The decision has sparked a backlash from both players and game preservation experts. Nintendo has said it has “no plans to offer classic content in other ways,” which raises some major questions about what happens to digital-only games on the 3DS and Wii U.
Back in 2021, Sony announced plans to close the digital stores for the PS3 and Vita, but reversed course after a similar backlash. But Nintendo is unlikely to change its decision, according to Serkan Toto, CEO of Tokyo-based games industry consultancy Kantan Games.
“Nintendo decided to make a cut because of commercial and operational reasons,” Toto tells Inverse. “One could ask how much money a $70 billion company can really save by shutting down the eShop, but one could also ask: how long was it supposed to run? Until 2050?”
While maintaining old digital storefronts may not seem particularly costly, a Twitter thread from an IT professional named GameOverThirty offers another take on the debate.
“While a decade doesn't feel like a long time, servers, operating systems, regulations, policies, and laws are continually being updated. The constant march of technology and global regulations actually causes some IT infrastructure to get MORE expensive to maintain over time,” says GameOverThirty.
“How long was it supposed to run? Until 2050?”
Because Nintendo designs different eShops for each new console, the costs of maintaining older storefronts can snowball in the long run. Security is also a major concern — these systems aren’t up to modern standards, but are still filled with customers’ personal data. It’s not as simple as just leaving the servers on.
What’s more, Nintendo likely knows the move will ruffle feathers, but ultimately decided to move ahead with the closure anyway.
“Game companies especially these days already factor in backlash. But I think this time there are not enough voices to make Nintendo backpedal,” says Toto. “Game preservation is not a top priority for Nintendo, and the same goes for many other big studios.”
That doesn’t change the most obvious problem here — there’s no alternative for players to acquire digital-only games released for 3DS and Wii U, and no clear means of preserving them for history’s sake.
The Video Game History Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving and teaching the history of games, expressed concern about Nintendo’s decision:
“What we don't understand is what path Nintendo expects its fans to take, should they wish to play these games in the future.”
The Foundation’s statement also points out that Nintendo is a paying member of the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) and “actively funds lobbying that prevents even libraries from being able to provide legal access to these games.”
“Game preservation is not a top priority for Nintendo.”
There are nearly 1,000 digital-only games for these systems, like Yasumi Matsuno’s Crimson Shroud or Attack of the Friday Monsters from Level-5, which will effectively disappear when the service shuts down. And the secondary market for games that do have physical copies is already skyrocketing. For example, a physical English copy of the 3DS game Rhythm Thief & the Emperor's Treasure, as of writing, is going for upwards of $120 on eBay.
The video game industry simply doesn’t have the same standards for preservation as other entertainment industries. Copyright laws only make things more complicated. Stanford University’s Henry Lowood told The Washington Post in January that “Companies arguing for restrictions don’t see the cultural valuations of games. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to copying and protecting rights.”
Nintendo’s decision to shut down the eShop is emblematic of a larger issue in the industry — many companies simply don’t have an interest in preserving the history of the medium. We’re likely a long way off from the widespread adoption of preservation efforts, but an important first step is to prevent companies from actively impeding such efforts.
As the Video Game History Foundation points out in its statement: “Not providing commercial access is understandable, but preventing institutional work to preserve these titles on top of that is actively destructive to video game history.”