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3DS and Wii U eShop closures a sadly obvious move | This Week in Business

Nintendo's decision to pull the plug on its old game stores runs counter to the company's interest in its own history

This Week in Business is our weekly recap column, a collection of stats and quotes from recent stories presented with a dash of opinion (sometimes more than a dash) and intended to shed light on various trends. Check back every Friday for a new entry.

Nintendo understands the value of history better than most in this industry. It was founded in 1889. It has seen more console generations come and go as a hardware company than any other. It is better than any media company (save the possible exception of Disney) at selling essentially the same creative work to the same audience of people time and time again. (I can't count how many times I have paid money for some version of Super Mario Bros.)

It is building a museum as a monument to itself, and that seems less like an act of absurd hubris than a totally reasonable and well-deserved thing for the company to have.

In an industry forever focused on the future, Nintendo is a rare major player that truly "gets" the value of the past. And that's why it's so disappointing to hear that the Wii U and 3DS eShops are shutting down.

In an industry forever focused on the future, Nintendo is a rare major player that truly "gets" the value of the past

The decision is doubtlessly a pragmatic one; these systems have been discontinued and the vast majority of the player base has moved on to the Switch or other options by now. The revenue generated by these storefronts likely no longer justifies the legal and technical costs of running, maintaining, securing, and providing support for them.

There's an argument to make that the costs would be justified simply in keeping so many of these games available in any form at all. The entire (fantastic) Pushmo puzzle game franchise exists solely as downloadable titles on the 3DS and Wii U. Rusty's Real Deal Baseball is a fascinating Nintendo experiment in free-to-play in which players can actually haggle with an in-game character to buy minigames for varying amounts. When the eShops shut down, that goes with them. So do Dillon's Rolling Western, Dr. Luigi, Mario & Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move, and plenty of others.

And that's to say nothing of the third-party exclusives and indie titles on the platforms, many of which will prove difficult to preserve through emulation or accurately re-release on other systems thanks to the ways they used Nintendo's unique hardware features. Hundreds of Virtual Console titles from Nintendo systems and older platforms like the TurboGrafx-16 and Game Gear are also disappearing, with a relative handful remaining available through the afterthought of a replacement for Virtual Console, the Nintendo Switch Online subscription service.

STAT | Almost 1,000 - The number of digital exclusives that will no longer be available once the 3DS and Wii U eShops go dark, as determined by VGC.

In many ways, what's happening is barely different than what happened all the time in previous generations. Most boxed games would have a shelf life measured in months rather than years, and when that brief window of availability was past, they would become functionally unobtainable for new players unless they got lucky with the stock at the local Funco Land or were willing to pay a premium and shipping on eBay (once it existed). Clearly, that wasn't an ideal system and accessibility to games was on the whole significantly worse back in the day.

But the industry went online and things didn't need to be that way any more. The constraints of physical scarcity disappeared as digital distribution took over, a shift that happened with incredible speed. After all, it was only 10 years ago this week that the PlayStation Vita launched (in the US, at least) as the first major system to have all its physical games available digitally as well from day one.

As with so many of its decisions, Nintendo has never done the normal thing with online gaming. From not even recognizing a demand for online gaming to eschewing the system-wide achievements systems of its competitors to friend codes, to Miiverse to running Switch voice chat through a separate non-Nintendo device entirely, Nintendo has never been afraid to be weird with its online strategy.

That's partly why I hoped it might take a different approach to the 3DS and Wii U eShops, even though it shuttered its original downloadable storefront the Wii Shop in 2019. It's too normal a move, too obvious and expected. Even so, shutting down its online stores is actually making Nintendo the odd one out here.

Shutting down its online stores is actually making Nintendo the odd one out here

Microsoft's first iteration of Xbox Live Arcade on the original Xbox is little more than a memory (and a frequently forgotten one at that), but the company continues to sell Xbox 360 games digitally to this day, and with its recent commitment to backwards compatibility, it has good reason to. (Microsoft's history of having to support outdated operating systems has doubtlessly also given it insight into how best to design new systems with their legacy lifespans in mind.)

Sony on the other hand gave the PS3 and PSP online stores their own execution date last year, but later granted clemency and pledged to keep them around "for the foreseeable future" when players made it clear keeping the games available was important to them. Reports also have it taking a keener interest in making its old catalog available again through a revamped version of the PlayStation Plus service.

