Nintendo to begin digital sales of mainstream titles for 3DS

Online titles for the 3DS will be purchased at traditional retailers, then downloaded to the device

Nintendo will launch sales of digital versions of mainstream 3DS titles through retailers, beginning with a new Super Mario Brothers game in August, it said Friday.

The game company said some titles, initially those published by Nintendo, will be available in both traditional packaged and digital formats, with both versions sold through retailers. Consumers that purchase the digital version of a game will receive an activation code allowing them to download it to their 3DS, where it will be stored on a memory card.

As multiple games can be stored on a single memory card, it will mark a change in the traditional one-game-one-cartridge approach that Nintendo has followed for the 3DS.

The console's online "eShop" currently allows for purchases and downloads of mini-games and add-ons.

Unlike the app stores run by Apple and Google or Sony's online store for its PlayStation handhelds, Nintendo's system for digital content will leave retailers responsible for drawing customers, setting prices and handling payments. This eliminates a possible income stream, but also removes the cost and risks of running its own store.

President Satoru Iwata described the new system in comments posted online about Nintendo's dire fiscal year results, which were released on Thursday. The company booked a net loss of ¥43.2 billion (US$533 million), its first annual loss since it began reporting group results in 1981, which Iwata called "the worst result since we went into business in the video game industry."

Thursday's results also showed Nintendo failed to reach its annual sales target for its flagship 3DS handheld, despite cutting prices and releasing numerous game titles. Unlike console rivals Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo derives nearly all of its income from a small number of gaming devices and their software titles, so its struggles with the 3DS are directly reflected in its financial results.

Sales of its Wii home console have also plummeted, ahead of this year's launch of its successor, the Wii U, which will also support digital versions of its games.

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