Sunday, December 12, 2010

Fool me once: Nintendo's policy on tranferring content purchased from Wii Shop

I purchased a Wii back in early 2007. Since then, over time, I had purchased a few things from the Wii Shop channel -- mostly old NES titles like the original The Legend of Zelda, to show my kids and nephews what Dad / Uncle Jon played while he was growing up.

When making those purchases, I didn't give much thought to Nintendo's policy regarding purchased downloadable content. I purchased the games, they downloaded, they were playable on my Wii, no problem.

Fast-forward to November 2010: This Wii purchased in 2007 had a few hardware problems over the years.

  • First, a series of problems with the Wii overheating which cased the Wii to power off in the middle of gameplay. I eventually diagnosed this was due to the Wii's rear fan being stuck, and repaired myself.
  • Second, throughout 2009 the Wii had gone from being near-silent while powered on to making an increasingly loud buzzing/grinding noise while spinning discs in the drive (i.e. at all times during gameplay of most games); I once again disassembled my Wii but was unable to resolve this issue.
  • Finally, and most most seriously, the Wii had started occasionally giving a disc read error when trying to read various game discs inserted into the drive.

Even at the time of the initial overheating issues, the Wii was out of warranty, so getting a warranty repair was not an option. So, being unable to repair the disc read issue myself, the options for getting a household Wii up and running again essentially boiled down to either purchasing a repair from Nintendo, or purchasing a new Wii.

On Black Friday weekend, the latter option seemed pretty attractive: Rather than pay around US $80-100 to send my old white Wii to Nintendo for a repair, was running a deal for a new Black Wii, including the game Wii Sports Resort and a "Wii Remote Plus" controller, for $170. With the Wii Sports Resort game alone going for almost $50, and not including an entire additional Wii Remote controller, springing for the new Black Wii seemed like a pretty good deal -- so I went ahead and jumped on it.

It did occur to me that I would need to transfer the content from my old Wii -- save game files, created Mii avatars, and purchased Wii Shop content -- from the old Wii to the new one. I was also aware of the purchased Wii Shop content being associated with a specific Wii console, i.e. a purchased game can't be copied onto an SD card, copied onto another Wii, and played on that second Wii, for obvious anti-piracy reasons. However, I figured that my situation must be pretty common -- a person replacing an old, broken Wii and/or upgrading to the new Black or Red Wii from the old white one -- and so I'd just need to call Nintendo, provide the serial numbers of the old Wii and the new one, and have them transfer my content over.

Before first calling, I did check the Nintendo support website; however, despite the design and comprehensiveness of the site seeming pretty good, there was no information to be found about transferring purchased downloaded Wii Shop content from one Wii console to another.

So, I called the Nintendo support line, and explained my situation. The representative I talked to was very friendly. Given the serial number of my old (white) Wii, she was able to look up my account and see all of the Wii Shop content that I had purchased. Unfortunately, even after talking to a supervisor, she explained that Nintendo has a policy of never transferring purchased Wii Shop content from one Wii to another, and that they were unwilling to make an exception in my situation. (The one permitted exception to the policy that the rep mentioned was that in the event that a Wii was sent in to Nintendo for a purchased repair or warranty repair, and the Wii was found to be completely unrepairable, Nintendo would transfer the Wii Shop account to a different Wii console, and return that second console to the customer.)

Even though I didn't have a great deal of money invested in Wii Shop content, I was pretty upset by this. Other major DRM systems for games, such as Steam on the PC, or (as far as I understand them) the systems employed on the XBox 360 and Playstation 3, do allow purchased content to be transferred to, and played on, hardware other that on which the content was originally purchased. When consumers increasingly become aware that, contrary to expectations that have been established by other vendors, Wii Shop purchased content cannot be moved to other hardware, I can't help but wonder whether Nintendo will revise their existing policy and come up with a way that consumers can transfer their purchased content onto another Wii console -- or to the next-generation Nintendo console when that inevitably is announced and released at some point in the future.

In the meantime, though, I would advise all current Wii owners to consider carefully before purchasing any content from the Wii Shop channel. Certainly, in my case, having been "fooled once" -- and now not having access to any of the Wii Shop content I've previously purchased from Nintendo on my new Wii console, also purchased from Nintendo -- I will not be "fooled again" into purchasing any more content from the Wii Shop, until such time that Nintendo revises their DRM policy.


  1. I didn't know that this was their policy. My wii is in the noisy disk stage and luckily we haven't had any of the major problems. Really disappointing to hear that the games cannot be transferred. Seems like some bureaucratic BS considering they still have the ability to lock the games to the new console.

  2. Yeah, obviously Nintendo has the technical capability to move a Wii Shop account from one console to another, since they will do it during certain repair situations; it's a matter of policy, not technology limitations.

    I imagine that the impetus behind the policy is anti-piracy. For example:
    (1) Bad person, during a visit to someone else's home (maybe during a party?), surreptitiously records the Wii console serial number displayed on the outer casing of that home's Wii console
    (2) Bad person records their own Wii's console serial number
    (3) Bad person calls Nintendo support and says "Hi my old Wii broke, I bought a new one, the old serial number is ###, the replacement serial number is ###, please transfer my stuff!"
    (4) Nintendo transfers the stuff
    (5) Bad person can download a lot of free stuff and/or gain access to stored Wii Points from the victim's account; the victim (maybe) loses access to their downloaded content

    Still, you'd think that if sufficiently motivated, Nintendo could solve this problem through technology. For example, they could send a notification to the old console via the Wii's mail system along the lines of "A request has been to transfer your Wii Shop content to a new Wii console, serial number ###. Click the button below to allow this, or just delete/ignore this message to disallow." (This would be somewhat similar to the process for transferring an Internet domain name from one registrar to another.)

    This wouldn't work in cases where the old Wii console was completely dead, but it would work in a lot of cases.


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