YouTuber's wild $20k quest to preserve the Nintendo eShop could be the only legal way to save game history, and that sucks
Over the past year, YouTuber Jirard 'The Completionist' Khalil spent $22,791 and uncountable hours purchasing and downloading every single game on the Wii U and 3DS eShop ahead of the shutdown of those two services later this month. This is an absurd quest that no one should ever undertake. But according to video game historians, it could also be the only legal path to preserving any of these games in the years to come.
Last year, Nintendo announced that it would be shutting down the Wii U and 3DS eShops on March 27, 2023, just as it had shut down the original Wii Shop Channel back in 2019. You'll still be able to download any games you'd previously purchased through those stores for the foreseeable future, but if you want to make any additions to your digital library after that point, you're outta luck. And as we've seen with those digital Wii games, you might not be able to count on those redownloads being constantly available even before they're officially shut down.
The Completionist video on the whole effort to buy all those games is documented in the video below, and it's worth a watch just for the ridiculous roadblocks that stand in the way of simply purchasing these games as an end user. The digital stores no longer accept credit cards, so you have to buy physical eShop cards from retail stores. Retail stores have security measures in place to keep you from buying thousands of dollars worth of gift cards. Nintendo will only let you keep a balance of $250 in your account, so you have to slowly redeem those cards one by one. The Wii U will only let you keep a certain number of games installed at a time, regardless of the storage space available. And on and on the list goes.
Khalil was able to do all this because he had a team backing him up through the long hours and, as a well-known YouTuber, was able to offset some of this absurd expense by taking on additional sponsorships. Time and money are both precious resources, and they're resources that organizations like the Video Game History Foundation do not have infinite supplies of. Admirably, Khalil intends to donate these consoles and storage devices to the VGHF, and the group already has plans - or at least hopes - for how to turn it into a legally accessible video game library.
The elephant in the room, of course, is that all of these games have already been 'preserved' and made available to anyone who wants to access them - illegally. In the minds of players who don't care about breaking the law, this talk of 'losing' games is silly. Preservation is effectively a solved issue, since it's no secret that all these games are already available on the darker corners of the internet, right?
Well, that line of thinking becomes an issue for historians who are making efforts to see that gaining access to these games is no longer illegal. Ars Technica ran a feature last week breaking down how the VGHF and other groups are gunning to build an online library that would let you legally check out digital games to play online, but game industry lobbyists are pushing hard against that idea - despite the fact that libraries already allow check-outs of other types of media like books and films.
The Wii U and 3DS libraries that Khalil built, contained on the consoles and storage media shown above, will be stored with the VGHF, though for now the only thing the organization can do with them is invite researchers and historians to its physical location to see the games. But the organization is making its own efforts to change the law to allow wider lending access to these games.
VGHF co-director Kelsey Lewin says on Twitter that "there’s a very big thing that we’re working on changing (with the incredible folks at the Software Preservation Network). You know how you can rent eBooks and movies from libraries? Not just your local ones, but places like archive.org? Well, you should be able to rent video games that way too. Remotely. Using emulation, even!"
In other words, the VGHF is aiming to change the law so that lending libraries for these digital games can go public. But even if the organization successfully changes the law so that they can lend digital games, copyright holders might still pitch a fit if the games in the library are obtained through legal means. As Lewin explains, "the specific problem that Jirard’s quest here solves is that WHEN these laws change… they’ll need some legally bulletproof, cleanly obtained ROMs to start from."
Do I think Nintendo or other platform holders should be rewarded for their anti-preservation decisions? Hell no. This sucks! No one should ever have to do what Jirard did — that’s insane! (And you better believe we’re gonna use that argument to help change the laws!)March 20, 2023
Again, a history foundation is spending its time lobbying for a legal change that would allow them to create a public video game library, and the only reason it even has the possibility of including digital 3DS and Wii U games as part of that library is because a YouTuber spent over $20,000 and a year of effort to archive all those titles before legal access to them was killed off.
That is some hot garbage. The industry is actively lobbying against historical preservation efforts even as it continues to cut off legitimate ways to access its classic library. Nintendo's shutting down its aging stores, Sony and Microsoft are playing chicken with doing the same, and publishers like EA are cutting off access to their old library piece by piece. Microsoft seems to be the only one willing to put in effort to keep its library easily accessible to modern audiences - the Xbox Game Pass push benefits hugely from an extensive back catalog, after all - but even that is far from a complete look at Xbox history.
In this particular instance, Nintendo could choose to give historians access to a catalog of its digital library, but it won't - presumably because its lawyers have decided that an iron grip on its IP is more important than any civic-minded support of preservation efforts. Historians and activists have access to far fewer resources than the corporations that control legal access to these games, and it's terrible to see flaming hoops they have to jump through just to try to make things better for the future.
If you want to do some last-minute shopping, these are the 10 games to download before the Wii U and 3DS eShops close down.