The Nintendo 3DS eShop was supposed to be available at the console's launch, but was delayed by nearly three months. It promised to improve on the company's so-far lacklustre efforts at building a digital presence for itself, but until recently it's struggled to impress, with one of the main problems being a total lack of payment cards at retail in Europe.
When the eShop launched in early June the news that existing Nintendo Points cards wouldn't be valid in the 3DS eShop puzzled many, but Nintendo promised that 3DS digital payment cards would be available by the end of that month. While this may have been the case in North America, it's taken until now for them to arrive in Europe and Australia.
In mid-August we reported that the 3DS eShop cards had made it to the UK, followed a week later by Australian cards, and now they’re slowly filtering out across continental Europe, some months after they were first promised. You'd think such a momentous occasion – people actually being able to buy games from the digital store – would be accompanied by an official announcement from Nintendo, but no information has been forthcoming; the cards just “appeared”. It's likely that this is down to Nintendo of Japan's position in charge of all European digital transactions: Nintendo of Europe seems to have been left in the dark.
What's even more puzzling is where the cards are available: in the UK they're out in newsagent WHSmith and supermarkets including ASDA and Sainsbury's, but are nowhere to be seen on shelves at GAME, Gamestation or HMV. At a time when Sony and Microsoft are exploring new avenues of selling their digital content in stores, including generating DLC redeem codes at the till point, Nintendo is playing catch-up trying to get its electronic activation cards in specialist retailers.
Whatever the reason, it's taken so long for the cards to reach stores – and subsequently consumers – it speaks of an unsettling lack of understanding at the heart of Nintendo's download business. Without these cards, your only option to add funds is via a credit or debit card, something that – understandably – many 3DS owners simply don't have, and there'll be plenty of parents reluctant to hand over their digital details. Hosting a download store for two months without giving many of your customers the means to purchase goods is like opening a real shop with no tills: even if the merchandise looks attractive, it's the crucial checkout stage that's missing.
Now the cards are out there, they've come at a time when many eShop users can look forward to a bounty of free games, as the 3DS Ambassador programme launches on 1st September. While the free downloads may work as loss leaders, getting people to enter the eShop for the games and purchasing something else while they're there, if 10 free NES games are the most compelling reason to enter a digital store then – cards or no cards – something has to change.
Has the delayed release of the eShop payment cards affected you? Do you think this issue reflects wider problems in Nintendo’s download business? Let us know in the comments below.