Buyer beware: Nintendo nukes $400 worth of downloaded content during DRM-fail migration to Wii U

On Ars Technica, Kyle Orland writes about his experiences trying to migrate his downloaded games from his old Wii to his new Wii U. This could be as straightforward as doing a local network transfer, or moving them around on SD cards. But Nintendo conceived of an insanely complex, slow, and ultimately nonfunctional DRM system for "securely" transferring games, and the result was to take away Orland's purchases. Because, you know, piracy.

The larger issue remains: the fate of dozens of Virtual Console games I’ve purchased for my Wii over the years hangs in the balance. The collection is worth about $400 by my estimates. Most of these games are backed up on that same SD card (since they wouldn’t all fit on the Wii system memory), but Nintendo’s copy protection ties their license data exclusively to the Wii system on which they were originally downloaded. The Wii Transfer Tool would move this license data for me, if it worked. As it stands, the games stay jailed on antiquated hardware.

If I want to re-download my purchases to the Wii U, there’s no way for me to confirm to the new system that I am, in fact, the person who purchased all these games. My Wii Shop account data is also tied to the Wii on which it was set up. (Naturally, shifting it to the Wii U requires the Wii Transfer Tool.) The 300 Wii Shop Points (worth only $3) I had left over are a small casualty of this situation, but I'm suddenly glad I didn’t keep a larger virtual currency balance. Any Miis I created or stored on the Wii are also trapped if the Wii Transfer Tool won't ultimately work, but I can't say I'm too broken up about that.

I asked the Nintendo support representative whether there was any way to just transfer my license and account data from the Wii to the Wii U. This could prove to the system that I am me, without having to use the non-responsive Transfer Tool. The short answer? No.

How Nintendo DRM trapped $400 of downloaded games on my failing Wii


  1. Ironically, while copyright infringement isn’t identical to theft (since the infringed party retains their copy, only losing the value of being the exclusive seller), it would appear that we have an instance of copyright ‘protection’ that is identical to theft. Hooray for progress!

    (What does surprise me a bit about this sordid episode is that Nintendo support doesn’t seem to have some sort of channel for dealing with these low-frequency-but-terrible-publicity incidents. I’m not at all surprised that the mechanism for DIY transfer of ‘protected’ content is total bullshit; but you’d think that(between having access to billing records, the ability to read whatever ‘license’ files are burned onto a given WII, since they developed the format, and the desire to avoid terrible PR, they would be able to make-it-so if somebody calls them up with an issue like this. It wouldn’t make DRM suck any less, or the I-told-you-so from the DRM opponents camp any less valid; but it sure would have saved them a nasty story in the gaming press…

    Somebody who has $400 in downloaded games and stuff, and wants to transfer them to a launch-day WiiU is either some kind of reviewer, or clearly a fairly serious customer, and a fairly serious customer of high-margin downloadables no less. They seriously don’t have some sort of ‘why, certainly, Mr. Gold Premier, just send us the console and we’ll fedex you back the SD card ready for transfer to your WII U. Sorry about the inconvenience.” option?)

  2. Between this and the prior reports about the Wii U being bricked by simply interrupting the *download*, not installation, of an update — not to mention their awful online ecosystem — it’s become clear that Nintendo has absolutely no idea how to make technology work in the 21st century.

  3. Once again, legitimate solutions completely failing at providing a better experience than piracy, given Nintendo’s track record with any type of connectivity or integration this isn’t that surprising. The Wii U’s entire approach puzzles me, apparently after the ‘too much plastic junk’ fallout of the last generation of consoles Nintendo thought it would be a good idea to dump even more silly hardware gimmicks on in an attempt to seem current and relevant (tablets, wow!). They seem to have destroyed whatever impression of simplicity and approachability that the Wii established, and it seems to be full of convoluted solutions to problems that no one has.

    1. Yeah, and it looks like Microsoft already responded to the new gimmicky controllers:

  4. The process is really not that bad.  Could it be better?  yes.  But this is software we are dealing with.  Things can, and do go wrong.  Nintendo really should offer to do the repair for free since it is not the problem of the customer but to call the whole process non-functional on the basis of one error is a bit much.

  5. No matter how many times he even apologizes for it himself in the article, comments like “hangs in the balance” make it hard for me to do anything but laugh at him. My sympathies are with him and I don’t like DRM at all but good god this is a bad poster boy and this article should probably be forgotten fast for credibility’s sake as far as anti-DRM articles go.

    edit: before it becomes a photoshop contest

  6. combined with a malfunction in my launch-era Wii hardware

    You know, he identifies a failure in his own hardware as a large part of the problem. I assume the warranty on the Wii is expired, so I’m not sure why Nintendo is on the hook for this? Anyone? Bueller?

    1. Because it’s a bad process. Their product should not have been intentionally designed to fail at any point. When it does it is their fault.

      1. I’m sure every hardware manufacture on the planet will love to hear that.

        Hello, Toyota my car broke, fix it.
        Hello, Acer, my monitor broke, it shouldn’t do that.
        Hello, reality, yeah you suck.

