Nintendo’s User Account System is Outdated and Downright Unfair

For a while now I feel that Nintendo has been doing a good job of distancing themselves from any competition between the PlayStation and Xbox brands. They do things pretty differently. When the PS2 and Xbox where using DVD media, Nintendo’s GameCube used tiny little toy-like dishes. When the PS3 and Xbox 360 brought stunning HD games and rich multimedia functions to home consoles, Nintendo’s Wii introduced motion controls that helped it become the best-selling home console of that generation.

With the staggeringly technically powerful PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on the horizon, the Wii U has marked Nintendo’s debut into HD gaming and introduced a tablet for a controller.

I think it goes without saying that Nintendo runs their own pace to win their own race.

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Despite the dramatic difference in the technical specifications of Nintendo’s consoles compared to their “competitors”, Nintendo has absolutely never failed to deliver quality exclusive titles on their hardware. Whether the Wii U is as strong as the PS4 or the 3DS is as strong as the Vita is hardly relevant, Nintendo uses what they have to craft excellent gaming experiences and there isn’t really much more you can ask of a gaming console. In this respect, it’s perfectly fine that they do their own thing because it works and it keeps the players happy.

While the software and hardware is just dandy, there is one area where Nintendo should definitely and undoubtedly take a cue from Microsoft and Sony’s practices with their games. This is an area where Nintendo has practically been getting away with murder and it needs to be addressed before their hardware, their software, the sales of the Wii U or anything else.

I’m talking about their utterly laughable user account system.

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As of now, both the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS have systems which tie user accounts in their entirety to the respective hardware. All of your downloads are linked to the hardware itself, whereas the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 tie your downloads and account info to the profile itself.

This is a problem. Hardware is volatile and typically fairly fragile. You can spill something on it, drop it in the toilet, your heavyset aunt could step on it. Worse yet, you could lose or misplace it or someone can outright steal it from your possession. Conflicting directly with the volatility of hardware is software, particularly downloaded software. It comes from the internet, the anywhere, everywhere, internet. The internet has given birth to the eShop, the PlayStation Store and the Xbox Marketplace. Because of these services we can spend thousands of dollars on video game software without ever leaving our homes and have access to it in mere moments. It’s a beautiful thing.

Even more beautiful is the security involved with this – at least on the PS3 and 360. If your console is broken, stolen, squashed, squandered, it doesn’t matter. It’s of little consequence. All you do is purchase another one and through the power of the internet you link your profile back up to it and voila! All of that precious, expensive software is right back at your fingertips. This system is effective and secure. It makes the hardware only useful as a means of accessing your software, while your software itself is a part of the ever-present internet.

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This isn’t what Nintendo does. Nintendo locks your hardware and software together, favoring the volatile hardware instead of the omnipresent internet. They did this last gen with the Wii (while the PS3 and Xbox 360 introduced their nearly flawless account systems) and they did it this generation with the Wii U and the Nintendo 3DS. If anything happens to your hardware, you can kiss your thousands of dollars in software goodbye. This is unacceptable and the fact that they’ve been able to get away with this for so long is puzzling.

Nintendo’s reason for this is a mystery to me, but I can make a guess. Nintendo is so terrified of people playing games that they themselves haven’t purchased that they’ll altogether forgo genuine user accounts. If you want someone to play games you’ve downloaded, then you’ll need to take your console to them. If you have two Wii Us in a household and want to play games together, then you’ll need to buy two copies of the game. If for any reason at all you lose access to the console itself, then too bad so sad.

The biggest problem with the lack of genuine user accounts on the 3DS and Wii U is that it seems to directly contradict where game consoles as a whole are heading. You can purchase dozens of Nintendo 3DS games and download them directly from the eShop. You can do the same thing from the Wii U. Why introduce the ability to obtain expensive software from the internet but not introduce a way to protect or maintain it?

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Perhaps they’re counting on you to drop and break your console, then buy another system and finally rebuy every single game you already had? I can’t imagine that they’d actually be that greedy, but the reasoning doesn’t make a huge difference because the end result is the same.

I love Nintendo and so do most of us here at DualShockers. I even went on and on about how the Wii U won my heart at E3, while everyone else and their mothers were drooling over the PS4 and – let’s be honest – to a lesser extent, the Xbox One. And as I said before, Nintendo doesn’t necessarily need to imitate anything any other company is doing when it comes to delivering excellent gaming experiences. However, you cannot tie an immortal digital download to a very mortal piece of hardware. That simply isn’t the way it works. Look at iTunes, Steam, Google Play. Once again, look at the PlayStation Store and the Xbox Marketplace.

What Nintendo does is terrifying. Every time I drop or scratch my 3DS, I’m wondering if I should go ahead and buy another one right away. The last thing I want is for something serious to happen to it, because then all the games attached to it are gone forever too. Most of the time a digital game collection has far more monetary value than the hardware itself.

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Maybe Nintendo should just kill the eShop. If people’s downloads are as volatile as the hardware itself, then you’re better off simply purchasing physical copies. Otherwise when something happens to your console – and trust me, things happen to even the most meticulous collectors – you’ll have to rebuy all of your downloads.

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