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There are dangers involved with purchasing games digitally

Wii-Shop.jpg

For the last few weeks, it seems that Nintendo’s Wii Shop Channel, where you can download games that you bought online, has been shut down. You haven’t been able to buy anything on the stores since 2019, but you have at least had the ability to redownload anything that you may have purchased before the stores shuttered.

Nintendo hasn’t put out a statement on the closure yet, so it’s possible this is a temporary failure. But it’s a clear example of the dangers of purchasing games digitally. If you deleted your games to conserve memory, but wanted to re-download them, well, they’re gone forever for you now. It doesn’t matter how much money you’ve spent, once the company hosting the games decides it isn’t worth the money to keep the service alive, those games will never be available again.

Purchasing the physical discs of games isn’t a sure hedge against this problem anymore, either. Some newer games, like Halo Infinite, have only a small portion of the game on-disc, requiring large downloads to even play the single-player modes. That means that, at some nebulous point in the future, when Microsoft shuts down the Xbox game store, nobody that doesn’t already have Halo Infinite will be able to play it. That’s not to mention the digital-only consoles like the Xbox Series S that don’t have a disk drive at all - they’re tied entirely to the online service, so they’ll eventually be completely locked out.

Laws like 1998’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act make preservation of these games legally risky at best, which disincentivizes organizations from doing this work. That’s too bad - I’d love to see more game publishers work directly with organizations like the Video Game History Foundation to preserve games that are no longer commercially available. In the meantime, I’ll keep buying physical copies of games for as long as game publishers will sell them to me.

Samuel McConnell is a games enthusiast who has been playing games in one form or another since 1991. He was born in northern Maine but quickly transplanted to Wichita.