Although the Wii Shop Channel’s closure may not affect those who’ve moved on to next-generation consoles, its shutdown comes with major ramifications to something that affects the games industry at large: media preservation.
The Wii Shop Channel wasn’t just a convenient digital store with catchy music; it was integral in introducing the Wii’s massive casual market to the concepts of downloadable titles, retro revivals, indie games and classic re-releases. While not the first pioneer of its kind, the Wii Shop Channel fostered and popularized many vital aspects of digital storefronts for consoles, giving it a vital spot in Nintendo’s history.
As convenient as digital distribution is for consumers and developers, it brings a major drawback: if the distributor closes, download-exclusive games can no longer be legally purchased. This is especially an issue for the Wii Shop Channel, which saved purchase history to consoles rather than accounts. Anyone buying a replacement Wii after having one lost or broken had to repurchase WiiWare, which is now impossible.
It could be argued that low-budget, low-quality shovelware is usually what goes unarchived. The Wii had mountains of shovelware because of its sizable install base, and as YouTuber Scott the Woz showcases in his “WiiWare Chronicles” pentalogy, the vast majority of the Wii Shop Channel isn’t exactly worth starting an apocalypse over. However, bad games aren’t without entertainment value, even if it’s ironic enjoyment, and they deserve archival.
Furthermore, saying that only shovelware was lost ignores excellent WiiWare exclusives. Some WiiWare titles eventually released physically or through collections, such as Mega Man’s Wii installments being released in “Mega Man Legacy Collection 2,” but other popular titles like “Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth” have yet to be released elsewhere. Unless their publishers release them on current systems, WiiWare exclusives are permanently limited to individual Wii systems that downloaded them.
Losing the ability to purchase digital games isn’t an issue limited to closing stores. Licensed games are often delisted from online stores and made unavailable after licensing contracts expire, as was unfortunately the case with “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game.” Additionally, while other storefronts continued sales, Telltale Games had many of its works removed from Steam as the company prepared to liquidate its assets following its closure.
Previously purchased games also become impossible to play if integral features become unavailable. Online multiplayer is an increasingly major pillar of the industry, but games that require an online connection at all times, particularly MMORPGs, become inaccessible when developers shut down servers. Dedicated fans can recreate public servers, as is the case with fan project “ToonTown Rewritten,” but online-only games usually aren’t revived like this.
If not properly archived, even developers lose completed works. When porting “Kingdom Hearts” to modern consoles, Square Enix had to rebuild it from the ground up, as the original source code was lost years before. Thankfully, the game was recreated, but if it wasn’t created by a major developer with the time and budget to do so, the classic action game would be lost forever.
The internet makes recording entertainment history more convenient, as communities like the Lost Media Wiki strive to recover and retain information on missing works. However, compared to movies or books, games are significantly harder to preserve by nature of interactivity, as they can’t simply be viewed as an exhibit.
Releasing physically isn’t always a perfect solution, as first-time developers benefit more from starting with digital-exclusive releases. Physical copies aren’t immune to disrepair either, as early CDs are degrading and later models will follow suit. However, physical copies make archival much easier for developers and historians. Although digital sales will likely become the primary distribution method, future console generations need physical releases.
The games industry needs to consider how to best preserve and archive its best works before they disappear, be it through re-releases, physical copies or new methods yet to be created. Games are an entertainment medium like no other, and their history deserves to be preserved for future generations like any other.
Go to the Electric Retrospective blog at https://electricretrospective.wordpress.com for more game reviews and news, including a review of “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.” New posts release every Tuesday.
This is Sean’s third year on the ECHO, having contributed to the site during journalism class in his sophomore year and becoming a columnist and blogger in his junior year. Sean writes Electric Retrospective, a column dedicated to gaming editorials and reviews, as well as a blog also titled Electric Retrospective that posts news stories and reviews every Tuesday.