NOTICE: Nintendo announced today (February 16) that it plans to shut down the eShop for the 3DS and Wii U in 2023, meaning you will no longer be able to purchase digital games for either other consoles.
Personally, I think that’s a huge mistake, because it means a lot of games that didn’t see a physical launch will now be inaccessible.
And even big Wii U and 3DS games that have had physical releases, like The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds and Pokémon Sun/Moon, will likely become hard to buy with the inevitable price spikes. GameCube’s Paper Mario – The Thousand Year Door is currently £95 on GameCube, and that’s not an unusual trend for older Nintendo games.
This news will be a blow to 3DS and Wii U owners, or those planning on buying the consoles to check out some of the older games they might have missed. But it also heightened my concerns about the future of digital-only consoles.
We’ve seen the launch of a few digital-only consoles in recent years, including the Xbox Series S and the PS5 Digital Edition. And while Nintendo has yet to release a device without a disc drive or cartridge slot, I think it’s only a matter of time, as the digital-only concept would allow the company to create a console portable even more portable.
But given Nintendo’s obvious lack of interest in preserving digital markets for aging gaming devices, I’d probably never want to buy a digital-only console from the company. Imagine not being able to buy games 10 years after the console launched. This is an anti-consumer tactic to force gamers to buy the next-gen console, and such behavior should be criticized.
To make matters worse, Nintendo isn’t very good at providing access to its catalog of games. If you want to play Halo 3 or Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, you can play them on modern consoles through subscription services like Game Pass and PS Now. Nintendo offers a similar service, but 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 would shut down the PlayStation Store for the PS3 and PS Vita. Luckily, the company ended up backtracking due to backlash, but it still shows that big video game companies aren’t too concerned about keeping digital markets accessible for the long term.
If companies like Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo really want to push digital-only consoles in the future, they really need to take digital preservation more seriously. I think the days of console-specific marketplaces are coming to an end, and we should now see a more concerted effort to create evergreen digital storefronts like Steam.
While PC gamers don’t have to worry about separate console generations, the Steam Deck shows that it’s still possible to have games labeled to indicate if they’re supported by your hardware. Games that run flawlessly on the Steam Deck are given a “Verified” label, while those that have certain limitations (like being better suited to keyboard and mouse) are instead classified as “playable.” And finally, some games are flagged as unplayable, usually because the anti-cheat 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 older consoles access to the old game library. It wouldn’t be necessary to create completely different digital storefronts each time a new console hits stores.
Of course, running Wii U and 3DS games on the Switch is a lot more complicated than running PC games on the Steam Deck, but nothing’s stopping Nintendo from emulating its back catalog to run them on modern consoles. . It seems like it’s happening slowly with Nintendo Switch Online, but not at a fast enough pace to compensate for the Wii U and 3DS Online Store closing next year.