The Nintendo 3DS eShop Closure and the Tragedy of Disappearing Media

On March 27th, the Nintendo 3DS eShop will close, and users will no longer be able to purchase digital games for the system. From a financial standpoint, it makes perfect sense; the Nintendo Switch has been available more than six years now, and the small number of people buying 3DS games likely doesn't justify Nintendo paying to keep the eShop servers running. However, from a consumer standpoint, the 3DS eShop's closure might be one of the saddest storefront closures the video game industry has seen. Some 3DS games like Miitopia have been ported to Nintendo Switch, but the vast majority haven't, and likely never will. Those that do get ported will also be missing the defining element that made the 3DS so unique. 

When the 3DS launched back in 2010, 3D was in the midst of a major renaissance. Avatar had just released in theaters a few months prior, and PS3 and Xbox 360 were both experimenting with 3D gaming. However, games on those platforms required expensive 3D TVs to play, as well as cumbersome glasses. Meanwhile, the 3DS offered a glasses-free experience, arguably making the handheld the ideal way to play 3D video games. Users could opt to turn the feature off completely, or just tone it down, if it got to be too much. It was a strange hook, and one that was difficult for potential buyers to appreciate until they saw it in person; the system struggled out of the gate, likely as a result of this issue. However, Nintendo dropped the price shortly after launch, and the system began selling much better.

(Photo: Nintendo)

The Nintendo DS had a reputation for hosting quirky, unique titles that couldn't be found anywhere else, and the 3DS continued that trend. Late in the lifespan of the Nintendo DS, DSiware launched, offering a library of games that could only be downloaded by users that had a DSi model. The 3DS launched with a digital storefront that included those DSiware games, and quickly began to see its own bizarre and unique titles added, from developers big and small.

Not every 3DS game used the system's trademark feature; some games phoned in the 3D, and as the system got older, some developers chose to avoid the feature altogether. However, the games that did take advantage still managed to impress. I recently purchased Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove thanks to a recent sale, and I was stunned by what a nice job Yacht Club Games did with the feature. For games that are already available on multiple other platforms, good use of 3D acted as a nice incentive to go with the 3DS version. Some titles, like Nintendo's own Super Mario 3D Land, even found clever ways of integrating 3D into the gameplay.

Every video game system has a shelf life, and eventually consumers are ready to move on to the next big thing. The Nintendo Switch certainly proved to be that, bridging the gap between handheld and console gaming in a way that seemed unthinkable in the 3DS era. In past console generations, it used to be that support for a system would end within a year or two of a new console's release, but digital exclusive games have changed things. Digital storefronts like the 3DS eShop have made it easier for developers to release games with less overhead costs, but the flip side is that once the storefronts close, those games are no longer accessible. Prior to digital releases, retro enthusiasts could seek out used or unsold copies of games that they wanted to play; it wasn't always easy, but it was possible. Heck, some fans even went on to build collections of every title that ever released for that platform. The digital era has made it a lot harder to pull that type of thing off, and once the eShop has closed, no one else will be able to do so. 

(Photo: Nintendo)

Media preservation has become an increasingly popular topic over the last few years. It's hardly confined to the video game industry; there are entire films and television series that have been lost to time. However, it's so much easier for video games to become lost media, as the technology has been constantly changing and evolving over the last four decades. Developers and publishers go out of business, or fail to keep track of assets, and all of a sudden, entire games are lost to time, or become inaccessible. It happens more often than you think, and we've seen it happen with companies where it shouldn't.

Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft are still figuring out the best ways to navigate an increasingly digital era. Nintendo gave fans a lot of notice about the 3DS eShop's closure, and some publishers have offered some strong discounts in that time. Still, that doesn't help those that will discover the system long into the future, as so many others have with retro consoles like the Super Nintendo. There's something really sad about that, especially knowing that any games that do make the jump to other platforms won't have the same stereoscopic 3D effect. While the 3DS has been off the market for a while now, it really does feel like the end of an era is approaching, and that's truly a sad thing.

Do you plan on buying any games before the 3DS eShop closes? What 3DS games have you recently purchased? Let us know in the comments or share your thoughts directly on Twitter and on Hive at @Marcdachamp to talk all things gaming!