Nintendo plans to sell all of their games both in stores and online in the near future.
Nintendo's push toward online sales for all of their games, while very forward looking, still ties your 3DS purchases to the hardware you bought the games on, according to Nintendo president Satoru Iwata.
In detailing how the company plans to start selling all of their published titles for the 3DS online, Iwata pointed out that those purchases will only be playable on the hardware on which they were downloaded.
"The digitally downloaded software will be stored in the consumer's SD memory card and be playable only with the hardware to which it was downloaded so that, unlike how you can share the packaged software which are stored in game card format, the consumer cannot share the software with other Nintendo 3DS systems owned by other members of the family or friends," he said.
He didn't address what would happen if you sold your 3DS or it was lost, stolen or just stopped working. Iwata also didn't go into the same level of detail about how Wii U online purchases would work, saying only that all games will be sold both in stores and as a download on day one for the new console.
Reached for comment this morning, Nintendo of America officials declined to address whether the Wii U's online purchases would be tied to the console, but reiterated the importance of this shift in sales.
"Nintendo is aiming to significantly expand its digital business," according to the statement emailed to Polygon. "In August, New Super Mario Bros. 2 for the Nintendo 3DS system will launch both as a packaged game at retail stores and as a digital download in the Nintendo eShop. The majority of future Nintendo-published Nintendo 3DS games will have the same dual-distribution strategy. Likewise, the majority of Nintendo-published Wii U games will be available both as packaged products and as digital downloads starting on launch day."
Nintendo is aiming to significantly expand its digital business.
Iwata also makes it clear that Nintendo sees the online availability of all games in the future as a key factor in increasing game sales for both the 3DS and the Wii U.
The system detailed by Iwata would still lean heavily on retailers, selling both boxed copies of games and download codes for games in stores. But gamers would also be able to make their purchases directly through Nintendo's eShop, he said.
The benefit of selling games in stores is that it would still keep retailers, who are good at making suggestions and promoting titles, in the mix. It would also mean that people who don't have the ability to purchase online, because they have no credit card or don't want to use one, can go into a store to make their purchases.
It could also mean increased exposure for Nintendo games that were formally only sold in their eShop, by allowing stores to sell download codes for those titles, and perhaps promote them.
"From that perspective," Iwata said, "for our digital business to grow drastically, it is imperative for us to expand the exposure of the digital download products to potential consumers."
Nintendo also noted that while they don't set prices of games in stores, their plan is to list the same manufactured suggested retail price for games whether they are a download title or a boxed copy. Retailers will still have the option of following or ignoring those prices.
Retailers will sell a 16-digit code that can be entered directly into the console.
This new digital download sales push will kick off in August with the release of New Super Mario Bros. 2, Iwata said. In theory, all Nintendo-published games moving forward will be sold this way, he said. Wii U's download available will kick off with the console's launch. That means downloads for the console could be as large as 25GB, the capacity of the Wii U's proprietary disc.
Iwata wrapped up his talk by saying that Nintendo plans to never sell digital add-ons for games that are sold as surprises. He decried the concept which in Japan is called "gacha-type charging business" and has consumers pay money without knowing what kind of item they will end up with.
"Nintendo does not believe such a business model can establish long-lasting relationships with our consumers," Iwata said. "We hope that everyone understands our policy, and we will continue to make efforts to avoid such misunderstandings as, 'the next ‘Animal Crossing' might be a game which relies upon add-on content sales.'"