Earlier this week the 3DS eShop - and the eShop as a broader brand - celebrated its 5th Anniversary, and we shared a rather cheerful article in praise of the progress made with the store. Though Nintendo was relatively early in the download scene with the Wii and DSi stores, both had a number of issues and over-stringent rules that limited their impact. The market changed as mobile began its inexorable rise, while rival stores on other systems and PC also adopted new ideas and features. The 3DS eShop began a modernisation of Nintendo's approach, which then expanded with the Wii U store in November 2012.
We highlighted a number of the key moves by Nintendo in that previously-linked article, and stand by the premise that the eShop has delivered important steps in improving the company's positioning in the download space. We're currently pulling together a feature with the views of some eShop developers and, generally, they also seem to regard the store in a positive light. Improved layouts, DLC offerings, free-to-play, more dynamic pricing and promotions, linked eShop fund accounts, web purchases with auto-downloads - all of these have been areas of progress as Nintendo has also seen its revenues from the stores consistently climb.
Yet Nintendo does have areas it needs to improve and address in its next iteration of the eShop, particularly with the NX platform less than a year away. A number in the Nintendo Life community highlighted their gripes with the current stores in comments sections, and the continual evolution and expansion of other download store-fronts also pose challenges for the big N. With the download scene so vital to Nintendo's sales, its next eShop evolution could be one of the most critical features in the next generation.
So, what are the major areas to be improved? We break down a few of them below.
Unified, Cloud-Based Accounts
Yes, we're like a broken record on this, but only because this is 2016 and it should be mandatory at this point. Let's accept the idea that the 3DS is too darn limited technologically to support an all-singing and dancing modern account system alongside Wii U, just for the sake of simplicity; yet now we can consider what NX should do.
In fairness to Nintendo, the new Nintendo Account system - into which My Nintendo connects - seems like an obvious case of pre-planning. These accounts rather awkwardly link to the Nintendo Network ID setup that's on Wii U and 3DS, but that's always had the whiff of a temporary measure. Though NNID improved in terms of supporting shared eShop funds and occasional cross-buy promotions - such as with Mutant Mudds Super Challenge - it's still not a fully-modern integrated account system across Wii U and 3DS.
We expect the Nintendo Network ID to drift out of the conversation with NX as Nintendo simply focuses on the Nintendo Account and My Nintendo reward programme. But what do we expect from it that's better than the current setup? Well, purchases should be linked to an account in the 'cloud', not to hardware. Tying download purchases to individual systems is a form of control, very much Nintendo's modus operandi, but it's hopelessly old fashioned. Let's take services like Android apps and Steam on PC as examples - if you buy a new phone or access your Steam Library on a new PC you deal with simple, one-time security emails to prove who you are and access rights to shift to that hardware. When you fire up a new Android smartphone (this writer isn't sure whether iOS is the same) you simply login and it fetches your apps, contacts and details for you. Easy peasy.
We also know that our game purchases are already stored in the cloud, by virtue of the fact there are cases where Nintendo's Customer Service teams have deleted games from systems remotely. It's only locked to hardware on a consumer level, so that should end with the NX. What will that mean for the eShop? It should mean that controlling our download copies and accessing them when switching to a new NX (imagine there's a Super Mario Galaxy 3 special edition you simply must have...) should be as easy as inputting our login details and perhaps clicking an email link. This will also allow for smarter promotions with the likes of My Nintendo, and also change the way we buy games.
Improved Cross-Buy and Promotions
This, to some degree, depends upon the kind of system NX is - if it's a unified home / portable approach the idea of cross-buy on new titles may be rather moot. If these forms do both come and are a little more separate, however - think PS4 / Vita-esque - then a closer architectural structure to assist developers will be vital. If there are dual versions of games, Nintendo should also ensure it's as simple as possible for developers to offer cross-buy promotions; it should not be a difficult task.
