Amongst the numerous announcements made today regarding Nintendo’s new handheld, the 3DS, one stands out as a particularly important one for this and future generations of consoles and gamers. It has nothing to do with 3D, and it isn’t some hugely anticipated game. No, the announcement I’m referring to is that DSiWare games will be transferable to the 3DS.
There aren’t too many firm details available yet regarding just how the transfers will work, what the exact process will be or if the games will still be playable on the original device. The only points Nintendo has made clear so far is that some games will not be transferable and that there will be some sort of limit placed on the number of times a game is able to be transferred. While the reasoning for the incompatibility of some games is unclear, the limiting of transfers is a measure we’ve seen with digital content on other systems as well. The PS3, for example, allows for only a limited number of consoles to share content downloaded from the PSN, despite the fact that you might own them all.
If it’s unclear why this is the big deal I made it out to be, let me lay it all on the table for you. Backwards compatibility remains a huge issue, and selling point, for many consumers. Getting the most mileage out of the games we buy is often important to us, especially when it comes to those games that we like so much we keep coming back to them year after year. If you don’t think backwards compatibility matters to people, just poke around the electronic tubes every time the PS3 gets an update, and count the number of times people wish for the backwards compatibility that has been stripped out of current models.
Now, couple the demand for backwards compatibility with the fact that the current generation has become the dawn of the digital distribution era, and this announcement gets a lot more interesting, even precedent setting. With all the major consoles having some sort of digital marketplace, many gamers have a lot of content tied specifically to their systems. I wonder how many of those gamers have thought about never being able access that content again should digital backwards compatibility not become the norm.
Old games that exist on discs can be played on any old machine, but what happens when your Xbox 360 breaks down without any digital backwards compatibility in the next-gen Xbox? Did you ever stop to consider that once the new Xbox came out that you wouldn’t be able to play Limbo or Shadow Complex ever again when your 360 goes to that electronics recycling plant in the sky? Also consider that older consoles will eventually lose network support. Muddy DRM techniques like those on the Xbox 360 require content to be verified online if it isn't linked directly to that system. No digital backwards compatibility could mean that loss of support equals the loss of your games.
Of course this move embodies the usual convenience factors of backwards compatibility as well. Players don’t want to have to break out an old system just to play a few old games. This is especially true when it comes to handhelds, as most people are not likely to carry around multiple systems just in case they want to play an older game.
What Nintendo has done here is take a step in the right direction of supporting their customer base by recognizing the importance of digital backwards compatibility in not only adding value to their product but as a demand from gamers who don’t wish to see their digital wares suddenly vanish just because their old system no longer works. It also helps gives digital content the same conveniences as physical content by not trapping it on any one device.
What do you think Ranters? Has the Nintendo 3DS set an example that Sony and Microsoft need to make sure they follow when it comes time for their new consoles? Or do you not dabble in the digital because of worries just like this one?