Nintendo will close the Wii U and 3DS eShops in March 2023, and a new report claims that a total server shutdown for these platforms may arrive in as early as "a couple of years."
A report from Nintendo Life, citing an anonymous former Nintendo of America employee, claims that Nintendo "will give notice in 2023 that the server will be shut down after a time." The report doesn't outline an exact timetable for the final closure, but it doesn't give the servers more than a few years either, which suggests they may be shuttered in 2024 or 2025. We only got a one-year notice for the end of the eShops for these platforms, but it's possible the servers themselves will receive more advance notice.
For the time being, the 3DS and Wii U are only facing an eShop closure, not a server shutdown. In other words, you won't be able to buy anything new, but you'll still be able to redownload or update games you've already purchased and/or play them online after March 2023. However, the server shutdown this report describes would prevent players from accessing any online functionality, from software updates to multiplayer. And since Nintendo has stated it has "no plans to offer classic content in other ways," the majority of digital 3DS and Wii U games would effectively become locked to hard drives after the alleged shutdown.
"People will 100% lose their games if something happens to their Wii U or the drive they have their games on," this source told Nintendo Life.
In an FAQ addressing the eShop closure, Nintendo notes that "there are no plans to make any further changes at this time" with regards to broader Wii U and 3DS online functionality. Of course, at this time gives the company some wiggle room, and the writing is on the wall: the Wii U and 3DS aren't long for this world as Nintendo uproots and moves fully into the Switch generation. That said, how much time these servers have left remains to be seen, as the contents of this report are unconfirmed and Nintendo's plans are subject to change.
Nintendo says the Switch defies its usual definition of a console cycle.