More importantly, if the Virtual Console is to be a part of the NX, Nintendo needs to consider its approach. There's no getting around the fact that there's a level of apathy and frustration around buying the same retro classics on multiple occasions. Nintendo places a certain value on these games, to the point that it still differentiates between platforms, such as the upcoming anniversary sale in Europe discounting SNES titles on Wii U but not the more recently released equivalents on New 3DS.
In fairness, to take the Wii U example you're able to get major discounts on VC games if you've completed a transfer from your Wii and already owned the download in the last-generation. A similar promotion would be welcome on NX, but with a far more convenient process, utilising the aforementioned cloud-based account to identify our previous VC purchases on Wii, Wii U and 3DS / New 3DS. Nintendo has this data, of course it does, so ideally it'll use it to take away clunky processes to auto-enable repeat purchase discounts and free copies.
Which brings us to general eShop pricing. In some respects this is an area where Nintendo cannot win. If it encourages a market with a rush to the bottom in pricing (Wii U has had a bit of that) it'll turn some gamers and developers off, while likewise being deemed too expensive is also damaging. It seems that some feel the eShop is generally a little over-priced, while also failing to match the likes of Steam in terms of aggressive and frequent promotions and discounts. That whole economy is tough to judge, though Nintendo can influence these areas depending on its terms of service (such as the percentage it takes of sales) and how quickly and easily game publishers can run promotions. We're not sure a rush to the bottom is the answer, but there's no doubt scope for Nintendo to streamline and improve processes around pricing and promotions.
Finally, there's the question over bundles and monthly services. Nintendo has actually been a leader in the console space with game bundles, as the only one of the 'big three' to embrace the Humble Bundle, for example, with two separate examples on that service. It's natural, though, to wonder whether Nintendo has considered offering a PlayStation Plus-style offering with guaranteed games every month. Alternatives could be a monthly or annual fee to pick a fixed number of Nintendo and Virtual Console downloads from expansive ranges. Ultimately, many people like frequent content in exchange for a relatively small amount of money; though it'll go against Nintendo's instincts on game value, a rival to the Sony and Microsoft options may be required.
A Quicker, More Intuitive User Interface
This very much depends on the user, but some find the slowness of the eShop in navigation a major bugbear. Our Managing Director Anthony Dickens - probably by virtue of a life focused on web technology - has always found the load times on the Wii U eShop (especially at launch) baffling, considering the fact it's basically loading a glorified web app. It's a valid issue - Nintendo should aim to make eShop navigation as quick and snappy as stores on mobile, PC and rival systems. A slick store leaves a good impression.
General layout will also be key for future iterations of the eShop, depending upon whether it's being browsed on a portable device, on a TV or in related smart device and web apps. On that latter point Nintendo could do much better with web purchases - at present the approach in how we buy eShop games from the official websites varies per region. It would be preferable to have a dedicated eShop website / app that automatically recognises your location but is structured and designed like an actual store (PSN and Steam are both quite good at this).
The 3DS store, meanwhile, suffers from hardware and screen limitations to a degree, with Nintendo limited in options, and this writer actually quite likes the Wii U eShop layout. It's all a bit subjective when it comes to visual design, but ultimately clean, clear and well-spaced categories and products are typically good areas of focus.
Beyond aesthetics and speed, Nintendo can certainly benefit from chopping out a couple of tiers in the purchasing process. There are good intentions behind the store's repeated reminders and screens seeking confirmation before completing a purchase, but it's all a bit 2010. Once on a product page it should be quick and easy to view a video and screenshots or simply tap a button to get the process moving. General eShop navigation right now, even just for browsing, probably has too many screens and transitions. Add to that the fact they run relatively sluggishly by current-day standards, and there's a sense of platforms marginally out of touch in terms of design and functionality.
To be clear, we don't think either eShop is bad in their current form, with the Wii U iteration in particular standing up relatively well. Ultimately, though, a new eShop could certainly benefit from some modern touches and a quicker, more instinctive UI.
Those are a few key areas that we think can be realistically and fully addressed in the next generation of the eShop. Let us know your thoughts down in the comments.