With a little over a week away from the launch of Nintendo’s Switch, to say that there’s still a lot we don’t know about the upcoming console is increasingly an understatement. One of those things is how the console treats downloaded games and whether or not Nintendo will stop treating digital games with the same ironfisted grip that it does physical titles.
Here’s where we stand right now. Last week, footage from a now-known-to-be stolen Switch confirmed digital eShop purchases on a Switch will now be tied to your Nintendo Account, and that it “will be possible to redownload any software or DLC purchased using that account.”
This new account system does seem to be a big step up from the 3DS and Wii U, where purchases were tied to a Nintendo Network account, that can only be associated to a single console. Transferring that account to another console (if, say, your 3DS is stolen or breaks) requires calling Nintendo directly, and there are limitations on how often they’ll allow you to transfer your account. Based on the leaked information, the Switch should offer a hugely improved ability to for users to easily access their purchases on new hardware.
It seems to be a big step up from the 3DS and Wii U
As this is Nintendo, there is of course a catch. As Ar Technica reports, a translated comment from Nintendo Entertainment Planning & Development general manager Shinya Takahashi at 1-2-Switch preview event this week implies some serious caveats. When asked if users will be able to install a digital game on multiple consoles at the same time, Takahashi commented that, "Currently we don't have a system like that in place for Nintendo Switch, but we haven't made any final decisions about how we would approach that going forward in the future.”
If that’s accurate, the implication is that while Switch owners will be able to reinstall digital downloads through their Nintendo Account, you’ll only be able to actually link that Nintendo Account and its associated purchases to one console at a time. To put it in more practical terms, if I own an Xbox and my brother owns an Xbox, we can use one account to share games, as long as we’re not playing at the same time. You can’t do that with the Switch, at least based on what we’ve seen so far.
This ties to a larger problem with Nintendo, which is the company’s stubborn refusal to treat digital software differently from physical purchases. For example, while Virtual Console games are identical across the 3DS and Wii U, Nintendo treats each purchase as a separate license to play. The company infamously even charged a fee to upgrade Virtual Console games purchased on the Wii to Wii U versions, and it’s still unknown whether or not it will even be possible to do that with the Switch.
Nintendo still refuses to treat digital software differently from physical purchases
This could be a non-issue. And it’s also possible that Nintendo is planning to offer parity with Sony and Microsoft here. The point is that with the console releasing in just over a week, we still don’t know. A leaked screenshot from a stolen console remains our best source of knowledge on how the Switch will be handling digital purchases. This is both a ridiculous way of getting information about a device that’s launching in a week, to say nothing of even larger questions, like Nintendo’s Virtual Console plans for the Switch, which still remain completely unknown just days away from the March 3rd launch.