For those of you that aren't aware, digital purchases made on a Nintendo DS, 3DS or Wii are tied to the serial number of the device on which they are purchased. If you lose/destroy/trade-in your old hardware your purchases are lost. Transferring physical media is Ok along with the game saves (that have been transferred to the SD card).
Nintendo requires that you must have a working device in-hand and do a transfer licenses to another system; if this cannot be done Nintendo support will inform you that you are fucked:
"I'm sorry to hear about your situation. I know this isn't what you were hoping to hear, but transferring content from one Nintendo 3DS to another requires the use of both systems. Therefore, without access to the original system, it's not possible to transfer your eShop account to a replacement unit. I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause and appreciate your understanding."
After hearing of this practice with 3DS licensing, I inquired if this archaic licensing scheme was the same on the Wii system as I am planning on purchasing a Wii-U. Nintendo support responded:
"We are planning on a way to transfer Wii Shop Channel purchases to Wii U. However, this process will require access to both systems to perform the System Transfer. I have included all of the other information we have about the transfer process below:
. Wii U owners can wirelessly transfer content such as Miis, and WiiWare and Virtual Console games to their Wii U systems.
. Both systems will need to be connected to the Internet and the Wii U will need an SD card to facilitate the transfer.
. Transferred Wii content is accessible and can be played through Wii Mode, an application on the Wii U's main menu."
Not only will I need my Wii system to transfer my purchases (i.e. no systm trade-in possibility at GameStop) but Nintendo hasn't yet worked out a final process for game transfers to occur- i.e. this may not be possible for some time after system launch!
Perhaps Nintendo thought it would be a grand idea to attach digital licenses to a peice of hardware -instead of looking at Microsoft/Sony/Apple/Android/Steam's proven practices of using a user account. However, if this device is lost/stolen/damaged, then the consumer is shit-out-of-luck and they should understand that any/all of the games they once purchased on their old 3DS/DS/Wii should now be re-purchased.
Or perhaps Nintendo is trying to prevent trade-in/resale of used Nintendo systems; but it can a boon for the used system customer to log into the eShop and see if there is any 'free' games associated with their 'new' used purchase.
Nintendo is the new kid on the block for digital purchase and, obviously, they have a lot to learn; I will personally shy away from any digital purchases with Nintendo until they can bring their digital licensing into the 21st century.
...and don't get me started on their clumsy and annoying 'eShop' process; they are even worse than Sony!