Pirates Only
Image: Mateusz Dach

Soapbox features enable our individual writers and contributors to voice their opinions on hot topics and random stuff they've been chewing over. Today, Damien discusses the less-than-ideal timing of Nintendo's announcement regarding its 3DS and Wii U eShops...

Nintendo has just announced that it will be closing the Wii U and 3DS eShops in 2023, shutting off access to countless digital exclusives across both systems. On one hand, this isn't all that shocking; it's perhaps naive to expect Nintendo to keep digital storefronts alive on platforms that are no longer its main focus, but on the other hand, the Japanese giant just sent hacker Gary Bowser to jail for three years for enabling piracy on its Switch console – as well as getting him to cough up $4.5 million to Nintendo of America as restitution, and a further $10 million as "monetary relief".

Only a company like Nintendo is able to create such a jarring juxtaposition in the space of a week. While I'm not for one second suggesting that the two events are connected – Bowser's case has been rumbling on for quite some time, after all – the timing is impeccable. Just as it sends one person to jail (deservedly, I should note – there are currently no obstacles in the way of purchasing Switch software legally), Nintendo makes piracy on its outgoing systems a reality not just for the present, but for the future, too.

You could argue that anyone who desperately needs to own HarmoKnight on 3DS will have done so a long time ago, of course. However, this is not just an issue of convenience, but of preservation. Digital exclusives across both systems – like Crimson Shroud, Scram Kitty, Affordable Space Adventures, Weapon Shop De Omasse, Pushmo World, The Swapper, Mighty Switch Force: Hyper Drive Edition, Attack of the Friday Monsters and Pocket Card Jockey – have never been released in physical form, so when the 3DS and Wii U eShops are turned off in 2023, the only way to experience them will be by downloading them illegally from the internet and running them on a hacked console. Given that Nintendo is a company that places more focus than most on past glories, it's a shame that as new generations of fans join the fray over the next few years, they won't have easy and legal access to some of the 3DS and Wii U's best titles.

Of course, the harsh realities of business are at play here. Keeping the 3DS and Wii U eShops online costs money and Nintendo will quite rightly argue that there's little point in doing this when both platforms have essentially been 'retired' from active service, and the number of digital purchases made each week will be very small. It's also worth noting that this isn't an issue that's in any way exclusive to Nintendo; every week, countless games become unplayable and unsupported on Apple's iOS platform, while Sony has been fighting its own preservation problems for some time now. The only console manufacturer that seems to be making a fair stab at ensuring past titles remain accessible in the present day is Microsoft, and even then, there are still examples that fall through the cracks and cannot be played legally.

It's also worth noting that Nintendo does make efforts to ensure its best games remain in circulation, either by adding them to services like Nintendo Switch Online or repackaging them for purchase on Switch. So, in that regard, one can hardly accuse Nintendo of totally slamming the door on its past. Still, as video games become more and more focused on digital delivery, the topic of preservation is going to become even more pressing – and one could argue that it's Nintendo's job, as the platform holder, to ensure the legacy of its past systems remains easy to access for as long as possible.

While I'm not suggesting the number of people wanting to play Dillon's Rolling Western is ever going to reach the millions, the fact remains that should anyone feel inclined to investigate this and the many other 3DS and Wii U digital exclusives (not to mention the numerous Virtual Console releases across both formats) beyond 2023, they will have to resort to piracy – and Nintendo has just sent out a very firm message that it does not condone such practice.

Further reading: Poll: The End Is Coming, But How Much Will You Miss The Wii U And 3DS eShop?