Wii Woes

When the Wii originally came out back in 2006, I immediately bought one. In the last six years, I’ve bought dozens of games from its online store; almost a hundred, all told. So when I bought a Wii U a few days ago, I wanted to transfer these games to my new console.

Now, on most other system, this would have been easy. I would have entered my account details, and simply redownloaded the games. Not so with Nintendo’s system. With Nintendo, purchases are locked to the device you bought them on. Your device breaks or is stolen? Too bad. All you can do is call Nintendo, and hope for the best.

So, what do you do when you have a Wii with heaps of games on it, and want to move them to your new Wii U?

You just have to go through one of the worst and most convoluted systems ever devised for the simple task of moving data from one computer to another.

In order to get games from the Wii to the Wii U, you first have to go to each system’s online store, and install a transfer application. Well, actually, it’s a bit more complicated than that. The Wii U has a Wii mode, with its own, completely separate online store. So what you have to do on the Wii U is go into the Wii U’s Wii mode, open that online store, and download an app from there.

Once you’ve done that, you have to insert an SD card into the Wii U, prepare the card with the Wii U’s Wii mode’s transfer application, and move the card to the Wii. Next, you have to run the Wii’s transfer app, which moves some of your stuff onto the SD card.

«Some of your stuff?»

Yep, only some. See, the Wii only has 512 MB of internal storage. Fortunately, you can expand the console’s storage space with an SD card. But since you need the SD card slot for the transfer process, the stuff that you had on the SD card can’t be moved. Fortunately, that’s not as bad as it sounds. You can’t move these things, but once the transfer process is complete, you’ll be able to redownload your purchases.

Of course, this step doesn’t always work properly. But if it does (and it did for me), your Wii is now effectively decommissioned. All of the stuff you had on your Wii is gone.

To get your games back, you put the SD card into your Wii U. Go back into the Wii U’s Wii mode’s transfer application, and start restoring your purchases. This is where things went horribly wrong for me. The progress bar remained stuck on 0% . After about ten minutes, I got an error message.

«The device inserted in the SD Card slot cannot be used.»

The button said «Try Again», so I did. And again. And again.

At this point, all of my stuff had been deleted from the Wii, but the Wii U had decided that it couldn’t read my SD card. Which meant that all of my games were in limbo, neither on my Wii, nor on my Wii U. I was starting to come to terms with the idea that Nintendo had effectively stolen my Wii games from me.

So I tried again. Restarted the console. Tried again. This time, it took a bit longer until the error message came up. So I tried again. And again.

Eventually, the Wii showed a message. «Purchases restored». Then, it failed again. I stopped the process, went to my Wii U’s Wii mode’s store. Phew! While all of my other data — Miis, save games — were gone for good, at least I was able to redownload my purchases.

Now, my games are back, but they’re still locked inside a specific mode in my Wii U. They’re not even synchronized with the «normal» Wii U store. What will happen when my Wii U breaks? What will happen when Nintendo releases its next console? Will I be able to get my Wii games back?

This is a horrible user experience. And it’s needlessly horrible. Most other systems don’t lock purchases to a specific device, they lock them to an account. Your iPhone or Android phone breaks? No problem. Get another one, log in, all of your stuff is there. In fact, if you have an Android phone, you can buy a lot of games completely free of any DRM.

That Nintendo still can’t get this right is hilariously pathetic, especially compared to the amount of polish they put into many other aspects of their hardware and software.

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If you liked this, you'll love my book. It's called Designed for Use: Create Usable Interfaces for Applications and the Web. In it, I cover the whole design process, from user research and sketching to usability tests and A/B testing. But I don't just explain techniques, I also talk about concepts like discoverability, when and how to use animations, what we can learn from video games, and much more.

You can find out more about it (and order it directly, printed or as a DRM-free ebook) on the Pragmatic Programmers website. It's been translated to Chinese and Japanese.