        Nintendo isn’t working for the DoD and building aircraft that need triple redundancy.  Memory fails, boards fail, hardware fails – that’s a fact of life.

        (Unless this is directly related to some shit components or some other way of being extra cheap.)

        1. Yes but under most circumstances if hardware fails you still are entitled to use your software elsewhere. In this instance there seems no way for him to do this.

          1. You don’t use Windows do you:


            At the same time this is the reality that DLC and downloaded games present to the consumer.  It makes it easier to consume and distribute software, but without access to the installer and files it is on the vendor for migration support.

            Nintendo could have just pissed everyone off from the get go and not support migration in the first place.  My problem with the article and a lot of comments here is the fact they are focusing on the failure of the transfer.  That seems to be stemming from a hardware related issue, not a software/DRM thing.  The real problem here is that Nintendo didn’t (or doesn’t want to) think about this scenario as a possible issue.  Especially since I think it is probably going to be pretty rare.  Like I said in another comment, Nintendo should have the power on their side to transfer/authenticate you from one system to another.

          2. Two things, firstly OEM Software can still be reinstalled on a machine that breaks and is reparied, even if that includes installing a new motherboard, you might have to call Microsoft to get the activation, but they’ll do it.

            Secondly, Nintendo specifically says that software from the Wii can be transfered to the Wii U. When he purchased his Wii U, he was under this understanding.

        2. Acer monitors usually break because of lousy cheap c(r)apacitors. They shouldn’t do that.

          (When electronics starts behaving erratically, change caps in the power supply. More often than not it helps. Often even works for thrown-out hardware.)

          1. I know this first hand.  I just re-capped the monitor I’m writing this on less than a month ago.  But to be fair to Acer it has lasted 4 years and has had no other issues.  Planned obsolescence or just cheaping out?  Either way for $5 I wasn’t going to throw it out.

      2.  Do you assume the Wii he was replacing had hardware designed to fail? Your assignment of intention to Nintendo for the failure is more than a bit forward, and I’m not getting how it’s different from the unreasonable expectations one holds Santa to, for a period of ones life.

        tl;dr: He broke his thing, and wants someone else to be at fault.

        1. tl;dr: He broke his thing, and wants someone else to be at fault.

          Sounds like he just wants the content he already paid for.  You’re making shit up.  You must really have it out for this guy.

          1. I’m sorry, but he HAS the content he already paid for, and he’s already got years of use from it.

            It’s on a machine that broke. He’s not being shortchanged by anything but time and decay, and also the one thing within his control -his own expectations-. I think he could manage those better.

            As to your assertion that I have it out for him, perhaps it is you who has it out for Nintendo, and so I appear that way to you?

          2. Nope.  I don’t have any problem with Nintendo whatsoever.  This is exactly what I mean by “making shit up.”

            Meanwhile, you’re huffing and puffing about someone you don’t know getting upset about something that I think actually would be fairly upsetting.  You seem offended somehow that this guy would be upset when you don’t think it’s justified.

            Even if this guy’s being a little ridiculous you are being way more ridiculous.  It’s fun watching you get upset about someone you don’t know getting upset, though, so keep up the good work.

          3. Okay, so I am -making shit up, -huffing and puffing, -offended, -way more ridiculous, -must have it out for this guy.

            Alternatley, I -asked- if -perhaps- your POV had some bias.

            I think that was a yes to my question. My proof – being attacked as a person for sharing my contrary opinions as my own and asking questions that I wanted answers to. I asked you for your opinion, you gave me my own. How childish.

            Hey, if it works to get you free things, why wouldn’t you attack people and tell them who they are, and hold them responsible for your presumptions, instead of sharing your beliefs and asking questions to get things like an adult.

      3. (two posters above) Sorry if it whooshed right over your heads. But I’m pretty sure he’s talking about the fact that Nintendo is using DRM which is “intentionally designed to fail” (ie: stop you from using data in your possession) and hence when it breaks, it’s their fault and should be responsible for fixing it.

        1. Well that’s fine if he is, but I don’t totally see this as a straight DRM issue.

          The DRM that is presented here is a proof of purchase so to speak.  I think Nintendo should have a way to verify and change your account from their end if need be, but I don’t really see an issue with them tying the hardware to your account.  If they didn’t why wouldn’t you just share your purchases with your friends (aiming that more towards the income limited teenage crowd).

          As far as the process itself, I don’t see anything wrong with it.  Nintendo gives you a free tool that basically automates the process.  The only way I could see it being easier is to:
          -not require the Wii U to format and do it’s thing first.
          -or do it totally via the could, so no memory card.
          But in the case here, there would still be a likely chance that the copy would fail (due to some unknown hardware issue.)

          Like I said I agree that Nintendo’s handling of the situation is showing their lack of forethought.  Microsoft has been handling issues like this for more than a decade (ie Windows activation.)

    2. Because he already has the data he needs backed up on an SD card; but the Wii U won’t accept it without going through some convoluted and artificial DRM process that Nintendo is 100% responsible for producing, that happens to require the faulty Wii.

