shop Channel was taken down for good. As of late last year, you already couldn't buy additional Wii Points (that shop's currency) to make any additional purchases. Yesterday was the last full day you could spend any remaining balance you might have already accrued. I spent my last 900 points on DLC for Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles - My Life as a King. I sure do hope I enjoy that luxury house and additional dungeons!

Nintendo gave everyone ample warning this day was coming. It did its job notifying folks, so that anyone who still cared probably got at least a few emails and saw all the hoopla on social media. But the company plans to act less admirably in the future. In its official announcement on the site, Nintendo has announced that "In the future, we will be closing all services related to the Wii Shop Channel, including redownloading purchased WiiWare, Virtual Console titles, and the Wii Channel, as well as Wii System Transfer Tool, which transfers data from Wii to the Wii U system."

This to me seems downright unacceptable, and I can't help but feel that if more people knew about it and knew what it means, they would be up in arms.

Let me tell you about my particular situation...

Realizing that all digital titles will eventually disappear from shops for one reason or another, I decided I didn't want to let that happen with any more games on Nintendo software than was absolutely necessary. I already missed out on some DSi and Wii titles that were pulled from their respective digital storefronts without warning, and I resolved that I would do what I could to avoid missing out on wide swaths of additional content. So I bought every WiIWare game I could before the closure, and that wound up being the entire library of games that hadn't already been pulled due to rights issues and publisher whims. It's a pretty big list.

My purchases gave me a certain amount of nerdly comfort. They meant that even though most folks around me can't do the same without resorting to piracy, I can play virtually every digital WiiWare title ever released, whenever I like. Maybe I'll do that and write about some of my experiences, or post videos on YouTube or stream on Twitch. Maybe I won't. The option is there, at least.

But hardware fails, and Nintendo software on those older systems isn't tied to a Nintendo account. Instead, it is tied to a number stored somewhere inside individual hardware. My WiiWare game purchases are now figuratively attached to my Wii U, and Nintendo has a list of exactly what I've purchased stored on a server somewhere, but that doesn't mean that list will transfer if my current Wii U breaks down and I have to buy a new one. Also: buying a new Wii U is an expensive proposition in the first place, since they are no longer manufactured (even though new digital content arrived on the platform as recently as last week). I have my games all saved on SD cards, but the cards could just randomly become corrupted--and all but certainly will, given enough time--and even if they don't, they might become useless if my Wii U suddenly decides to stop playing ball.

Nintendo really, really needed to tie game downloads to accounts rather than systems. But there hasn't been enough pressure from consumers to make that happen, so Nintendo is content to just let those games slip away until they are no more than a fond memory (or a bitter one, given that a lot of WiiWare titles weren't exactly setting the world on fire with their overall quality). Instead of making sure I will always have access to my games I spent multiple thousands of dollars acquiring digitally, Nintendo is laying the groundwork for removing the ability to download stuff in the future. And I know someone might say "But that's a lot of games to store somewhere when most people won't ever even use them again." That seems like a reasonable reason to finally give up support, right? Wrong!

Since I've purchased very nearly every title Nintendo made available to download on Wii (I also did buy quite a fair portion of the Virtual Console stuff), I know that all that content takes up well under 64GB of space. Surely, a company as large as Nintendo can afford to store that content and, if not a lot of people are downloading it anyway, keep it available indefinitely. I believe personally that when a company starts selling digital titles on an official storefront, it should continue to make that content available as long as said company remains in operation, and should also make reasonable efforts to ensure any successor is able to continue serving those customers, in the event of a bankruptcy or similar event.

But I'm just a Nintendo fan, and people don't tend to take anyone especially seriously when that label applies. If you think I'm making a mountain of a molehill, imagine how you would feel if tomorrow Valve announced it will cease making games available to download again if you purchased them on Steam more than 5 years ago. Or if Microsoft announces tomorrow that it will stop allowing customers to download Xbox 360 games at the end of 2019. Or if Sony reveals plans to take all PS3 game files offline for good this July.

Any of the above scenarios could occur, even if they don't seem especially likely at present. Maybe the timeline will be a little bit different, but Microsoft and Sony (at the very least) are likely to eventually follow Nintendo's example. And they'll do it in part because they have seen they can get away with it. For the most part, consumers have shown we don't value our own digital purchases. A lot of us don't seem to even care if we can still access a game two years after we buy it, because the hype has died down and we've moved onto something else and forgotten all sorts of stuff that seemed like it might be worth an investment at the time. But we might care later: two years or five years from now. And by then it will be too late. We'll email Nintendo or Sony or Microsoft support, and they'll respond with a shrug... if they are feeling particularly gracious and bother to respond at all.

I don't know about you, but I feel like that's just not good enough.

Most recent blog posts from Jason Venter...

overdrive overdrive - January 31, 2019 (12:50 PM)
I do feel what you're saying. It's similar, but worse, than when XBox ended their Indie Games portal on the 360. I'm pretty sure I can still play the ones I'd bought, but I can't buy any of the ones I was a bit interested in but hadn't gotten because nearly the whole Indie store is gone. That's one of the annoying things about digital as compared to physical copies -- if a big company decides to change its rules or take something down, all you can do is sit back and accept it.
hastypixels hastypixels - February 01, 2019 (06:02 PM)
Support for everything all the time doesn't have to be a strain on Nintendo's priorities, but this smacks of a choice opportunity to let bad memories fall by the wayside whilst shining the spotlight on the flood of content landing on the shores of the Switch. It wouldn't cost much to keep software around that made the retro gamers happy, but Nintendo isn't interested in that, unless they can get us to pony up for the privilege, which is how they view it.

Look at the kerfuffle they've made about availability of virtual console titles. Granted there aren't hours in the day or even interest, a hard lesson for Ninty's less than sparkly Online service. Most games are honestly better forgotten - they didn't resonate the way other consoles did... who wants to keep their Wii or Wii U around to watch Netflix?

It's not pretty, and it's not enough ... which is why piracy does exist. The PlayStation Classic was very poorly served by Sony, and consumers quickly turned it into a viable, even valuable, prospect. That's why the Homebrew scene is so virulent. It's possible to get your Switch to do things Nintendo would rather not if you don't mind voiding your warranty. You don't even have to pirate software to do it ... the guardrails are looking more like corporate protectionism than ever, and actually less necessary, defensible or required.

Sure there are legal reasons for defending the keep, but when your walled garden deters tourists, isn't that a problem? Nintendo's always had a sketchy relationship with its fans... and I don't see that changing.

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