Your View: The Issues of Collecting and Owning Download-Only Games
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
Downloads aren't forever
At the start of this week we posted a talking point on the questionable collectibility of download-only game libraries, an issue that's yet to come to a head on Nintendo systems. So far its debut download-only platforms, the Wii Shop and DSiWare, have been available in the company's current systems. The approaches have been different, however, with the DSiWare library being almost complete on the 3DS eShop, while the Wii Shop is an entirely separate entity as part of the Wii U's "Wii Mode", rather than being integrated with the equivalent eShop. Either way, these game libraries are still alive and kicking, but it's unknown and unresolved what will happen in the next system generations — will these games be available to download or purchase on current or future systems 5-10 years from now, or will their store-fronts be closed and the content lost to the past? What if we have a functional Wii U 10 years from now, but we can't download an eShop game because the store is no longer live?
All big questions, and we set up a specific forum thread for you to have your say. That thread was for the specific purpose of getting your views on the issue, and a number of you posted your thoughts. We haven't been able to include every post, but have selected a mix that cover some of the interesting discussion that took place.
Some of these posts have been produced as excerpts, and some minor proofreading has also been applied without distorting or affecting the overall post; you can check out the originals in the link above. Without further ado, this is what some members of the Nintendo Life community thought when posed with the following question.
With download stores and online platforms far from permanent, do you worry about losing access to download-only games in the coming years? Do you think Nintendo should offer routes around this, or is the eventual disappearance of download-only games just an inevitable "part of the deal"?
I suppose it depends on how far along a service will go before Nintendo decides not to sell its games anymore. DSiWare and WiiWare are still available on the Wii U and 3DS, and even the next gen platforms may still support the transfer of these games. Further along the line - who's to say we'll still want to play the games? From the lifetime of DSiWare's existence I've personally only found maybe 5 titles interesting enough to want to play in the future. It seems like this will be much more of an issue once (whenever it finally happens) console games go fully digital.
... PC Gamers have been playing largely digital-only for years though, and all we get is sale after sale. Seeing as you can get 75% off most games on Steam during the Summer sale, I'm kind of just waiting for console gaming to move past the awkward digital-only introduction so we can get to the actual benefits. Once 3DS digital retail games start getting significant sales I'll probably stop buying physical altogether.
I do worry about download-only games in general, especially with the Xbox One and PS4 being incompatible with PSN and Xbox Live games of the last generation. It is very good that the Wii U and 3DS offer a way to transfer games from previous consoles, and that is an advantage Nintendo has over Sony and Microsoft.
However, with advances in technology and the business side, it is a very big possibility that we will lose access to downloadable titles from previous generations. I highly doubt the next Nintendo console will have a Wii built into it like the Wii U, and its only a matter of time until the Wii Shop Channel closes. Even with an account system, eventually we will lose access to those games due to the cost of Nintendo and the publishers to keep them up there. If there are ways to keep access to our games, great, but unfortunately it is a big chance of losing access to our games, and that's just the way downloads work.
Yeah, this is a problem with digital, and nobody knows what will happen. The industry would simply love to resell the same digital titles over and over again. It has a hint of planned obsolescence to it all.
I always prefer to buy physical vs digital. There is no guarantee that you'll be able to keep the digital or physical version "forever". However with a physical copy I have more control over the longevity of my purchases. I do buy digital games but only those that are available as digital only. I'm not convinced that 30 years from now we'll be able to play our digital games like we're able to play our first edition copies of Super Mario Bros. on NES.
I'm hoping Nintendo allows all consoles to access the same store, but only download games that can be run on the system. Maybe a bit like Steam, where you access them from a variety of your devices (multiple PCs, macs, etc.) but they can only be downloaded if the system can play it. Now, I doubt this will ever happen, but I can dream right?
Or maybe "burnable" discs that allow me to install my downloadable games on them? Sorta like music, where you can download it and burn it to a physical disc. Now, you can't re-install it via the disc, but you can still play the game. That'd be awesome.
Big N could handle it kinda like Amazon does it these days regarding their physical audio discs. If physical media is being bought and registered, a free download will be available as well. So you can put your game onto your shelf, and enjoy playing the download version. That'll be gamer's paradise!
In the specific case of video games, what people can purchase nowadays from a digital store is just a license to use a given downloaded software. One approach the industry could take is to have a proper EULA (End User License Agreement) in place, where customers can clearly know that they can access and use their software until any given date, and where it's specified which online services will/could be used and their respective minimum support dates. It also opens the possibility of software revocations or extensions: What's great about software is that it can change easily with rare cases of it being impeded by the hardware, so Nintendo could implement time limited, account based licenses on their software and support them on any future console (Something like a universal virtual console, where the license fees cover the server maintenance costs and make VC online play possible).
