From the get-go, Nintendo intended to develop their upcoming Nintendo 3DS as a console capable of better online functionality than its predecessors, the Wii and DS.
Nintendo hope that passive online functionality will draw more people to the system’s online features. You can read more about this and other improvements Nintendo are making to their online infrastructure for the 3DS here.
At a recent investor Q&A, Nintendo president, Satoru Iwata, fielded a question regarding his views on the subject of the company generating significant profits from digital distribution of games and network services. Iwata replied:
“As for the aspect of profit, we are expecting that profits through the network activities will grow in the long run. However, as I have often said on these types of the occasions, we human beings do not change our habits very quickly. If this world was full of the so-called “early adopters,” who are highly sensitive to information and quickly respond to anything new, the world could change more quickly.
The fact is, the majority of us are not in that category. Accordingly, for some time in the future as well, the packaged goods business will remain to be our mainstream business. On the other hand, network elements are very important in order to heighten the value of the packaged products or in order to offer unprecedented fun, which can be a topic in society. Our current thinking is that we would like to aggressively explore such usage.”
Sony already offer an alternative to buying physical copies of several games by distributing them via the PlayStation Network. No such functionality has been confirmed as of yet with regard to the Nintendo 3DS, however.