I wrote this today, because I’m still upset about this and aren’t over it. This article has three parts. First is the longer, about Nintendo’s recent shutdown of digital purchasing on the 3DS and Wii U. Second is a shorter section about other digital storefront shutdowns. And last is a conclusion.
THE SHUTDOWN OF THE 3DS AND WII U DIGITAL SHOPS
This article’s title, as any reader of this site over the past year probably knows, refers to the recent shutdown of the Wii U and 3DS digital storefronts, or their eShops as Nintendo called them. And I don’t think this title is clickbait, this probably IS the worst content loss ever. Yes, through piracy you can get around the issue and we should be thankful to pirates for it, but their efforts should not be necessary, because there was no need for Nintendo to do this. I love my 3DS, as anyone who reads this site surely knows by now given how much 3DS writing I have done recently and last year, but now it’s over, the eShops are shut down. And for what? For nothing. There is no actual reason for Nintendo to have shut down these storefronts completely. There is no security issue that they could not have solved if they cared. Older storefronts on other platforms still exist. If there was some serious security issue, though, it could have been solved; how about a web-based storefront that gives out codes you input on the system, for instance? I saw someone mention that online and I agree, if there really was some serious security issue that would have solved it. But no, Nintendo doesn’t care. They don’t want peoples’ money on anything other than their current platform, and they don’t want developers to continue supporting their older consoles.
The eshops went dark at 5PM PDT on the 27th of this month, and I am NOT over it. I’m pretty upset at Nintendo over this, and at gamers for not protesting more and trying to get Nintendo to change their mind before the shutdown occurred.
But gamers did not protest enough, so, for no actual reason, about twelve years since the release of the 3DS and just over ten years after the release of the Wii U, Nintendo shut down their digital stores and disabled the ability to buy games on them anymore. Nintendo has done this before, when they shut down the Nintendo Wii’s digital storefront, WiiWare, several years ago, but that storefront was up for longer. And more importantly, significantly fewer games were affected that time because most Wii games were released on physical discs. It was only a relative minority that had digital releases. Hundreds of games were officially lost when that happened, don’t get me wrong, but this time more games were affected, and the platform that was shut down was more alive. But digital games have grown dramatically over time, and the 3DS had far more games released digital-only that would have gotten a physical release in years past. And on top of that, the 3DS was a popular platform for indie developers. A lot of games were lost here.
And that’s because, while most people moved on and entirely switched over to the Switch — and I do like my Switch and play it a lot, Mario Maker 2 especially — I am not the only person that continues to love the 3DS. Yes, my focus here is on the 3DS. While the Wii U’s shutdown is also sad, with significantly less software than the 3DS, and a platform I love but not on the level I do the 3DS, the Wii U’s loss is, for me, not as bad. I spent a significant amount this month on 3DS and Wii U digital software, though I focused more on DSiWare and 3DS games than Wii U so there are a fair number of good digital-only Wii U games I didn’t end up getting, unfortunately, but between its smaller library and market failure, I can understand why the Wii U online shop was shuttered. It’s almost more impressive it lasted this long, though that was probably mostly because the 3DS and Wii U shops clearly run on the same architecture. Despite missing out on some games, I like my Wii U a lot. For instance, due to a security issue, online play in Splatoon and Mario Kart 8 on Wii U, the system’s two most popular online games and titles which were still easy to find a match in, had their online shut down recently. I really hope that a solution is found that brings Wii U Splatoon back online, that game is one of the all-time greats and I very much miss being able to play it; its sequels on the Switch just aren’t quite as great as the original. But anyway, given its low sales, it’s awful but for the Wii U I get it. Losing the Wii U’s shop alone I could take; it’d be unfortunate and I’d have had a lot of games to pick up, but it would not have been anywhere near as bad. The 3DS dramatically outsold the Wii U, after all. They should not have been shut down at the same time.
