Nintendo has announced plans to start selling digital copies of Wii U and 3DS games through current retail channels. The first title will be New Super Mario Bros. 2 for 3DS in August, and Onitore (temporary name), the next game in the Brain Age series featuring Professor Kawashima, will also be sold digitally. Wii U games will also be subject to the scheme from the system's launch later this year. Retailers will be able to set their own prices for titles, expected to be in line with the boxed copy — it sounds like the only difference for customers will be the ability to choose whether they want a game on physical media or a download code for storage media. The benefit for retailers, however, will be a lessened risk of unsold inventory and the freedom to stock a wider range of titles. The biggest question, still unclear, is whether or not you'll be able to cut out the middleman and download games directly from Nintendo's online store.
If it turns out that you can't buy titles direct from the online store, the strategy would be an unusual halfway house between Nintendo's current approach and Sony's policy of offering all PS Vita games online for download from the PlayStation Store. Until now, Nintendo has only sold smaller games via download on WiiWare, DSiWare, and the 3DS eShop, though it has occasionally broken retail titles into chunks for digital release. While giving the customer more options is a good thing — we'd definitely like the convenience of storing several games on the same card — the move might not go far enough to combat the instant-download gratification of smartphone gaming, which appears to be fast encroaching on Nintendo's traditional territory.