Nintendo’s plan for digital distribution hinges on retailers

Also, check out our full review of the Nintendo 3DS XL.

Come August, Nintendo will enact big changes in the way that its games are consumed. Big in the metaphorical sense as well as the literal sense. The Nintendo 3DS XL will be out in August, so yes, playing 3DS games will indeed be made bigger. The larger change will come with the release of New Super Mario Bros. 2 though, the very first Nintendo game to see simultaneous release as a packaged retail game and as a digital download. The plumber’s gold-tinged adventure will drag the company that made it kicking and screaming into the video game business circa 2005.

The game is saddled with multiple responsibilities. It has to satisfy the millions of craven fans ravenous for new levels to jump through, but it also has to mollify retailers like GameStop, Target, and Amazon. Nintendo’s first-party games, especially the Mario games, have kept the company a viable earner for brick-and-mortar retailers as digital distribution has become more and more prevalent. The original New Super Mario Bros. sold more than 29 million copies over 6 years. The idea that 14.5 million of those sales might be made through Nintendo’s eShop can’t make GameStop very happy.

Nintendo’s corporate leaders around the world are working overtime to quell retailer fears. David Yamton, head of Nintendo’s UK business, spoke with MCV on Tuesday saying that Nintendo and retailers have to rely on each other to make it through the transition.

“From what we have researched, the download market has grown, but it hasn’t eatn into retail in the way many predicted,” said Yamton, “At the moment we have voucher cards—we’re not quite there to let retailers have just codes for a Zelda game. Yes, digital downloads can reduce the inventory risk—but if you give someone a card with a code it still has a value. There are some issues to work through, but it will happen in the not-too-distant future.”

Inventory risk be damned: What happens when stores don’t have even a card to sell people anymore? What incentive will there be to walk in and pay for a string of numbers and letters on a receipt? “I can’t speak for them all, but having spoken to places like GAME, they have seen an incredible rise in the sales of digital content,” said Yamton, “It’s working for them.”

Yamton also said Nintendo needs to help retailers and itself by better marketing its digital offerings. “One of the things we perhaps haven’t been so good at is telling you about the features we have. For example the downloadable games and other DLC—but we have been promoting it.”

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