Friday, March 4, 2011

OPINION: Fluidity Deserves Better

Since its introduction in November 2006, Nintendo’s Wii has been the undisputed commercial success story of the latest video game console generation, primarily because it is (well, was) so revolutionary. Unfortunately, not all of Nintendo’s innovations with the Wii have been positive for consumers. I write specifically of the Digital Rights Management (DRM) with which Nintendo afflicts controls its Wii Ware and Virtual Console services.

Nintendo is the only company I am aware of that limits digital downloads to a single machine, and rightly so: using such a restrictive brand of DRM is bad for consumers and therefore bad for business. Why would Nintendo do this?

Nintendo’s Biggest Fear
Nintendo is a company that fears software piracy. They fear it so much that while the PlayStation, 3DO, and Dreamcast used CDs, Nintendo stuck with cartridges for the N64 because cartridges are so much harder to pirate. DRM is one tool that companies like Nintendo use in an effort to combat piracy, and while generally unpopular among advocacy groups, consumers have accepted certain implementations of DRM such as those found in popular platforms like Steam and Apple’s App Store.

In an ideal consumer-producer relationship, the burden of fighting piracy is shared to an extent. Producers generally have more resources and are better equipped to fight systemic piracy, while consumers simply purchase games to avoid piracy. In exchange for not being pirates, companies like Apple and Steam extend certain rights to their customers, chief among them, the ability to download a piece of software as many times as needed once it has been paid for. On the other hand, Nintendo has deliberately restricted its download services, hurting its customers and developers by shifting too much of the anti-piracy burden to the consumer.

Great Expectations
“Fluidity” is an amazing adventure game from Curve Studios offered through Wii Ware only. The first thing I wanted to do when I bought it was share it with my dad. I put “Fluidity” on my SD card and tried to play it on my dad’s console. I was shocked when it wouldn’t work. I expected something different, being familiar with Steam, Apple, and other forms of DRM. I thought, Well, what’s the deal here? I’ve legally purchased this game, and I want to play it on a different Wii, and I should be able to do so. What’s the real difference between this and a game disc? Nintendo’s take on the matter is quite different. Here are the relevant bits (verbatim) from the Wii’s End User License Agreement (EULA, source):

• The Wii Shop allows you to use Points to download a license to use Content or purchase Products.

• The Wii Network Service is licensed to you for use on your Wii Console only in the United States, Canada, or Latin America.

• You must clear all Content, Third-Party Data, and any other stored sensitive or personal information stored on your Wii Console prior to selling or otherwise transferring your Wii Console. If you acquire a used Wii Console, you must clear, and may not use, any of this data if still on the Wii Console when you acquire it.

Nintendo’s customer service department explained to me that Wii Ware and Virtual Console games are not sold, per se. Rather, Wii points purchase licenses to play games on a single console. If your Wii malfunctions under warranty, you can have it repaired and your Wii Ware/Virtual Console games will be restored. If you are out of warranty, you can pay $85 plus tax to repair your console and restore your games.

If you want to upgrade/change your Wii (get a new color, for example), you’re out of luck: all your Wii Ware and Virtual Console downloads are tied to a single machine and cannot be transferred. If you want them on the new system, you’ll have to re-buy them. The lack of transferability in Wii Ware and Virtual Console games begs the question: was it not worth it to emulate other successful DRM, or was it worth it to not do so? I’d love to get an answer to that one.

The bottom line is this: great games like Fluidity deserve better support than what Nintendo is giving right now, and consumers should have the opportunity to never have to pay for the same game twice.

The More Things Change…
During his recent Game Developers Conference address, Satoru Iwata, President of Nintendo, said this: “I must admit that in the overall area of…digital downloads, Nintendo can do better. To date, our Wii Ware and DSi services have not operated as well as they should” (source, minute 32). This is encouraging, but still too vague. Then again, they say that admitting you have a problem is the first step to fixing it.

Nintendo releases the 3DS later this month, and in May it will launch the eShop which will allow DSi owners to transfer DSiWare games to their new 3DS systems, with some conditions: the number of transfers may be limited, and not all games will be transferrable (source, source). Once again, encouraging, yet significant issues remain and nothing has been announced concerning the Wii. I guess the moral of the story is, READ THE EULA. That goes for me, too.

The Demo Gamer’s Advice
As of right now, I cannot recommend using Wii Ware or Virtual Console in any capacity. The DRM is just too restrictive. I do not plan to buy more games licenses exclusive to my Wii from either service until Nintendo moderates its piratephobia and reduces the anti-piracy burden on its consumers.

What’s your take? Is this a serious, do-not-want! sort of problem, or just something you need to deal with if you’re going to download games on the Wii? Sound off in the comments, I would love to know your opinion.


  1. Now that's content I can chew on. Great post! It is a very serious matter and I'm glad to read the Demo Gamer is taking a stand

  2. So what's your take, Brian? As a consumer, DRM really hurts, but even more so on the Wii. As a producer, what system works best to make sure that people can still make a living wage off their content, and is DRM even part of that system? The internet seems to be breaking down traditional publishing methods and reducing the number of middlemen between the content and the consumer.

  3. Hey Demo Dude...good article. I agree, Nintendo needs to pull their collective heads out. I have a Wii but I never play it much. I have never been much interested in Wiiware because of the whole points purchasing arrangement. That's always seemed kind of stupid. DRM can work for publishers and consumers...look at the success that Apple has had.