In moving from the Wii Shop and DSi Shop to the Wii U eShop and 3DS eShop, Nintendo has shown a desire to compete head on with the Xbox, PlayStation and Steam online marketplaces and offer full retail downloads. It's amazing to think that downloads from the Wii Shop were limited to a meagre maximum of 40MB, yet now we can download LEGO City Undercover from the Wii U eShop at a hefty 19GB. A perfect illustration of the company's enthusiasm for the idea came in today's European download update, which included six retail titles — seven for those that classify Code of Princess as a download retail title, though it won't be available in stores in the region. Not only that, but some of these releases have tempting, reduced prices to compete with the discounts found on the high street.
As always when entering new territory, there's also a bit of a learning curve; while the big N has made great strides in the past year, there is still work to do. Let's take a look at the pros and cons.
The main advantage to downloading retail games from the eShop has to be the convenience of having your game library ready at your fingertips, without needing to switch discs or game carts. On the 3DS you can use a 32GB SD card, which will store plenty of your favourite retail games to enjoy on the go. On the Wii U the situation is even less restrictive, as you can add a third party external hard drive via USB to give you up to a whopping extra 2TB of storage, enough space for even the most enthusiastic digital downloader.
It must be said that there are games perfectly suited to quick, daily access without worrying about a game card — Animal Crossing: New Leaf springs to mind.
No damaged discs or lost game carts
Anyone who has ever bought a pre-owned game has likely come across discs that look like the previous owner played Frisbee with them. Many Wii U owners will also have small kids in the house, so doing away with fragile optical discs is an attractive option. 3DS game carts are also all too easy to misplace down the sides of the sofa.
Faster loading times
While we don't have substantial hard evidence to back this up, some Wii U owners swear that the frustrating loading times on games like ZombiU and LEGO City Undercover are improved slightly when playing from a hard drive, compared to optical disc.
Nintendo Network Premium
Another incentive for buying retail games from the Wii U eShop is the Nintendo Network Premium scheme. Buying a full price retail game such as New Super Mario Bros. U would net you 420 points, almost enough to qualify for a £5/€5/$5 eShop credit activation code. The reward scheme is currently due to end on 31st December 2014, but we would argue that Nintendo should continue this as an extra incentive beyond that deadline.
The practice of discounting older games on XBLA and PSN has long been an established tradition to boost sales, but the Wii Shop never embraced this practice with WiiWare or Virtual Console games. The Wii U eShop has taken notable leaps and bounds to address this. The Ubisoft sale slashed prices of games like ZombiU and Assassin's Creed III, making them much more tempting to impulse purchasers. More promotions such as this would be most welcome.
Some 'retail' games such as Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage 2 never saw a disc-based release on the Wii U; even if that's not the best game out there, it's an example of a niche title made available courtesy of the download store. Another example is Code of Princess, which had a retail release in North America courtesy of Atlus, but had no equivalent publisher in PAL regions — developer Agatsuma Games is self publishing the title as a download-only title in Europe this week, an example of the download market being far more accessible for studios with lower budgets.
Getting rid of unnecessary barriers
Last week the European Wii U eShop 18+ restrictions were finally relaxed, which will allow Wii U owners to download mature content at any time of the day. The situation of only being able to download ZombiU between 11pm and 3am seemed hilarious to our Xbox and PlayStation loving friends, but thankfully Nintendo has done a U-turn on this.
While we've praised the flexible prices and discounts that are starting to appear with more regularity, there are still issues the starting prices of new downloads. As an example, LEGO City Undercover retails on the eShop for £49.99 in the UK, but online retailers such as ShopTo sell the disc version for only £39.85 (with a bonus LEGO figurine!); even GAME, which usually has the most unfavourable prices on the high street, is selling this game for £42.99. On the 3DS eShop the situation is much the same — Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon costs £39.99, yet ShopTo sell the boxed counterpart for £10 less.
There is a tough balancing act here. Nintendo obviously does not want to alienate it's retail supply chain by undercutting high street prices. However, most gamers have a hard time understanding why a digital game from the eShop costs £10 more when there are less manufacturing and shipping costs associated. The Nintendo Network Premium scheme goes some way in alleviating this issue, but not far enough in our opinion.
Let's face it, game collectors were never going to be thrilled about the idea of digital downloads for retail games. They live for the smell of a freshly opened instruction manual, or seeing the game boxes stacked on a shelf. But do these people still buy CDs or simply get their music on iTunes, in which case are they a dying breed?
Many game publishers such as EA really love the idea of digital distribution, purely because a purchased game cannot be traded in or sold on eBay. But this is surely a huge factor putting potential customers off from buying a game which might be a potential turkey. This is another area where more frequent sales would help tip more cautious download consumers over the edge.
Relying on an Internet connection
Another issue with downloading games is a reliance on a solid, quick internet connection, while usage limits can also make life difficult depending on your provider. If you have a download usage limit of 40GB per month, then downloading one large Wii U game could account for half of that allowance, while issues with a connection dropping in the middle of a download can also contribute to some hassles in the process.
Nintendo is still way behind the curve in this area. While Wii U owners now have a Nintendo Network ID, this is currently tied to your hardware. If your Wii U console breaks, gets stolen or you simply feel like switching it for a new model in a different colour in the future, you'll need assistance from Nintendo's Customer Services to have any hope of moving your download content and profile across. Apple, Google, Microsoft and Sony all have account based systems, so if you move hardware you can easily restore your purchases by logging into your account. It's easy to be defensive of the current setup, but against its competitors and in the context of efforts to boost online downloads, this needs to be remedied sooner rather than later.
What are your thoughts on where Nintendo is currently at with the Wii U and 3DS eShop, when it comes to buying retail games? Have you taken the plunge and gone fully digital, or just experimented with some 'safe bets'? As always, let us know your take on this in the poll and comments below.
Do you download retail games from the Wii U and 3DS eShop? (526 votes)
Yes, I've gone fully digital
Sometimes, depending on the game
If there is a sale I might
I would, but the prices put me off right now
I would, but the DRM is too restrictive right now
No way, I'm going to stick to boxed games forever!
Please login to vote in this poll.