It has been a while since Nintendo officially pulled the plug on the Wii U and the 3DS. Both consoles were retired after the original Switch hardware was released, as it did represent a direct replacement for both. But, while they no longer built the hardware, they have continued to support the software - particularly the eShop. This is where you can purchase games and download games you have already purchased. Well, the lifecycle of both consoles is coming to an end, and that means the eShop for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U will be closing in March 2023.
The problem with digital downloads
Every electronic product has a lifecycle, and those lifecycles are starting to sneak up on us rather quickly, and it's causing a problem for gamers. For much of our gaming experience, when you bought a game it came on a cartridge or disc. When the lifecycle for a console was over, you still had access to all of your purchased games. But now, with digital storefronts for games, gamers are at the mercy of the console stores to continue to function in order to have access to the full collection of games they have purchased.
This is why you can still go back and play games from the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) today without challenge. All of the games are on physical media. But, the last few generations of consoles have focused more on digital distribution than physical media, and that poses a huge problem when you look at older consoles.
Recently, Sony announced that the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita stores would shut down, causing an outcry. If someone had purchased 50 games from the store, but only had room for 10, they were going to have to choose which games to keep and which to lose forever. After customer feedback, Sony decided to cancel those plans and leave the stores alone. But, it does demonstrate the problem with digital distribution.
The end of a Nintendo era
With the shutdown of the eShops for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U, Nintendo gamers are about to face the same decision. These consoles represent the big change in the way Nintendo focused on games, making digital a big part of their plan. So, while the Wii has already shut down, it wasn't quite the same problem. Wii gamers mostly purchased discs, while Wii U and 3DS gamers bought a lot more digital.
This change will also see an end to another service, the Nintendo Virtual Console. This was the company's emulation system which allowed gamers to purchase a game from those older consoles and play them on newer hardware. It's similar to what Team Xecutor was doing, except legally. The service already went away with the end of the eShop on Wii, and will come to a full termination in March 2023. This is because Nintendo has no plans to bring the service to Switch. So, those purchases will die right there on the older consoles.