I’ve seen lots of widespread misunderstandings about Wii U and its relationship to Nintendo Network IDs, digital content, and so on. People seem to judge it based on two known extremes: a world where digital content is tied to a system, and one where it is tied to a console. As a result, people behave under the assumption that their NNID has nothing to do with their digital purchases, since they’re on the console anyway – or the opposite, which is believing they can migrate purchases to a new machine using their NNID.
The reality is that Nintendo Network IDs fall somewhere in the middle. Let’s clarify some of the misconceptions.
Myth #1: Nintendo Doesn’t Have a User Account System
Nintendo introduced a user-created account system with Wii U called “Nintendo Network IDs.” Each user on a Wii U system can create his or her own Nintendo Network ID, which is used for Wii U and various web services such as user-specific save data, Nintendo eShop, Nintendo TVii, Miiverse, the Deluxe Digital Promotion and other online-based applications.
Later this year, you’ll be able to login using your Nintendo Network ID on your 3DS to access Miiverse, so the infrastructure is in place for these accounts to be multiplatform as well. Nintendo has also stated that Nintendo Network IDs will carry over to future Nintendo devices, and when you transfer your Wii purchases to a Wii U they become associated with your Nintendo Network ID, so they’re definitely thinking of accounts as universal and permanent.
Myth #2: On Wii U, Downloads Are Tied to the Hardware, Not Your Account
Yes and no.
Your downloads are tied to (and require) a Nintendo Network ID, and any place where you log in with your Nintendo Network ID recognizes all the purchases made with that account. Right now, the best example is the Deluxe Digital Promotion website, which tracks your digital purchases and rewards frequent buyers with points that can be redeemed for eShop credit.
This myth comes from the current restriction of Nintendo Network ID Wii U logins to the system that they were created on. Games you download are also playable on any user on the home system, regardless of their Nintendo Network ID. In other words, while your games are tied to your account and extended across the hardware, your account can’t be used on another Wii U system.
However, in cases where you report a problem to Nintendo, it is technically possible to de-link your account from the original system, then log in to a new system with your old Nintendo Network ID and re-download your content.
In fact, Nintendo’s online policies – at least in North America – explicitly mention the transfer of Nintendo Network IDs and software between devices (viewable here, Nintendo Network Services Agreement) as within the realm of possibility of Nintendo Network:
The Network Services may permit you to transfer some or all of your data, information, account balances, and Digital Content between Nintendo Devices that you own, or between your Network Accounts.
So Nintendo does effectively have hardware-based DRM, but the restriction is at the level of the accounts – which can only be on one system currently – not in a “they’re not tied to your account” kind of way. This is different from Wii, where purchases were only really linked natively to the hardware and only to a separate account via optional Club Nintendo integration.
If you format your system, you will remove all your digital content as well as any registered users or Nintendo Network IDs. However, Nintendo still has record of the systems to which your accounts are registered, and registering new users with those same NNIDs will allow you to redownload content.
I’m not saying the situation is ideal, and I’m certainly not defending Nintendo’s current account system. They need to remove their draconian hardware restrictions so users can enjoy more security with their Nintendo Network IDs and not have to worry about systems breaking down, being stolen or re-sold, etc. and losing access to their digital content as a result. They’re strongly out of touch with the market in this regard.
However, I think this ideal is not so far off as most people believe – and if Scott Moffitt’s recent admissions are any indication, it’s a problem they’re working on.