Wii Shop Channel’s closure shows why we still need physical games

After twelve years in business, the Wii Shop Channel closed its digital doors for good today. Last year, Nintendo stopped allowing users to purchase Wii Points for digital products. Yesterday was the last day to redeem any remaining Wii Points toward purchases.

While users can still re-download WiiWare and Virtual Console titles, as well as transfer them to the Wii U, those features will eventually be disabled as well. In other words, your entire library of digital Wii titles will have to be backed up to your local console since there will be no way to access them off of Nintendo’s servers.

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This points to a broader issue with digital-only media. Not only is it tied to a specific account – and thus not able to be resold on the second-hand market – but whenever a company decides to no longer support its service, your entire collection is at the mercy of your console and its storage device. If it fails, you potentially lose thousands of dollars’ worth of content. It’s the equivalent of losing all of your physical media in a fire. While fires are a rare occurrence, hardware failure is inevitable.

This arrangement is good for companies like Nintendo and Sony with its Vita handheld. They can force you to rebuy the exact same games across multiple generations of consoles and handhelds. But for gamers and collectors, it is wasted resources; for cities and local video game retailers, it is empty storefronts, lost property tax revenue, and jobs. It also means that the gaming community loses a part of its history to games that will become increasingly inaccessible.

This is not an argument against all digital purchases, mind you. Most of us have huge Steam collections that we build up from Steam Summer Sales and Humble Bundle. The tempting bargains in exchange for DRM and an acknowledgement that our games might not be ours forever are a tradeoff that a lot of people are willing to make.

It is an argument, though, for keeping physical media alive and resisting efforts in the industry to chip away consumers’ rights in favor of large, self-interested corporations. It’s an argument for strengthening laws that protect consumers’ rights of digital content, including the ability to recover data on backup devices. It’s an argument for the continued adoption of devices that support both physical and digital media. It’s an argument for keeping physical games alive so that both the current generation and future generations of gamers can still enjoy them.

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