Jon is an enthusiastic Nintendo fan. He buys all of Nintendo's systems. He buys many, many Nintendo games. But he's gotten himself into a jam that he says has cost him access to more than $400 worth of downloadable games he's purchased from Nintendo over the several years.
How does one lose access to $400 worth of games?
Unfortunately for Jon, who asked that I not use his last name but who was hoping some coverage might wake Nintendo up about this issue, it doesn't seem to be that hard. It's partially a result of Nintendo's strict policies about downloadable games—policies that differ from other industry leaders such as Apple's, and don't seem set to change any time soon.
For several years, Jon used to download lots of old Virtual Console games to his Wii. He bought a bunch of Wii eShop games, too. Recently, with the enthusiasm any Nintendo fan has for a new Nintendo machine, he bought a Wii U. He set up a Nintendo ID on the system, transferred his Wii games to that Wii U and then discovered that he'd bought a lemon.
"My Wii U console would flash its red power light when I tried to turn it on," he told me in an e-mail. "I let it go for days, and kept trying. It just was not a reliable system."
At that point, what Jon should have done was contacted Nintendo. He didn't. He did something that seemed like a perfectly natural reflex: he took his Wii U back to the store he bought it from and swapped it for a new one. Problem solved? Not at all. He'd just created his new problem.
He took the new Wii U home and discovered he couldn't set up the same Nintendo ID he'd used on the first system. He had to make a new ID. Then, he said, he found out that he couldn't get those $400+ worth of games onto his new Wii U. They were locked to the broken one... the one he didn't have anymore. As far as Nintendo's online infrastructure was concerned, he wasn't the Jon of old. He was new, and he didn't have a right to those games.
Jon was frustrated, because, of course, he did have a right to those games. He'd paid for them. He'd transferred them to a Wii U. So what if his new Network ID didn't have a record of his purchases? He knew that Nintendo did have a record that he'd bought the games. They were registered on a page linked to his official Club Nintendo ID (a different ID that isn't tied to the Wii U). Jon shared that list with me, and you can see it below. Games he paid to download on his Wii—games now lost to him—have red boxes next to them:
The Club Nintendo webpage seemed to show that Jon was a diehard Nintendo fan. He hoped Nintendo's customer service department would agree and help him out. Jon e-mailed them. They said they were "sorry to hear about the issues you've experienced with your first Wii U console" but that "since you traded your Wii U console for another one at a retailer, we will need to speak to you directly to get all of the details and work out the best solution." This couldn't be resolved with a quick e-mail. He picked up his phone.
"I called Nintendo and spent weeks talking to them about the problem," Jon said. "The lady, who helped me, was one of the nicest ladies, and was incredibly sweet to me. She wanted to help me, so I sent in my receipt to prove which systems I did the exchange for. After weeks of her reviewing everything, they gave me $200.00 of credit on the Wii U marketplace."
The problem with the $200 offer from Nintendo wasn't just that it was half of what Jon had spent. It's that the Wii U online shop is a different digital store than the Wii online shop. They use different online wallets. Both can be accessed via a Wii, but only one—the Wii shop—sells the games Jon had already paid for and wanted to have access to again. That $200 of Wii U shop credit couldn't buy any of the $400 worth of games he'd bought.
So that $200 would just sit there on his Wii U. It could pay for a bunch of Wii U games. But it couldn't get Jon what he wanted.
Jon isn't the first person to figure out that Nintendo locks downloadable games to only one Nintendo ID. He wouldn't be the first to figure out that this is different than how, say, Apple works. That electronics giant ties purchases to Apple IDs that can be activated on numerous iOS devices.
Nintendo's own Wii U instruction manuals have also made clear that Nintendo IDs will lock content, though the company has suggested that users will someday be able to transfer their Nintendo IDs—and, presumably the content locked to them—from one device to another. If that was available to Jon, he wouldn't have a problem. But, I asked Nintendo, why does Nintendo lock content to an account that is locked to hardware? Why not adopt a system that allows the transfer of Nintendo IDs?