So once again, Nintendo is blazing its own trail, this time by erasing an entire generation of its handheld and console games at a time when its competitors are stepping up their efforts to preserve past chapters of their respective histories.

The difference is that where Nintendo has done its own thing in the past, it has usually set itself apart from competitors who were doing the obvious, pragmatic, and expected thing. This time around it looks more like Sony and Microsoft are the ones eschewing short-term thinking with bigger picture goals in mind.

The rest of the week in review

QUOTE | "Nintendo isn't looking to acquire IP to bolster a subscriptions service, or buy up live service expertise. It's highly unlikely to spend big money on a major publisher with multiple big teams. For Nintendo, it'll be about keeping hold of the people that fit with its ethos." - In an editorial about Nintendo's own acquisition strategy, our own Chris Dring says the Switch maker is doesn't like acquiring other companies, but it might have to to hold onto valued partners.

QUOTE | "Ubisoft can remain independent. We have the talent, the industrial and the financial scale, and a large portfolio of powerful IP... Having said that, if there were an offer to buy us, the board of directors would of course review it in the interest of all stakeholders." - Yves Guillemot, responding to an analyst's question about the idea of being acquired in a post-earnings call this week.

QUOTE | "Our intention is and has always been to remain independent, a value which, for 30 years, has allowed us to innovate, take risks, create beloved franchises for players around the world, and which has helped the company grow into the leader it is today. We're going to fight to preserve our independence." - Yves Guillemot, striking a very different tone about the idea of being acquired in 2015, when Vivendi was showing interest in an acquisition and there wasn't an industry-wide consolidation push driving the valuations on these deals through the roof.

QUOTE | "When a carefully rehearsed, highly polished presentation is released on a Friday afternoon with no [Ubisoft internal social media] Mana post, management are telling us very clearly that we're getting no further information." - Employee group A Better Ubisoft criticized the summary of employee satisfaction survey results Ubisoft gave to employees, in which Ubisoft said transparency was a major area of concern for employees but gave them minimal detail on the results.

QUOTE | [not found] - Several days after we reached out to Ubisoft asking if they would share the results of the survey or at least commit to sharing them with employees who ask for them, Ubisoft still has not given us a response.

QUOTE | "So diversity can be those outward-facing kinds of things, and equity and inclusion really looks more internal to a company/organization. So, is there equitable hiring? Are folks getting promoted and being hired at the top ranks of a company? Are there inclusive practices addressing all of the harassment claims?" - Dr. Kishonna Gray is one of many diversity, equity, and inclusion experts we spoke with to determine how the industry is doing on following through on the many promises to fight systemic injustice that were made in the summer of 2020.

QUOTE | "Sometimes when you create something and it's criticized, your first reaction is to be defensive. A lot of developers will say, well, it's the internet and everyone has an opinion. But that's a silly knee-jerk reaction. You have to get over it as quickly as possible, so that you can really listen to people and understand where they are coming from." - Thunder Lotus' Nicolas Guérin talks about the decision to change some dialog in Spiritfarer after the game launched and drew criticism from some for using ableist language.

QUOTE | "We've reassessed our options and realized we can do more than we initially believed and we will now release The Sims 4 'My Wedding Stories' Game Pack to our community in Russia, unaltered and unchanged, featuring Dom and Cam." [Emphasis in original.] - Electronic Arts' Sims dev team, reversing its prior public stance to not release the game pack in the country as it thought it would require changes to be permitted under Russian laws around homosexuality.

STAT | 14 - The number of years since Take-Two first announced a BioShock movie was in the works back in 2008. This week it announced a deal with Netflix for a live-action BioShock movie. The percentage of game-to-movie-adaptation deals the produce an actual film is about as high as the percentage of game-to-movie adaptations that end up being good, so I'm skeptical to start with. The fact that the production company behind the project, Vertigo Entertainment, is the same one behind the Minecraft film announced in 2014 (once scheduled to be launching next month and with no current release window) is not helping.

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Brendan Sinclair avatar

Brendan Sinclair

Managing Editor

Brendan joined GamesIndustry.biz in 2012. Based in Toronto, Ontario, he was previously senior news editor at GameSpot in the US.