Sunday, March 23, 2008

The future of the Nintendo Wii - DRM and resale implications

Millions of people buy a Wii, and it works. I buy one (list price) and our 2nd remote won't stay "synchronized" (connected) to the console.

I try not to think about this sort of thing too much. I'm sure it's not personal.

My balky remote means I've had to spend time with the manual. There's a suspicious volume of discussion on troubleshooting the remotes, and on the complexities of using older Nintendo games (example: Classic, meaning modern, controller vs. GameCube controller). Mixed among this is a very brief discussion of how Nintendo's digital rights management works for the "Virtual Console Games".

Briefly, there are three classes of Nintendo games for the Wii system:

  1. Nintendo Wii games shipped on optical (CD/DVD like) discs. Game data is stored either in the console or in optional 2GB SD card.
  2. Nintendo GameCube games - also optical disc based. Game data is stored in 1-2 optional GameCube memory card(s).
  3. Virtual Console: games for NES, Super NES, Nintendo 64, Sega Genesis, TurboGrafx 15, NEOGEO and "more". Game data is stored in the Wii console or in optional 2GB SD card.

The Virtual Console games shipped in various cartridge formats, they now are downloadable and run in emulation environments on the the powerful Wii processor.

It's the Virtual Console games that have the most interesting Digital Rights Management implications. I suspect that a future version of the Will will use this infrastructure for modern games; the current console doesn't have enough storage to allow this.

So let's assume that the Virtual Console infrastructure is the future. What happens to those games when you try to sell a Nintendo Wii?

Page 61 of the Wii operations manual tells us what to do:

  1. Format Wii system memory. This removes downloaded content, but it can still be recovered for free from the Wii Shop Channel Account.
  2. Remove the Wii Shop Channel Account. This removes "records of your transactions and rights to downloaded software".

In other words, to sell a Nintendo Wii, you must first destroy your Virtual Console games.

Ouch.

Maybe Nintendo will figure out a way to move games to a new machine, but there's nothing about that in the documentation. The excellent Wikipedia article on the Wii says:

The SD card can be used for uploading photos as well as backing up saved game data and downloaded Virtual Console games. To use the SD slot for transferring game saves, an update must be installed. An installation can be initiated from the Wii options menu through an Internet connection, or by inserting a game disc containing the updated firmware. As a presently uncircumvented system of digital rights management, Virtual Console data cannot be restored to any system except the unit of origin.

It's certainly interesting to watch how the evolution of DRM.

Update 3/23/2008: See the comments. There may be a way to access the accounts and restore access to the virtual games after selling a Wii -- but it's not well documented. I assume Nintendo will need to figure this out eventually. They'll probably copy whatever Apple does with the iPhone.

* Good luck figuring out which of three classes of controller will work with the Virtual Console Games and the storage relationships to the Wii SD card and the optional Wii GameCube Memory Card. This Wikipedia article tells us that the "classic controller" works with all of the emulation games, but the GameCube controller is almost as good. On the other hand, there are Game Cube games that don't work with the "classic" controller. I think if you don't mind the long cables and you have the Wii console well secured, the GameCube controllers are preferred.

PS. Even when I log out of my personalized Google search, today a brief post of mine is the 2nd hit on a search of "Nintendo Wii digital rights management". Weird.

Update 3/31/2008

An interesting corollary of the Wii DRM -- you really don't want to return a console.
Please do not return your system to the retail store. All of your Wii Shop data, including games and points will be lost. They are non-refundable and non-transferrable. If you don't have a Wii Shop Account and you elect to return your product to the store, you must first follow the Delete Usage procedure described in your manual to remove any personal pictures, email addresses or other information that may be on your system.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

If you want to keep the Virtual Console games you buy, you have to make a connection to your nintendo.com account inside the Wii Shopping Channel. In Japan, they connect it to the Mario Club account...

Anonymous said...

Linking a My Nintendo account to your Wii in the Wii Shopping Channel: http://www.nintendo.com/consumer/systems/wii/en_na/channelsShop.jsp#myNin

Andrew said...

Linking your Nintendo.com account to your Wii does NOT allow you to redownload previously "purchased" content to a new Wii. There's no method of doing that except by sending a console in to Nintendo for repairs. I've decided to skip "buying" any more VC content until Nintendo moves to an iTunes like model that allows you to deauthorize one Wii so a new one can be authorized.

Dinky said...

You're correct in that linking your club nintendo acct to your WiiShop account doesn't allow you to redownload wiishop games on a new wii. BUT, and i found this out after my Wii was stolen, if you have a significant investment in WiiShop (VC or WiiWare) games, Nintendo WILL transfer them to your new Wii. It's at their discretion what constitutes "significant". My personal situation, I had over $200 worth of WiiShop purchases. I agree it should be easier to transfer purchases, but the user agreement clearly states items aren't transferable. I'm thankful Nintendo transferred my items for me. Their Customer Service was extremely helpful, they did all the dirty work, i just spent 5-10 minutes on the phone confirming everything, they took care of it and followed up with a call a couple days later to make sure everything was working.

lency said...

So I was waiting for a black Wii to release even before the Wii launch. Now they are finally releasing tomorrow, I wanted to change my white Wii launch for new and $ 50 at Gamestop with the agreement they have, but I read everywhere that the Virtual Console games do not yield . Is this true?

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