The PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 have offered digital downloads as alternatives to retail store shopping for a while now, but they’ve rarely offered new, full-priced games as downloads the day they’ve come out. Rather, downloadable versions have come weeks or months later. Nintendo will buck that tradition; first-party new Wii U games will be downloadable on their release days, and Nintendo will strongly incentivize third-party publishers to do the same.
This is a particularly big leap forward given that until now Nintendo has not offered modern console game downloads at all, regardless of release date. The Wii digitally sells classic games from older consoles and has WiiWare, but those are typically independent games.
Nintendo will begin this new approach with the Nintendo 3DS game New Super Mario Bros. 2, which will arrive in August, and extend the strategy to all the new Wii U console launch games this holiday season.
Interestingly, retail stores will sell digital copies also; you’ll basically buy download codes for new games at GameStop or Best Buy then redeem them on your console when you get home. Retailers will be able to set prices based on demand just like they do with physical media.