Welcome to my very own column, Connection Error. My aim is to focus upon the hardware and online strategy of the industry, and in particular, Nintendo. For my first column I have decided to look at how the hardware and online features of Wii U are inextricably linked, and give my opinions on where Nintendo should take their next system. So without further ado let us begin!
Nintendo have had unparalleled success with Wii since the console launched in 2006. Motion control was a gamble that they had to take, and boy have they reaped the rewards. However 2012 brings with it fresh challenges, and in terms of establishing themselves in the next-generation market, the hard work begins all over again. Especially in the online domain.
Wii U must bring something new to the table in terms of its online experience, and I for one have great faith that Nintendo will deliver in this ever-growing sector. Before the current generation’s respective releases, the notion of an online community for consoles explored but not charted. Both 1999’s Sega Dreamcast and 2001’s Xbox took incremental footsteps into the unknown regions of online console communities, but the domain itself did not even really exist. Indeed it was Microsoft’s persistence with their Xbox Live service that really kick-started the whole notion of what we consider to be today’s console-based online marketplace.
We stand here in 2012 with a fully realised online community at our fingertips. We can demo games, buy content, create and share our online experiences with millions around the world, through a robust and ever evolving online service, delivered to us from the comfort of our chosen console. Unless of course, you only own Wii. It would be unfair to say Nintendo underestimated the importance that online services would play in this generations console market, as I think Sony and Microsoft would too have been caught off guard by the sheer demand for online content. However the difference is that both Xbox Live, and PSN were able to evolve and adapt their services to the consumer’s needs, whilst Nintendo stood there, mouth agog, transfixed on the headlights which were rapidly approaching them.
Nintendo has the chance to put right the wrongs and give their new console the online community it deserves. It’s almost criminal that the big N, saviours of the video game industry as we know it, have been so slow on their uptake of online features. Their staunchly stubborn “games-only” stance was fine for the GameCube, but we are in 2012 now and this philosophy is beginning to seem a little dated. I have every confidence in Nintendo rectifying this situation with Wii U, and when they do get it right, it will be a sight to behold. But with so much work to do, where should they begin?
For starters, Nintendo are already late to the party, so they must turn up with something no other manufacturer can tout. Be it Origin, Steam or a proprietary technology, Nintendo must surely trump their rivals when it comes to choice of what we can download, and how we download it. I am aware that Sony have elements of Steam on PS3, via Portal 2, but as for the full service, we are yet to see this realised on a home console. Personally, I believe that Nintendo should run with the “U” in the name Wii U. There should be an all-encompassing philosophy which drives the console, and this can be summed up in one very simple but effective word: choice.
Now, I’m not talking about a choice of delivery for the online content. I’m sure whatever service Nintendo go with, it will be beneficial to us their loyal fan base. When I say choice I mean aspects like external hard drive support, so we can choose if we want to download huge games, or import all of our titles to HD from disk. The “core” gamers, whom Nintendo have decided to win back, would have little problem with purchasing a third-party external device (which would be much cheaper than proprietary devices like Microsofts 360 hard drives) to store all their content. This feature need not worry casual gamers either. The disk space contained within Wii U itself should suffice their needs. If they choose to upgrade disk space they can do so without the need to purchase SD cards. which lack the raw capacity to fulfil the needs of modern gamers.
Nintendo want this console to be all about you: whoever you are and however you play. If there’s a company that can cover complex aspects of gaming and all areas, whilst streamlining it into an efficient, user friendly hub, then it is surely Nintendo. I want them to really show what they can do this generation, and I do not mean in terms of horsepower or graphical prowess. I’m talking in terms of understanding what the gamer wants, as well as the consumer. The introverted, do-as-we-say ways of old have to be cast aside. Nintendo must make Wii U the most versatile for gamers and user-friendly for consumers. Let’s say Grand Theft Auto V gets a release on PS3, 360, and Wii U. What would make you buy the Wii U version over the others, if your friends do not have Nintendo’s spanking-new console? Content, that’s what. How about a fully-functioning replay editor a la the PC version, where we can edit the replays using the Wii U tablet controller and watch them back on the big screen, before sharing them with friends via YouTube? This type of content may be simple in its theory, but the implications of such a move could be much more widespread than you think.
Gamers crave these extra little details to their experiences. Online DLC is all well and good, but when you have a feature like the tablet controller, it’s time to think outside the box in terms of what can be achieved: ideas that Sony and Microsoft simply cannot compete with. How about a Super Mario Bros. level editor? Again using the tablet in your hands to touch and move objects on screen, then jumping into your newly created level on the TV in front of you. How about then uploading your newly created masterpieces for your friends to play like Little Big planet? Nintendo have the most recognisable IPs in the gaming world. If they introduce user created content to these titles, then surely the “core” will be captivated and intrigued by what Nintendo can offer.
My own opinion is that we will more than likely see this type of functionality from Nintendo in the coming years. Instead of merely testing the waters, I believe Nintendo should dive headfirst and be the industry leaders in this area. They should move from Blue Ocean into what I would call “Clear Waters”– Where the consumer can do exactly what he or she wants with their console (besides hacking of course). Sony have gone to certain extents with this kind of thinking, with their Bluetooth compatibility for headsets, keyboards etc., but Nintendo can take the mantle with their head start on the next generation, and really cement their position as a company who caters to gamers and the wider population alike.
If Nintendo can pick up an existing online service, and combine it with their own virtual content (like the Virtual Console), then they would have every area covered. Combining a powerful online content and game delivery service with an open and adaptable hardware ethos would surely be a winning combination for the next generation. As I said earlier, Nintendo are the go-to company for finding solutions to the quandaries of modern gaming. They had a big success with Wii, but they need to adapt their philosophies in line with the changing face of the industry. Online content and user-defined hardware are two things which I believe will shape the future of gaming as well as the present. I look forward to E3, when we will know for sure where this great industry is heading.