Nintendoes what Xbox don’t


We’re all well aware by now of the freak show that Microsoft’s been putting on with the Xbox One. Hell, I’ve even written about it twice in a row myself now. However, as I continue to watch this console Hindenburg itself into oblivion, one detail has been bugging me in the back of my head — and it’s not even Microsoft that’s the culprit this time.


Games check in, but they don’t check out.

It’s surprisingly uncommon knowledge that Nintendo has serious problems with their digital media policies. As with the Xbox One, many of these rules and regulations shouldn’t have ever gone into practice in the first place, and it’s cost Nintendo’s own customers dearly on several occasions. Given the way gamers dug in their feet on the Xbox One’s proposed game-locking policies, it’s bizarre that Nintendo hasn’t had to face the same sort of heat over their own convoluted mess.


One of the major reasons the Xbox One fell flat with gamers was due to the way that it attempted to cut off used game sales. In essence, it was going to transform a hard copy game into a digital game; the game was to be registered to the ID of the person who purchased it, which would prevent it from activating for others that wanted to borrow the disc. Gamers were outraged at this proposal because it diminished the ownership of something they’d legitimately bought, and the backlash was so severe that Microsoft has done an unprecedented retreat away from the idea. But here’s the thing: Nintendo has an eerily similar policy in place for all of its current consoles. I say similar because, amazingly, it actually manages to be worse than the one that helped sink the Xbox One.

For those out of the loop, any content that you download from Nintendo is attached to the specific gaming unit you saved it to, not to you as a customer. This means that, should your unit go up in smoke one day, all of your digital media is lost with it. This is a problem that went under the radar for much of the Wii’s lifespan — that is, until Nintendo made it an issue themselves by releasing newer and sexier Wiis. When the black Wii hit the market in 2010, many gamers that already had white Wiis looked forward to upgrading to a newer version that would match the majority of other home gaming consoles. This is when the problem really came to light, as droves of customers found themselves unable to dispose of their old Wiis because they couldn’t transfer any of their Virtual Console purchases. The problem only got worse when the special edition Mario-red Wii came out a mere six months later.


NoJ president Satoru Iwata presenting a Wii U control pad and hoping you don’t read the following paragraph.

When the Wii U came out last winter, many that were aware of the problem expected it to be resolved by the new console’s Nintendo Network ID; however, not only was this not fixed, it apparently spiraled off into unbridled madness. As Sean Buckley of Engagdet writes about the Wii U’s legacy program for imported Wii DLC:

“…Your Wii U content is tied to your Wii U console, but your Wii content can now be tied to a virtual Wii within your Wii U console without giving ownership of its content to its parent Wii U console. Confusing? Absolutely.  …  The 3DS adds yet another eShop to the pile, making content management as a Nintendo fan needlessly complicated.”

That noise you just heard was the sound of your own psyche snapping.


Here’s the jist:

  • User IDs are only associated with the device they were created on
  • Content of a previous generation console may be associated with a new generation console (Wii to Wii U, DSi to 3DS), but the content then becomes tethered to the new console unit
  • Users can transfer from 3DS to 3DS, but it requires that the user have both the old and new consoles to do so
  • Users cannot transfer their data from Wii to Wii, Wii U to Wii U, or DSi to DSi
  • Nintendo can transfer user ID data for Wiis and Wii Us, but only if they choose to do so; this often requires a police report to prove a unit was stolen, and failing that, many users are simply out of luck
  • If Nintendo concedes to transfer data for a broken unit, they require your console be sent to them for the transfer; it cannot be done over the phone or on the internet
  • This process takes about 2 weeks
  • This process is only available to residents of the United States and Canada

When asked, Nintendo has always cited game sharing as the reasoning behind this exceptionally restrictive philosophy. The logic goes that, if users are permitted to transfer their data to new consoles, then they can give the old ones to people that didn’t pay for the original user’s downloaded content, thus resulting in Nintendo losing money on potential DLC sales.

However, the drastic measures they’ve taken to protect themselves from the alleged perils of game sharing have undoubtedly cost them far more revenue in the form of gamers simply not downloading at all, for fear of losing access to digital games. The interwebs have no shortage of gamers sharing their stories about Nintendo refusing to help reinstate legitimately purchased DLC.

Does it really need to be this extreme, though? Isn’t there a way Nintendo could help themselves while also helping their customers? As a matter of fact, there is, and one need only look to Nintendo’s own competition to see how.


Whether Nintendo likes to admit it or not, there are plenty of ways to approach digital gaming rights without treating consumers like criminals. Their competitors have long since gotten the hang of balancing their own interests with those of their users, and the feedback has generally been positive all around. To give you a frame of reference, here’s a quick rundown on the competition’s policies.