But Nintendo didn’t stop there, because they do not care about allowing people continued access to their history beyond the limited amount of it available on their current platform. They don’t care that the 3DS was a quite successful platform, or that it still has an active development community. While both the 3DS and Wii U had game releases in March 2023 as shutdown loomed, the 3DS’s were more and more significant. But Nintendo doesn’t care about any of that. 3DS/Wii U eshop profits went below some line, so the plug was pulled and they’re turned off, and Nintendo has no interest in finding a workaround because they can’t be bothered to spend the money for preservation of games they don’t want people to buy because they’d rather you spend that money on their new system instead So, perhaps for that reason and perhaps also because of that the two systems must use the same servers, Nintendo chose to throw the baby out with the bathwater and shut down the 3DS eshop along with the Wii U’s.
I deeply love the 3DS, it is an exceptional, innovative, weird console. I still use my New 3DS XL almost every single day, and love it as much as ever. The stereoscopic 3D effect is great, the system feels good, stylus-based reactive touch is dramatically better for videogames than finger touch because of how much more precise it allows developers to make their touch interfaces,and more. The 3DS has a tilt sensor and, in the New model that is the only one I have ever owned, an Amiibo reader and some added inputs as well. With its huge library and nice screen it’s an incredible system. Of course its graphics, in games that use polygons, are not exactly the best, but for its screen resolution I think it can do just fine. That screen resolution is a bit low for some titles, but if properly optimized it’s fine.
Overall, of course the 3DS is getting older now, but I still think it has a place in the gaming landscape. And, as we are seeing with skyrocketing 3DS game and hardware prices and indie developers working until the final days to release games for the system, I am not the only one. There is no other platform with its combination of weird quirks. The 3DS is peak Weird Nintendo, from the time when Nintendo decided that the best way to compete was to double down on interestingly unique hardware quirks, after abandoning the high-end power market back in the mid ’00s with the release of the Wii. The 3DS is a fascinating look at a direction gaming didn’t go in, with its precise touchscreen, 3d effect, and more. I will continue playing my 3DS, and now will have to hack my Wii U and 3DS — which I did not previously do — in order to continue using them normally. It’s awful and pointless, and has made me quite upset with Nintendo. This is hitting harder than I thought it would… oh well.
Now, I do dislike change to an extent, and wish for systems I love to have longer lives — Nintendo killing off the N64 a bit early has long been my pick for the thing Nintendo did that I most dislike, and I’d say that it still is number one on my list — but it’s not just me upset about this one. Gamers at large may have given up when the shutdown was announced and said ‘Nintendo always does this stuff, I won’t even bother protesting’, sadly, but again, the massive 3DS game and hardware price spike and the outpouring of sadness at the time of the shutdown shows that people do care. Nintendo just doesn’t care back. It’s kind of crazy that Sony actually was more responsive to fan anger than Nintendo, when they backed down from their plan to shut down the PS3, PSP, and Vita’s online storefronts after a fan outcry. I would never have thought that Sony would be more responsive to that than Nintendo, or that Sony fans would care more about using their company’s older platforms than Nintendo fans considering how most Sony fans seem to focus almost exclusively on Sony’s newest blockbuster and not on older platforms or titles, but somehow that happened here, it seems. It’s kind of crazy. Times change, but the question is, was that change good? Some moves are defensible and others are not. This one is decidedly in the latter camp.
Of course, despite this I will continue buying games for Nintendo’s systems, they still make most of the best games after all. But I will not forget what they have done here to one of their best systems ever, while a sizable community of fans still wanted to keep the system alive and software was still selling. It’s an unacceptable act tearing right into gaming history and preservation. Nintendo is known to always keep copies of everything they make or sell in their vault, and that’s great, but when you put that vault under lock and key and refuse to allow anyone else to see anything in it that’s barely better than not preserving it at all. Games are something that must be experienced to be fully understood. It is incredibly sad that Nintendo cares more about their profits than that. It is awful. I am not against capitalism, some form of it probably is the best economic system, but this kind of short-sightedness does nothing good.
