The embracing of the oft-talked about "digital future" has been a slow process, to say the least. Due likely in no small part to publishers' unwillingness to send retailers into fits of murderous rage, most overtures toward a more digitally-oriented release model have been tempered as "additional options," with games appearing both at retail and digitally. Only recently have those retail and digital releases started to become more simultaneous, due in no small part to Sony's push for both options on the PlayStation Vita.
Now, it seems, Nintendo is getting on board with this idea. During an investor presentation late last night (morning, Japan time), Nintendo president Satoru Iwata made it known that the company plans to start bringing out select 3DS titles to their digital eShop day-and-date with their retail counterparts, starting with the August release of New Super Mario Bros. 2. Iwata didn't state that this would be the standard, necessarily, for all 3DS titles, but rather an option for games that seem like a good fit for the service. Iwata specifically pointed out titles like Animal Crossing, Nintendogs, and Tomodachi Collection as the kinds of games that inspire "daily communication," and thus would be good to have stored on the system, as opposed to only being accessible via a cart.
As of right now, the only other confirmed title that will be getting the retail/digital double treatment is Onitore, a brain training game. Iwata did hint that more would be in the works, including perhaps some that might not necessarily fall under that "daily communication" banner.
Retailers will additionally be offering vouchers with download codes at their brick-and-mortar locations. This will allow for sales and price cuts to be offered post-release, something the eShop isn't currently built for.
It's not just the 3DS that will be getting this treatment, either. According to Iwata, the Wii U will offer the same service, and will have digital versions of its games available at launch. Unfortunately, it doesn't sound like we'll get to find out what those launch games will be until after E3. Iwata made it known that while the final hardware will be at the show, Nintendo doesn't plan to announce the final cost, launch date, nor finalized launch lineup of games until after E3.
While it doesn't quite sound like Nintendo is 100% in on all things digital just yet, this at least looks like a solid step in that direction. Considering I've mostly just been downloading games to my Vita rather than buying them in stores, I definitely see this as a welcome option. The downside obviously is storage capacity, but depending on how large full-blown retail 3DS games are, this could turn out to be a much preferable option. Then again, I don't do much game-swapping, so it's no big deal for me that the games lock to the specific 3DS you download them to. I'm assuming others might have more of an issue with this.