Nintendo has an ecosystem problem

What if, when you purchased a game or app, it would become available on all your devices? You’d have your favourite games on your small handheld gaming device, and when you wanted to beam the game onto the big screen, you could do just that? Or, maybe, you wanted to carry the games on a bigger device and share that bigger screen around with your friends? You can already do that. But not with a Nintendo device.

So the Wii U is struggling, and the Nintendo 3DS is doing modestly well but still short of the popularity of the original DS. It may not be the case that the ecosystem is why they’re not selling as well as they could. But, would you buy a Nintendo device if there was an ecosystem? What if it meant that the content you’ve purchased off the eShop will appear on all your devices?

The 3DS and Wii U have completely different architectures which would prevent games from working on either platform so easily, but the same can’t be said about Virtual Console titles. VC titles are separated by an abstraction layer—the emulator—and could easily be ported between the consoles. Save files and restore points could easily be shared. If they can’t, simply because the save files are incompatible by the emulator’s design, then here’s the simple gist of it: you’re coding your emulator wrong.

There’s something Nintendo’s doing partly right with the Wii U: the Nintendo Network accounts system. The games you buy are available to every user of the console, and rightly so—it’s a family console. Yet for some reason, you can’t log into any other Wii U console with your account. So those Wii U eShop purchases can’t be taken to a friend’s place, and you can’t “lend” the games you’ve bought. You’d have to cart along the family Wii. If only for the sake of DRM, you can’t log in and access your friends list or Miiverse account while you’re away from your Wii U. Why? Which manufacturer forces you to do this, really? Not Apple. Not Microsoft. Not Google. Not Sony.

If you’re a 3DS user, your digital games are bound to your console. If you want to transfer them to another console, you have to go through a convoluted transfer process, and even then, you can’t have the game on both consoles. Got a 3DS and a 3DS XL, and just like to swap your games between them? No luck. And what if your brother wants to play Phoenix Wright: Dual Destinies? No luck there—you’d have to lend him your console with all your games and save files.

There has to be a better way.