OTHER DIGITAL SHUTDOWNS
In this section I would like to mention some other digital storefront shutdowns. I should mention other major digital storefront shutdowns. I covered the Wii already. Other than that, purchasing DSiWare games was shut down on the DSi some years back, but you could still buy all of those games on a 3DS until the 27th so that’s not such a big deal. The original Xbox had its online store shuttered long ago, but that system had very, VERY few games, so little was lost. Microsoft does have several other major shutdowns, though — first, of Games for Windows Live, MS’s first PC game storefront. This digital storefront was never very successful, hence itse eventual shutdown, but anyone who bought games there digitally would eventually lose access to their purchases. A few games with GFWL-based copy protection were broken, too. Many were fixed, but even so it’s worth mentioning. GFWL was not a good service, MS’s current PC store is in fact better even if it is also quite flawed, but still it was shut down.
And second, Microsoft shut down, for no reason I can imagine, the Xbox  Live Indie Games portion of the X360 storefront. XBLIG was a place for indie developers to release cheap, mostly PC-port games on the Xbox 360. It was a really cool idea which had a huge number of titles… until Microsoft shut it down and removed all games from sale years ago. You can still play any XBLIG games you bought on your 360, but you can’t buy them. I’m not sure if there is a homebrew solution which fixes this issue or not. On the console side, this is maybe the worst digital storefront shutdown not on a Nintendo platform, since as I mentioned previously Sony backed down from shutting down purchasing on the PS3 and Vita. They did shut down the PSP store, but you can still buy those games on PS3 and transfer them to PSP, I believe.
Really the only other major shutdowns to mention are again on the PC side, as Steam progressively removes support for older versions of Windows over time. Valve recently announced that Windows 7 and 8 would be blocked from accessing Steam soon-ish. All versions of Windows before 7 were blocked years prior. This is a pretty major thing since most PC games only release on Steam. Sometimes piracy can get around this issue, but it makes playing PC games on period-correct hardware dramatically more difficult. This is an old problem on the PC, but this kind of move makes it even harder. Even though the PC is a much older platform, consoles are often, ironically, more future-proof since they don’t have the rolling incompatibility breaks that you get on the PC. Hack your 3DS, and it’s going to work fine for as long as the hardware lasts. But a PC? Issues may occur on a game-by-game basis, and this kind of move will surely make playing something much harder. But even so, due to the openness of the PC platform, and because most PC games do work in Windows 10 and 11 systems that were designed for Windows Vista, 7, or 8 ones, I do think that the Nintendo Wii U and 3DS shutdown is worse. Valve has more of an excuse, as well — they are doing it because the web browser that Steam is built on is deprecating support for OSes before 10. It’s sad stuff but unfortunately web browsers change over time as new security holes are found and stuff which may or may not be fixable, and new features are added to the web browsing experience.
And lastly, when a company goes out of business or gives up on gaming, as Google did for instance when they recently shut down their streaming gaming platform, obviously their service goes away with the system. This is the most understandable form of shutdown. Sure, it’s sad for fans of the system that the Ouya failed, for example, but when it did, of course the service could not be kept online. Modern games are not like classic ones, they are not burned on silicon forever. They require servers to run which cost companies money to operate. Even if they do get released on disc or cart those discs or carts are not going to last anywhere near as long as a classic system’s masked ROM chips, either, since modern cart-based systems like the Switch use relatively short-lived flash chips with mere decades of life to the cart before they erase themselves instead of the centuries that masked ROMs can last, but that’s another story.
So, there have been many digital shutdowns. However, most make sense. For sheer meaninglessness, nothing matches up to Nintendo shutting down the 3DS eShop. XBLIG’s shutdown on the Xbox 360 and Steam disabling older OSes from accessing Steam, even for copy protection verification, are the only competitors, but for me personally the 3DS edges both of them out. At least most XBLIG games were also released on PC, and PC copy protection can usually be worked around with legally-purchased copies of the games. You cannot do that on the 3DS, no games can be purchased anymore. The 3DS digital shutdown is, indeed, the worst digital shutdown ever. With this all should know the future of all live-service software: to eventually not exist once the company running the server decides that the numbers don’t make sense anymore. Games today are more ephemeral than they ever have been before, and that’s something we should be sad about. Of course there is a lot to be happy about as well, we have an insane wealth of games to play covering all possible genres, but for those who care about game preservation, the future of console and computer game preservation is difficult indeed.