Before Nintendo decides to focus only on the Nintendo Switch, there is a still an aspect of their ecosystem that warrants addressing for current owners of both the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U.
The Problem: Nintendo Network ID Unlinking
One major problem with both the Nintendo 3DS and the Wii U is that purchases are tied to the system rather than to an account. The proposed solution was Nintendo Network, a system account that users could use to tie their consoles and purchases, yet such a system has yet to be implemented: both consoles can be linked to an account, true, but purchases are linked to the system.
This has caused problems for years for players when selling these consoles. The current infrastructure forces the player to transfer the account to another system or else lose the games altogether. The decision gets more complicated if both consoles are linked to the same account, as there is no way to separate the purchases.
Nintendo confirmed that the Switch will tie purchases to an account, making this the first step towards a proper digital license system. The question, however, is how Nintendo intends to fix the issue for the existing consoles.
Nice and simple: just add an option to unlink the NNID account from the system. This would allow the account to be linked again to any new console bought in the future. This does not require any major changes to the existing infrastructure, but also doesn’t really address how to amalgamate two instances of the same account from the 3DS and Wii U.
Do what was initially under discussion and just link the purchases to an account via a patch. Nintendo has a record of eShop purchases, so from there it would simply be a matter of verifying user transactions to ensure that all transaction were above-board, and moving all the legitimate purchases to the account. Two birds with one stone.
Nintendo might opt to do nothing, however there is still an option they can take once they leave support for the Nintendo 3DS behind. Thanks to NVIDIA, we already know the Switch will use the same type of architecture as the handheld, so digital backwards compatibility is a possibility.
Nintendo could offer 3DS owners to transfer their games to the Switch, to be accessed via a special menu similar to the vWii on the Wii U. That way, all digital games including Nintendo’s retail titles could be played on the Switch normally, just obviously without the 3D feature.
How It Could Work
Regardless of when or how the transfer process is done – impossible to know the timeframe without more detailed information on Nintendo’s infrastructure – the end result is that the Nintendo 3DS gets unlinked from the account, making it possible to sell the handheld and to download the existing purchases to the Switch to avoid piracy. Both Nintendo and its users win!
Other possible factors to consider for such a decision include the following:
1. As such transition won’t be instant, it would give time to indie developers to port existing 3DS titles, or else allowing publishers to remaster 3DS titles for the system. The Switch is already getting several day one ports, and Arc System Works confirmed a 3DS remaster.
2. Having 3DS games available for the Switch digitally massively increases the library of games – another selling point for the system.
3. Such a decision would help Nintendo bring a Virtual Console for Nintendo DS games using the engine for the 3DS, which is a future possibility.
Since the Wii U’s architecture is dramatically different from that of the 3DS’s, the solution outlined above sadly won’t work. It is also possible Nintendo might not allow transferring Virtual Console games for the 3DS, as they may prefer to charge an upgrade fee instead.
When Nintendo launched the Wii U there was a promotion called the Nintendo Deluxe Digital Promotion, allowing users to get 10% back of any purchases made on the Wii.
A similar program made to reward Wii U owners based on their digital purchases encourages customer loyalty by rewarding them with credit for sticking with the company.
For example, let’s say I had spent a total of around $1000 on games for the Wii U. For a program like the one suggested above, I would get roughly $100 of credit to spend on the Switch’s digital store.
That is enough money to buy The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild, a year of online, and maybe one or two indie games. Sure, I won’t be able to carry my purchases forward onto the Switch, but it’s not a complete loss either.
Nintendo may not find a perfect solution, but there are several ways to improve the situation, and at this point, anything is better than nothing.