Playstation Network

  • Users are able to activate up to 4 devices to the ID (2 PS3s and 2 PSP/Vitas)
  • Users may activate and deactivate any of these devices at any time
  • Sony provides several tutorials, special circumstance instructions, and live hotlines to assist with this process

Xbox Live

  • Users may load their gamer tag and download history to any Xbox 360 at any time; there is no stated device limit
  • Users may only use their ID on one device at a time
  • Gamer tags and download history may be transferred via online download or offline data transfer cable
  • When switching devices, users are given a quick notice that their ID was last seen on another device just in case someone else is trying to use that user’s account without their permission


  • Users may log in to Steam and download their content on any device with Steam installed
  • Users have to activate each computer before being able to use their account, which is done via e-mail verification
  • Users may only use their ID on one device at a time


  • No stated limit on the number of devices that can access/install Origin
  • Games can be downloaded as many times as the user desires
  • Explicitly states that purchased content cannot “expire”

Apple ID

  • Users may associate up to 10 devices to their ID
  • Associated devices stay connected to that ID for a minimum of 90 days, after which they may be changed to a new ID
  • Devices can be removed at any time, although they still may not be tied to a new ID until after the 90 days

Google Play

  • No stated limit on associated devices; in fact, Google openly provides an extremely long list of compatible devices
  • Actually, I haven’t been able to find ANY restrictions on use of Google Play accounts

These lists clearly illustrate that Nintendo’s practices are the exception, not the rule. Even if Nintendo wanted to maintain its firm grip on users not sharing their content, they could simply use a narrowed version of Sony’s PSN policy and require device activation and deactivation. In that way, if a user decided to upgrade or otherwise replace their console, they’d simply need to disassociate their ID from the old one and activate the new one. With the previous device disconnected, it would no longer have access to the old ID’s content, thus alleviating Nintendo’s anxieties while allowing gamers to maintain the rights to their purchased content.


NoA president Reggie Fils-Aimes summarizes Nintendo’s DLC policy with a single gesture.

What makes all of this even crazier is that Nintendo already has what is essentially a universal user ID system: Club Nintendo. A user’s Club Nintendo ID tracks all of their purchases (including digital) under a single umbrella in order for members to earn rewards. Furthermore, Club Nintendo allows members to register their consoles by serial number. This service could not only be used to verify to Nintendo what DLC a customer has and hasn’t bought in the event of a hard drive crash or file sharing incident, but it could also be used to terminate association from old consoles — if Nintendo were willing to do so.


Unfortunately, Nintendo has shown no interest in modifying their practices as of this writing; in fact, they’ve gone so far as to officially state that you’re screwed if you lose a device with digital content attached. It’s a ludicrous practice, because the entire appeal of going digital over a physical copy is that a ‘lost’ digital game can simply be re-downloaded after the original purchase is verified. It wouldn’t even cost the parent company any money, aside from a modicum of bandwidth.

Having said that, there is a quote that’s been floating around the internet that a lot of people see as a sign of change in the works.

“In the future, you will be able to use your Nintendo Network Account with future Nintendo consoles and other devices, such as PC’s.”

However, it’s important to note the wording here. “Future Nintendo consoles” isn’t as specific as it seems; that could easily be referring to future generations of consoles. If that’s the case, the sentence basically means that the same policy that’s used now — that is, old generation content (Wii, DSi) being transferable a new generation (Wii U, 3DS) — will be used down the road. It’d be nice to assume that the sentence means we’ll eventually be able to bounce our Nintendo IDs around from console to console, but for a company that’s been this rigid already, it’d be wiser not to jump to logic conclusions.

If one thing’s for sure, it’s that the current mess that Nintendo’s gotten itself into is a far cry from its typical customer-friendly image. Shigeru Miyamoto has said himself that he believes games should belong to the gamers that buy them rather than act as a glorified rental, and it’s hard for Nintendo to live up to an ideal like that when they’re essentially holding digital content hostage from their own consumers.


The Wii, Wii U, DSi, 3DS, and Club Nintendo are all property of Nintendo; PSN belongs to Sony, Xbox Live belongs to Microsoft, Steam belongs to Valve, Origin belongs to Electronic Arts, Apple ID belongs to Apple, and Google Play belongs to Google. I’m sure you already knew that, but fuck if I’m not covering my ass when talking about this many companies.


About Leedzie

Leda "Leedzie" Clark is a writer and game designer with a sharp eye for detail and a kooky sense of humor. She's been a nerd as long as she can remember, and always seems to notice the wrong thing first in any given situation.

Posted on July 2, 2013, in Analysis, Consoles, Developers, Feature Articles, Journalism, Portfolio, Video Games and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Thank you for your research on all this. I had considered finally trading in our old Wii to upgrade to the Wii U. I had no idea there was so much trouble with that. We didn’t do a whole lot with downloadables on the Wii, but there are one or two games that we would lose outright if we did that.

  2. I agree that their practices are fatally flawed and have caused me moments of frustration and anger, however this is an issue that as an outsider we cannot truly understand. Their business is centered around very longstanding traditions, we have to remember that they are not just based in Japan, they are Japanese, for them to change anything they all must agree, not just one but all!

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