News last week that Nintendo is switching off the Wi-Fi connection services for Wii and DS on 20th May understandably caused some disappointment. While the Wii Shop and DSi Shop will remain open, online multiplayer and some services on both systems will cease to be, which will affect major titles such as both Mario Kart entries (DS and Wii) and Super Smash Bros. Brawl, along with others. It seems that the decision may have had third-party considerations, however, due to the infrastructure of the online services.
As detailed in this GameSpy support page, the company provided key technology and technical facilities for the online multiplayer services on both Wii and DS.
GameSpy is the default multiplayer middleware and backend services provider for both the Wii and DS platforms. Nintendo have provided standardized online multiplayer functionality the form of the 'DWC' wrapper class around our SDKs. Access to the DWC is available through your Nintendo account rep and comes at no extra licensing charge to you.
Upon request from Nintendo, GameSpy will set up title specific access to our backend and Nintendo will manage all support for DWC issues to licensees via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Developers and publishers can still license additional SDKs not incorporated into the DWC directly from GameSpy. Typically, this would be our Sake and ATLAS SDKs for advanced persistent storage and stats tracking/leaderboard functionality. Basic ranking functionality is offered through the DWC already; contact your account manager for details on that functionality.
However, Glu Mobile acquired GameSpy Technology from IGN Entertainment in August 2012, and in the months that followed online multiplayer in a series of older PC games began to shut down. There were two sides to the argument — fans and in some cases the developers were unhappy, yet Glu Mobile asserted that some publishers had allowed their agreements to lapse and weren't paying the relevant fees; Glu Mobile claimed some had enjoyed a free service without being eligible to such perks.
It seems that Glu Mobile has been more efficient in ensuring payment for the infrastructure service, and there's conjecture that this new ownership and relationship may have contributed to Nintendo's decision to drop the Wi-Fi functionality on Wii and DS.
It'll be extremely hard, likely impossible, to learn of all the details behind the decision. As we've seen with Nintendo discontinuing the Wii hardware while it arguably had life in it as a cheap console, the company is often keen to move on and encourage gamers to pick up newer hardware. The decision to drop the Wi-Fi services may be philosophical, in that respect, but it's possible that its usage levels and costs made it a financial decision.
We may never know, though we'd anticipate that the Nintendo Network now utilised on 3DS and Wii U may be maintained in an increasingly in-house manner, rather than having a reliance on third parties that — in the case of GameSpy Technology — can become unstable and change ownership during a console generation.
Thanks to Mario500 for the tip.