      Nintendo isn’t responsible, in any notable way, for the fact that there is a flash memory defect in a now-some-years-old Wii. They are 100% responsible for the fact that their DRM system binds purchases to (oh-so-very-mortal) hardware, without even the option of binding them to an account, and without any ability to use purchase records or anything else to verify and reload on new hardware.

      Nintendo doesn’t owe the guy a new Wii or anything (it is out of warranty, and old enough that even EU consumer protection laws and the like would recognize it as having bitten the bucket through age legitimately rather than through a negligent defect); but having created a system where it is artificially impossible to produce meaningful ‘backups’ on your own, leaving software tied to dying hardware is 100% Nintendo.

      Even other DRM systems, as obnoxious as they are, generally bind per-account, allowing you to authorize a new device if your existing one kicks the bucket.

      1. Yeah. but when you buy a nintento, you don’t get that sort of account. When your old machine breaks, you lose the data. Caveat Emptor.

        So, his best option = don’t buy a nintendo to replace the old one you didn’t break.

        he seems to have chosen otherwise, and wants us to lament his free choice. I can’t.

        1. And isn’t that exactly the point of this article? Nintendo has built a system which unnecessarily has no mechanism retrieve purchased software from faulty hardware. Their systems are broken, therefore beware buying them.

          That doesn’t make the situation this gentlemans fault. He wasn’t made aware that the migration system would fail and that there would be no other method to extract the software, he found this out only buy trial and error after he had paid for the new hardware. He is now warning others about this problem.

          1. “unnecessarily”

            This is a decision you make, and decide to live with, at the time of purchase. Caveat Emptor. I think it’s great that he wants to raise awareness. I think it would be petulant to expect $400 bucks, or pity for being out 400 bucks worth of games that worked fine until the machine got broken.

  7. I saw this yesterday and didn’t read it, but went back and had a look…

    So, let me see if I have this straight:
    -He can’t copy/use the tool because his Wii has some type of problem.

    Yup, that’s all DRM’s evil fault.  Not like it could be an actual hardware problem.  Perhaps the tool does a “ghost” like copy and there are failing sectors which is causing it to crap out (sectors that he isn’t even using).  Perhaps it’s a non-directly related software issue, like file table stuff.

    Don’t get me wrong, I get his beef with having purchased said $400 worth of virtual stuff and not being able to move it to his new machine.  I almost feels it’s more about the saved data and customizations then it is about the actual games, but both are issues just for different reasons.

    The only real lesson I took away from this is the newer the game system/hardware, the more complicated it is.  Sometimes shit breaks.

    -oh and from the article it doesn’t appear anything was nuked, his Wii still works.

  8. So, a tech product was launched with unforeseen bugs?  Is this something that has never happened before?

    While I do feel bad for the person in question, early adoption has its inherent perils and I have little doubt that some sort of fix will be issued in due course.

  9. At this point, I feel like anybody buying any game console from Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo is asking to be crapped on. Who’s with me?
    PS: I sure wish Disqus didn’t hate claimID (my OpenID provider) so I could login to boingboing that way.

    1. I’m almost with you, except I feel like anybody who is buying -anything-, and has those expectations of the manufacturers, is just crapping on themselves.

  10. Here’s the thing: “Early adopters,” (not just the people who stand in line to buy these consoles when they are at their most rare but the ones who buy these new devices when they are at their most expensive) are the lifeblood of any console. Game developers won’t hitch their wagon to a gaming device that no one owns. And without good games, the problem of selling the console only gets worse.

    The people who buy the devices early when they are often at their most flawed, are the ones who made the device a success in the first place by giving game publishers the confidence that enough customers will buy their games.

    Punishing an early adopter of the Wii who has obviously spent a great deal of money on their “beloved” device and became an early adopter of the Wii-U is like flogging your base supporters after they re-elected you president. Only some people will get to change their vote when they see the bloody mess you’re making.

    1. Sort of like the bravest soldiers being killed off at the front of the battle. An acceptable loss if the remaining troops are more compliant.

  11. This story has convinced me that it’s probably safer to mod my console and be a pirate… at least then they can’t take my content away.

    1. No kidding. And all it takes is a willingness to void your warranty, and to live with the consequences of that choice.

  12. I guess he should have just pirated the games.   Or at least pirate them now.

    The DRM is not there for your benefit.  

  13. The game industry seems to want to move people toward downloading or streaming games and away from buying physical disk copies.  One of the biggest things they could do to work toward that would be making it super smooth and easy to transition your downloaded stuff from machine to machine.   Right now I’m waiting for a game to come out on a physical disk in a couple of weeks that has been available as downloadable episodes for a long while (The Walking Dead) because I didn’t want to have to worry about not being able to get my purchased game back to play if my XBox 360 bites the dust again in such a way that it finally can’t be repaired again.   Downloading is SO convenient.  They might win me over even though I’m a fan of buying used games if they’d eliminate the fear of losing games I’d already paid for.

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