Nintendo is taking the great plunge into full digital game distribution. While the company has previously offered smaller games for Wii, DS and 3DS as digital downloads, starting this Fall it will begin offering simultaneous day-in digital download versions of full retail titles.
The first game to be offered in both package and digital form will be New Super Mario Bros. 2, which launches in August. Onitore, the unofficial name for the 3DS Brain Age sequel, will also be offered in both digital and package form.
During an earnings briefing today, Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata highlighted the benefits and downsides to digital software sales. For the downsides, you'll need to have enough storage space on your SD card, and software can't be shared with multiple 3DS systems, most notably systems owned by family or friends. Benefits include the convenience of purchasing through the internet, no worries about stores being out of stock, and greater ease of carrying multiple 3DS titles with you.
Nintendo's digital download program will differ from the download programs of its competitors in that it will involve retailers. Consumers will be able to purchase games directly from the Nintendo e-Shop, or they can purchase digital versions of games from traditional and online retailers Retailers will issue a 16 digit code which can be input into the e-Shop to make the download.
Retailers will be able to set the pricing of digital software that they stock, similar to how they set the pricing for package software. Most major retailers discount new releases 5 to 10 percent off the MSRP.
Regarding pricing differences between digital and package versions, Iwata said that the MSRP of Nintendo packaged and digital download software will be the same in principle.
Parity pricing for digital and retail versions would be different from Sony's PS Vita and PSP strategy, where in most cases digital versions are marked down a bit.
During today's briefing, Iwata explained that Nintendo is involving retailers in the digital download process in part to lower the psychological barrier for consumers when making online purchases. Some consumers are hesitant about inputting their credit cards to make purchases online, said Iwata. Additionally, people under a certain age can't make purchases via cell phones or credit cards.
Bringing retailers into the equation also addresses one area that Nintendo feels is a big hurdle for digital sales: limited exposure. Said Iwata, "If only the consumers who proactively visit the Nintendo eShop are aware of the digital download software that we deploy, there is no chance that our digital business can drastically expand."
Wii U will launch with this program in place from day one, Iwata also confirmed. Nintendo did not share specific release information for the Wii U today, but did say that the system would launch in Japan, Europe, the US and Australia this year.
For Iwata's full remarks on Nintendo's digital business strategy, see this transcript from today's investor's briefing.