One more possible support route: Many indie titles have releases in more than one platform. The approach could be the same as above: Pay to have access to the software from this server, purchase a license for using it a given amount of times or a set interval of time, or something else, with the right EULA present at all times. I agree with Microsoft when they say digital must progress, but not to the money-centric, software-killing extent they took originally with the Xbox One. That's downright extreme.
This point could be extended. What will happen when these games' copyrights expire? What's more, how we can play Wii and 3DS games when their hardware is so unique? That's where the hardware invariably jumps in. Antiques are always a collector's item, anyway.
This ground HAS already been broken, actually. Although relatively few people are aware, the Xbox Live Arcade actually started on the original Xbox, and all of those games are already gone forever. Most of them are available on 360 instead, but I don't think Microsoft gave owners of the Xbox versions any free copies. Then you have the PSP Comics store...Sony took that down months ago. To be fair, they gave people advanced warning about it and since PSP data can be backed up on PC, anyone who wanted to had the ability to back up their entire libraries...something that isn't an option for consoles. But again, the PSP Comics store wasn't all THAT popular, and there wasn't much outcry when it happened.
So yes, these issues have come up before, but very small-scale. One thing I know for sure is that whichever company tries a large-scale shutdown first is going to be up against a MASSIVE backlash much like what Microsoft has been dealing with since the Xbox One reveal. It's anybody's guess when that'll happen and who will be to blame...I think it'll be Microsoft, ironically further proving how bad their always-online policy was!
I have to admit this is one main con I have when it comes to digital games. As a collector of games I like to have my games for years. Now I know some of you will say oh but cartridges don't last forever but really it depends on the owner. I for one take care of my stuff I still have a lot of my NES cartridges and SNES cartridges in fact thats how I avoided paying such a high price for Earthbound but thats a story for another day. Many of them still work just fine and I know that if I want to play say Earthbound in a few years all I have to do is fire up my SNES and I am good to go. Now with Earthbound coming to the Wii U what happens if say Nintendo goes out of business in a few years? Will I be able to play it on my Wii U? Sure but what happens if my Wii U blows up or the game gets erased from the hard drive?
Now I know that if something were to happen to my cartridge I could always jump on ebay or some other site and pick another one granted I will probably be paying alot but I know I can still get one even if the company goes out of business. With digital I may not be as lucky.
The big thing that NOBODY is talking about is the problem that plagues all of us parents out there who game with their kids --- having to buy the SAME GAME four times! That is my problem with Download Only. Want to buy that new eShop only game? Kids want to play too? Either buy multiple times or share your 3DS. Animal Crossing cost me $105 for three copies. Thank goodness my son can't read yet.
Download-only is a double edge sword for most customers especially if they don't know how to use the Internet, eshop, and/or have Internet for the system; but it a good thing for publishers/ developers since it lowers the cost and risk of localizing. This increase the chances of not just the game release in different regions but also being created in general. Plus it's more Eco friendly.
Download-only biggest issue is our digital collections going "Poof" in the future and is indeed a serious one. Many gamers here have expend a lot of money on theirs. The only idea that I can think could work is the ever mentioned account locked collection that should, more than anything, remind the company of what you have paid for and it should be permanent somehow, either by severs transfer or by keeping a copy on your consoles. Nintendo is in a severe need of this, and with the introduction of its own Network, I see it coming soon. This kind of account should assure even if a new console can't (either because of incompatibility or legality) play a game, Nintendo would still acknowledge that that game is yours and you may be able to play it in the future after the problem is solved, or get some small compensation for the lost.
I'm really curious at what Sony would do about PSN collections of games far in the future when they pull the plug on PS3 services, what with the PS4 not playing PS3 games. If enough users keep logging in, would Sony keep it going indefinitely? Would they simply give some free PS4 games away, and act as if those PS3 collections never existed? Maybe recode all the games using the cloud so you can play them again?... Yeah sure. Recode some and ask you to pay for the update?
Some interesting points were certainly made, such as ideas for a "license" system to evolve how downloads work, the option to physically backup content — perhaps to proprietary media sold by Nintendo to avoid unauthorised piracy? — and potential comparisons to Steam services. It should be noted that, in terms of some of the concerns raised, there is record of what games have been bought not just on the hardware, but through Club Nintendo accounts also recording download purchases, assuming that account is linked to the online store. Nintendo also states that its customer services will help those in need retrieve their content, though an account system in line with that on other systems would be welcome.
Even with those ideas in mind, there are still big question marks over what will happen to download-only libraries, and their availability, in future years. Let us know what you think of this issue, and the community ideas from above, below.