Every time Nintendo does a good thing the company seems obsessed with backing it up with something lousy. Just a week ago Nintendo ran what was arguably the best Nintendo Direct it had done yet, promising a truly astounding range of games over the next year or so. This week the company announced that as of around this time next year there would be no Wii U and 3DS eShop.
The news came via Tweet:
At that point, you will no longer be able to buy games from the respective stores. You will be able to re-download existing games (for now), but Nintendo has also announced no plans to make the games available on these platforms available elsewhere.
To be clear: there are a lot of games that were eShop exclusives on the Nintendo 3DS (in particular). The Wii U had fewer (but still plenty), but also had the only Virtual Console that currently provides Game Boy Advance titles. Once that functionality goes you will, once again, be unable to buy or play GBA games on current systems legitimately.
The GBA. Arguably the finest handheld of the “retro” era, and Nintendo is once again making it totally inaccessible.
In a FAQ, Nintendo states that the reason it is doing this is because “this is part of the natural lifecycle for any product line as it becomes less used by consumers over time,” and, truthfully, that is totally fine and understandable. What is not is the company’s willingness to just let this stuff die. To become inaccessible and unplayable, on anything, because there’s just not enough profit in it.
I’ve written about this often enough now, so I’m not going to repeat it again, but if games are art then we should be treating the preservation of them much more seriously. There should be a moral and cultural obligation on Nintendo to make sure that every game on the Wii U and 3DS remains accessible in some form that doesn’t rely on the company’s good graces.
Until that happens, and until Nintendo takes meaningful steps to preserve all that art, buying Anbernic (or other Chinese emulation consoles) devices to play these games is not only justified, but there’s a communal moral and cultural obligation that we need to take on ourselves. We need to do our bit to preserve these games. Once the Wii U goes, there is absolutely no reasonable argument to say that accessing one of the all-time great games, the GBA’s first Fire Emblem (the one with Lyn) on one of these devices is unfair. When the 3DS eShop goes, and Anbernic produces a dual-screen console, there is absolutely no reason that you should feel bad about accessing absolutely brilliant games like Crimson Shroud, Nintendo Pocket Football Club, A-Train 3D, and whatever else would be almost impossible to find otherwise. The 3DS had a lot of games that had ridiculously limited physical runs, if at all.
As I’ve also written in the past, I do believe that we should support such games on re-release if they should happen down the track. Firstly because that encourages further preservation via the one metric these companies care about (profiability), but also because I think it’s important that we draw a line between piracy done because art should be accesssible, and piracy done because we just want free stuff. I do not agree with the latter. But in a year Nintendo’s going to pull the rug out from a lot of creativity, ideas, and remove some great works of art from society, and we should not feel obliged to tolerate that.