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Nintendo aims for flexible storefront with 3DS eShop, parity with other digital distribution platforms


If you've used a DSi or a DSi XL, you already have a good idea of what to expect from the eShop. Nintendo's sticking with its "shelf" layout approach, allowing the company to provide certain tiers of up to 20 listed items at a time. Want nothing but Mario-themed content? Simply slide over to the big graphic featuring Nintendo's mascot, tap it, then sift through all of the content.

Nintendo's been lagging behind quite a bit in the digital storefront sector, offering a barebones, clunky and oftentimes very static experience on the DSi and Wii. With the 3DS, Nintendo has obviously learned a lot and seeks to offer something comparable to the sales platforms seen on the Xbox 360, PS3 and Amazon -- packaging content together, constantly mixing up what's presented and allowing users to rate items is amongst the most obvious forms of immitation seen in the eShop.

For Nintendo, it's all about breaking down the barriers between the player and the content, and highlighting what's best on the platform -- Nintendo desperately wants to move away from the perception that it only offers low quality shovelware. And this is the idea behind segregated content, certain themes that will bundle listings all under one unified theme, such as the Mario example given above. Others include staff picks (Cave Story 3D was listed in the developer build I was shown) and platform highlights, such as the best of DSiWare or the best of Game Boy and Game Boy Color.

Nintendo of America's David Wharton, the man who runs the service operations group that oversees WiiWare, Wii Virtual Console, DSiWare and, going forward, the eShop and any other platforms Nintendo may conjure up (looking at you, Project Cafe!) told me fluidity was the focus.

"I can't emphasize this enough: there are so many different ways to show the content -- essentially almost infinite in ways that we can think of." Nintendo doesn't want to present a stale boring service -- it wants the storefront to constantly evolve and constantly present new content to users. Or you could just use the search field, if you know what exactly what you're looking for.

The rating system Nintendo is implementing is also kind of exciting. "Any game you've played for over an hour is elligible to be rated," Wharton said. "You actually have to have played a game to rate it. It's a novel idea, don't you think?" After you've given the game your 60+ minutes, you may then give it a star rating and assign it a casual or intense label corresponding to -- well, it's pretty obvious. It's certainly not the most revolutionary rating system, but hopefully the whole having to play the game thing will help ensure more genuine ratings from players.

With a new shop comes a new content schedule, as well. Wharton told me that while we'll still receive updates on weekly offerings from Nintendo on Mondays, said content won't actually be available to the public now until Thursday. Wharton said this shift is an attempt to help "educate consumers" ahead of time so they can make better purchasing decisions. Additionally, there will be a spending limit on the 3DS eShop: $200 in your wallet at any one time; a cap of $1,000 you can spend in a month.

"It's essentially risk management," Wharton explained. "If you've got $200 in your wallet, there is plenty of content out there so why don't you go buy some of that? If you've added $1,000 this month, maybe you should go play some of those games you've bought." He also says it's a security measure: if somebody's stolen your credit card, there's a definite ceiling -- though if somebody's got your credit card and is using it on their 3DS, one has to imagine that criminal is not long for freedom. "It's not a rock-solid security model, but if it winds up being a problem where people are desperate to spend $24,000 a year with us, we'll probably find a way to accommodate them."

The 3DS eShop is clearly a step in the right direction, but it's hardly the giant leap that we all wanted from Nintendo. Sliding through shelves and shelves of content is hardly the best way to find good stuff on the eShop and, overall, it's a pretty cumbersome setup -- there is a lot of time spent tapping and sliding through menus in the eShop. Still, it seems like Nintendo is listening and with the rating system, dynamic categories and organization options at Nintendo's fingertips, along with the ability to link out directly to publisher and developer websites through the included web browser, Nintendo's managed to greatly improve on the barebones, downright ugly experience of the DSi Shop.

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