Level Up! | How Nintendo drives people to video game piracy

Level Up! Is a biweekly blog about all types of games, from Dungeons and Dragons to Mario Party.

By Sinéad McDevitt, Digital Manager

Over spring break, I visited the Computerspielemuseum in Berlin, a museum dedicated to the history of games. It included several old games players could try out. There was a comically oversized SNES controller I used to play Zelda, old-school arcade machines, SEGA Bass fishing on the Dreamcast and more games I wouldn’t be able to physically try on my own outside of the museum.

It got me thinking about how game companies, but most notably Nintendo right now, really don’t like preserving their own games.

March 27 marks the end of service for Nintendo’s 3DS and WiiU online stores, meaning people will no longer be able to purchase new games for these systems. And there’s no news as to whether these games will be available via Nintendo Switch Online or any other official method, which leaves people interested in these games other options.

They can pick up a copy of the game through the second-hand market if there’s a physical copy of the game available. However, some games can go for $100 dollars on eBay, and you need a working 3DS. The battery on mine died years ago and I had to jump through tons of hoops to get it fixed so I could replay some old games.

And again, this is only for the ones that had a physical release in the first place. There’s no place to purchase legitimate versions of digital-only games if the developers didn’t also release them on another platform. And DLC also won’t be accessible after the shop shuts down, something that’s particularly tragic for “Fire Emblem: Fates” because the third and best route of the game where you learn the truth about the whole story is only available either as DLC or if you can manage to get your hands on one of the special edition cartridges that is going for over $800 on eBay.

The other option for players who don’t manage to download these games, for whatever reason, is piracy — an option Nintedo itself clearly doesn’t like.

“Video game piracy is illegal. Nintendo opposes those who benefit and trade off the creative work of game developers, artists, animators, musicians, motion capture artists and others. Piracy continues to be a significant threat to Nintendo’s business, as well as to the businesses of thousands of game development companies that work to provide games for Nintendo systems,” Nintendo notes on its FAQ. “Most importantly, game developers and publishers depend on the legitimate sales of their games in order to survive. Piracy discourages innovation and new game development which ultimately impacts the consumer.”

However, if literally the only way to get a copy of the game is to pirate it or buy it second hand, then that’s quite different. There’s no money going back to the developers and people who worked on the game in either situation, and being able to replay and try out old games can be a wealth of inspiration to young game developers.

While Nintendo is slowly making old games available through Nintendo Switch Online, it’s not enough. Currently, NSO only has games up through the GameBoy available, and there is no news about if or when Gamecube, DS, 3DS, Wii or WiiU games will be added to the service.

To demonstrate how many games will be lost, when the WiiU and 3DS eShops close, only around 25% of games from the Pokémon series— one of the largest franchises in the world, mind you — will be available in some official capacity.

Furthermore, these require a subscription starting at $50 a year to get the most games, whereas on the 3DS and WiiU eShops you could simply make a one-time purchase for the specific game, so even Nintendo Switch Online could be more accessible.
Gabe Newell, president of Valve, said in 2011 that piracy is a service issue, not a pricing issue. While there are and will always be people who pirate things just because they can, a lot are only doing it because the only other option is to let old games fade into obscurity — which is tragic for any work of art, much less hundreds of games.

If Nintendo really wants to curb piracy, they should announce plans to make these games available virtually on the Switch as soon as possible, preferably by making them simple purchases. But even having them on Nintendo Switch Online would be better than nothing.

It would be good both for business and as a way to preserve older games.

Otherwise, Nintendo is just driving people to pirate their games by giving them no alternatives.