Steam Does What Nintendon't

Yep, I totally titled this blog post with a reference to an old, hilariously bad Genesis marketing slogan. I figured that since this post is going to be filled with nothing else but vitriol and rage, that I should at least try to inject some bad humour somewhere. To be honest, I know I’m preaching to the choir here as if you’re someone who is in a position to be affected by this issue, you likely already know what it is and are nodding your head. Nonetheless, this is something I need to rant about because it was actually so bad that it soured my initial impressions of a system I was really excited for.

To my great shock, I got a Wii U Deluxe Set for Christmas because my girlfriend and her parents are amazing. I had planned to get one but couldn’t afford it at launch and had no expectation of getting it for Christmas. I couldn’t wait to get home and try it out. I already knew about the hour long firmware update and while that was dumb and annoying, I’d planned for it so whatever. Then I decided to do the transfer of my sizable amount of purchased content from my Wii, about 90% of which is Virtual Console games. I’d heard that the transfer process was unnecessarily complicated but also doable so I decided to get it over with. What I discovered was that the process is much worse than most people said and that how bad of an experience it can be is directly proportional to how much content you’ve purchased. Let me put that another way: The more money you voluntarily gave Nintendo, the harder the process is. This is absolute bullshit and there is absolutely no reason for it, as I will demonstrate later.

Firstly, you have to download the Wii Transfer Tool onto both systems. It doesn’t come pre-installed on the Wii U, there’s just a link in the menu that takes you to the download page. This would be fine were it not for the fact that the Nintendo store servers were absolutely swamped and constantly errored out on both Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Guys, this is probably the single biggest activation day the Wii U will ever have, how did you not scale for it?! I gave up doing this on Christmas Day but succeeded at getting the tool on both systems on Boxing Day.

The first thing you’re told is that you need an SD card for the transfer process. Alright, that’s cool. Like most people, I store most of my downloaded Wii content on an SD card because the Wii has virtually no internal space for large stuff. What I’d assumed was that the transfer process would recognise this, merge that data with whatever you have stored on the Wii internal memory and package it all up so you can plug it into the Wii U and you’re away. Nope. It turns out that in fact, the transfer tool will only backup stuff that lives in Wii system memory. That means that everything you have on the SD card must be moved to the system memory one item at a time (there is no way to move them in batches) and if like me, you have way too much stuff to fit in system memory, you have to check all the sizes of the items and exclude enough to make everything fit. Stuff you’ve bought and had to delete can be re-downloaded from the Wii Shop later but I’ll get to that.

This didn’t initially anger me so much as make me tilt my head, not unlike my puppy does when he sees something he’s curious about. I re-read the poorly written transfer tool instructions multiple times, certain I’d missed something. Nope, this is totally how it works. This really pissed me off but I centered myself by remembering that this process only has to be done once. I started the transfer process on my Wii and my anger was quelled somewhat by the absolutely adorable Pikmin progress animation that accompanies it. The transfer off the Wii went fast…way too fast. Confused but hopeful, I removed the SD card and put it in the Wii U to start the second half of the process.
Once things got going, I was greeted by a totally different adorable Pikmin animation (also in the link above) but noticed that the progress was moving significantly slower this time. Then I looked at the top of the screen where it shows a status message on the current item being transferred and saw that all my purchased games were showing as “Downloading” whereas save data was showing as “Transferring.” Even though I’d had to painstakingly move every individual item on my SD card back to the Wii system memory, it wasn’t copying them, it was downloading them all again anyway! That rendered that entire long, frustrating process of moving all my content from the SD card to system memory completely unnecessary! If it has to download all the games again why can’t it just analyse all the content I have on the system, transfer the licenses on Nintendo’s server and just re-download them all again anyway?  There is absolutely no reason this had to work this way! NONE!

At this point, I literally said out loud “Fuck this bullshit!”, put the Wii Remote down and went to do something else and calm down while the process completed. When I came back about half an hour later, I saw an error message displayed with Nintendo’s usual cryptic numeric code that doesn’t actually tell you squat. I Googled that code and was informed it was a network timeout error. This was likely because the store servers were still swamped and since it was downloading everything again even though I had it all on the SD card, it was having issues. I hit Try Again and things continued. Half an hour later, I was greeted with another “An Error Has Occurred” message, this one with no buttons or numeric code and also a frozen Wii U. I’d read somewhere that this happened to a person and he lost the licenses to most of his content in the process. I hard rebooted the Wii U and thankfully, it realised the failure and offered to continue. I had two more “Try Again” error prompts throughout the remaining process but it never froze again. However, the entire process of re-downloading everything (which totaled less than 512MB, the size of the Wii system memory) took well over two hours. According to my router, the transfer speed rarely ever exceeded 250Kbytes/sec or to put it in simpler terms, 1/28th of the maximum speed of my Internet connection.

