Recently Nintendo’s Wi-Fi functionality across their Wii and Nintendo DS platforms were shutdown. In-game online services and downloadable content are no longer available. Thanks to Nintendo half ignoring online gaming over the last generation, the Wii and DS had the least to lose. The Wii’s and DS’s online experiences were passable at best and few titles embraced DLC. It’s sad to see the online functionality and additional content disappear, but what terrifies me the most is what the future holds for the Wii’s online store, WiiWare.
For now, WiiWare is safe. Nintendo has not announced any plans to shut down the service, but it’s inevitable. I’m sure only a few people are as distressed as I am about losing WiiWare. WiiWare never succeed like PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade did, so many will be willing to just write off the service. Unlike DSiWare on Nintendo 3DS, WiiWare hasn’t been integrated into the modern eShop store on Wii U. The service only exists on the original Wii and Wii U’s backwards compatibility mode. Unless Nintendo bothers to integrate the Wii into the Wii U’s main operating system, I can’t see them merging the two stores as they did on the 3DS.
WiiWare is not a service known for its high quality games. The Wii overall is a system made up of experimental and budget releases. Wii games were often interesting to look at but were rarely polished enough to be AAA experiences. Like a lot of Wii’s software, a large number of WiiWare titles are exclusive to the system. Games like the wind based platformer LostWinds, the town and dungeon management Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King / Darklord, and the 16-bit style ReBirth series from Konami can’t be found anywhere but on WiiWare and are largely considered decent games.
It’s rare to have the money and time to play every single game you want to. Probably more than two thirds of my gaming budget and playtime is dedicated to games I’ve missed out on over my 24 years of existence and from before I was born. WiiWare is a platform I have yet to fully invest my money and time into, so I’m contemplating just dumping money into the service and hoarding games.
It will be a good while into the future, but eventually PSN’s PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable support and the Xbox 360’s XBLA will likely disappear. Many popular games will live on via ports across multiple platforms, but not everything will be salvaged. We already have seen this issue with current retro games that seemingly never get rereleases for one reason or another. In those cases, you can at least still buy an original copy even if it might incinerate your wallet’s contents as prices on older games rise.
These services shutting down will end the ability to buy some of these games. There will be the option of not paying for them through hacked systems, emulation and piracy. As long as someone has a copy on a system that can be ripped, it can be preserved. I’m not a fan of piracy. Just thinking about it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. But without any alternatives, hacking and piracy might be the only way to save the future retro of digital download gaming.