After all this was done, I had all the content that I’d managed to fit into the Wii’s system memory but now had 18 items to re-download. Should be easy right? Actually it is but it’s also unnecessarily arduous and frustrating, just like everything else. When you go into the Wii Store, there’s a Titles You’ve Downloaded button. The problem is, it’s an alphabetised list of everything that only displays 10 or so titles per page and it doesn’t know or tell you what you’ve already downloaded. You have to select an item, confirm you want to re-download it, tell it where to save it, confirm you want to basically “purchase” it again for no money, wait for it to download (which is slow at the best of times and barely worked at all prior to the 27th) and agree to a health and safety warning. After all that, you’re kicked back to the first screen of the Wii Shop. You can’t download content in a batch, you can’t queue up multiple items and it doesn’t even remember your place in the list of downloaded items. On top of all this, it takes about 5 seconds to switch between each page of the list and there were items on all 7 pages for me. Downloading these 18 remaining items (on the 27th when they had some semblance of available bandwidth) took over an hour.

The primary reason this took so long for me was because of the amount of content I had. I voluntarily gave Nintendo more money to buy more digital content on the Wii and as a direct result, this process took me hours when it probably took most others minutes. I would bet I’m in a very small percentile of people who bought that much digital content on that platform and that irrefutably made the process that much harder for me. People (myself included) lament how DRM only punishes legitimate consumers while doing nothing to stop piracy but this is worse than that. It proportionally causes more harm to the legitimate consumers the more content they bought. It’s completely backwards and it’s insane. Considering the Wii platform has been cracked wide open and has more rampant piracy than either of the other two consoles, this DRM has also proven a complete failure to boot. The worst part is that the longest, most frustrating steps of the process weren’t necessary at all because most of the data that was transferred was just licenses, not the games themselves! Why was this done this way? I can’t figure out a reason.

As you can tell from the title, I’m going to drop an example of exactly how you do DRM and why Nintendo has no excuse: Steam. You know how you get your Steam games on another computer? You install Steam on that computer, double-click the game you want and download it again. And if you don’t want to download it again, you copy the folder with the game from your old PC to the new one and it’s there instantly. Steam has thousands of developers working with them and all the major publishers. They are all fine with Steam’s sensible, completely reasonable way to do DRM. Both Sony and Microsoft’s consoles also do DRM far better than Nintendo. Microsoft’s could be better but it’s not this bad. There is no way that Nintendo of all companies couldn’t implement a similar style system and there is no way they were pressured from their partners to do it the way it is now.

I don’t know what entered their minds to make them think this was necessary but it’s wrong, it can be changed and it must be changed. I was super excited when I got my Wii U and I still can’t wait to crack into some games on it but this experience was so terrible and so frustrating that after it was done, I didn’t want to touch the system for the rest of the day. Combine this nightmare with the fact that Nintendo Network IDs (and eShop purchases made with them) are hard locked to the individual hardware they were created on and it makes me never want to buy a digital product from Nintendo again. It’s certainly enough to make me tell any prospective Wii U owner to stick to discs only. This type of DRM takes everything that’s bad about the concept in general and turns it up to 11.

Nintendo has a lot to prove with the Wii U and in general as a company. Dedicated consoles have a hard road ahead, Wii U perception has been mired by bad messaging and despite strong initial sales, lots of people are questioning what kind of long-term future it has. Combine this with Nintendo milking too many of their franchises too hard (even by Nintendo standards) and the company isn’t the sure bet it has been for decades. How does any company treat their most loyal and enthusiastic customers so badly in the face of competition like they’ve never seen before? I love Nintendo’s stuff and I so want them to continue to succeed but they’re either ignorant or arrogantly apathetic to the future that’s staring them in the face. They should be doing everything in their power to court their core fan base and keep them evangelizing the Wii U and 3DS. Based on my experiences with the Wii U so far, the message they sent to me was that they are either so arrogant or so apathetic towards my concerns that it doesn’t matter that I’ve bought more digital content than probably 90% of all Wii owners. Clearly the fact that I spent so much there means I’m willing to endure the headaches, either out of loyalty or because I’ll do whatever’s necessary to protect the content investments I’ve made. It’s unnecessary, it’s disrespectful and it’s offensive to me as a loyal Nintendo supporter.

I admit that my case is far in the minority and most Wii U buyers will either not be affected by it at all or will have it be much easier than it was for me. But that’s the whole point: This doesn’t affect many people because no one bought digital content on the Wii. We’re entering a new digital age and people who don’t embrace it with both hands will be left behind. Things like this show me that Nintendo either doesn’t get it or is too arrogant to realise that people won’t put up with this anymore, not when systems like Steam and the various app stores (for all their many flaws) do it far better and easier.

Nintendo has more to prove right now than perhaps they ever have in their 100+ years as a company. They need to listen to their customers, particularly their hard core audience and be nimble in their responses to them. They’re doing neither right now and they no longer hold a position where they can afford to do that. Please Nintendo, please fix this and do it quickly. I want you to succeed but things like this will be the beginning of the end for you.

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One Response to Steam Does What Nintendon't

  1. Pingback: My Bold Predictions for 2013 « Geek Bravado

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