Finally, after six years of waiting, Nintendo will have a platform that can at least compete with Xbox Live and PlayStation Network. What sorcery do I speak of? The recently announced Nintendo Network, that’s what! But with so much time and opportunity passed since the launch of the current generation, is it a case of too little too late for the big N?
The short but accurate answer to this quandary is no: Not at all. Although the idea of selling various mediums through online functionality has been around for quite some time, it has only really taken off during this current generation’s life cycle. Microsoft are the (console-based) pioneers, and leaders of, online functionality and services. Their Xbox Live service is the model that both Sony and now Nintendo will try to emulate. There is no denying the success Microsoft have had with Xbox Live, and no matter how much you may dislike the way Microsoft go about their business, you have to admit they have taken online console gaming out of the dark ages, and elevated it to an integral part of today’s gaming experience.
Of course, we all realise that Nintendo have not been quite so quick to latch on to this. Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection serves its (very limited) purpose adequately, but the time has come to move onwards and upwards, and give their loyal fan base what they need. A fully fledged community of gamers who can interact with each other, purchase games and content, all packaged into a neat, tidy service that is adaptable and future proof.
Nintendo Network is the new service that the big N are running with. It will offer personal accounts (or profiles) for each Wii U console, have an infrastructure ready to deliver digital content, whether it be full software releases or apps, but most importantly it will be the hub for gamer communities, much like the ones found in Mario Kart 7. Wii U must push core games for this type of service to work, before introducing casual games to the format (much like what is happening right now with 3DS software). Communities are built by people who are dedicated to them, and you don’t get a much more dedicated bunch of people than gamers!
If a solid foundation can be built which creates, captivates and retains a loyal fan base then Nintendo Network can truly be something special. As I mentioned in my last article, the inventiveness that Nintendo deliver is perfect for the online space that today’s consoles can offer. I’m sure that Nintendo will bring new and exciting functionality to Wii U and 3DS through Nintendo Network, and if they succeed then third parties will surely follow suit.
The confirmation that Nintendo will be supporting personal accounts for Wii U, means they will (hopefully) be doing away with the ridiculously over protective friend codes. Nintendo are finally realising that it is us the gamers and consumers who must set the standard for what we require, and not be dictated to. In my last article I spoke of an open “clear waters” way of thinking towards Nintendo’s online content and indeed Wii U itself. I believe that come E3 Nintendo will reveal the most personalised online experience of any console to date. You can make as much or as little as you like from it, which will also fit in with their multiple accounts per system format that they have taken up for the console. So the gamers in the family can have a distinctly different online world and experience from the more casual members who may want to restrict certain aspects or functionality of Nintendo Network.
I think Nintendo have watched Microsoft and Sony and realised their oversight of the online market. A business model which heavily incorporates downloadable digital distribution has enormous benefits to Nintendo and third parties alike. You may have read about the tug-of-war between second hand game retailers and video game developers over whether or not we will even be able to play used games on Microsoft’s next console. My view is that the idea of a chip blocking used games is both immeasurably draconian in its very essence, but also highly unlikely. Much more likely is the outcome of a chip that will block online content for those of us who purchase used games (rather than the whole game). However the argument brings to light some interesting facts about games that are digitally distributed.
We cannot sell on our downloaded content; we are stuck with it, for better or worse, with no way to pass on unwanted titles, and thus the developer loses no money through resale. Now whether you agree with this model or not, it is likely that this will be the future of gaming as we know it. Digitally downloaded titles also offer another intriguing factor, especially for console manufacturers. They give a greater sense of attachment to your chosen console. Think about it. If you download twenty or so full games onto your HD then you are much less likely to sell on your console and buy a rival’s machine. There is no way of recouping the money you have spent, and the larger amount of titles accumulated the greater the sense (subconsciously or not) of attachment you will feel towards your chosen console.
If Nintendo play their carefully picked cards right, then they can be on to something big. The recent announcement that Wii U controller will incorporate NFC or “near field communication” is another large step in the right direction. Whilst this term may not be known on a global level, it is already quite big in Japan, with more and more devices incorporating the technology, including (allegedly) the iPhone 5. NFC is basically a radio communication between devices which has a number of uses. The range of the signal is small (usually a few centimetres) which makes it ideal for sensitive data transactions and purchases. One way NFC could be used would be to buy digital content without the need to use your credit or debit card, by connecting your phone to Wii U and purchasing online goods, for example, or by simply swiping a pre-paid card over the Wii U’s controller. Of course Nintendo is already talking about using NFC for more than this and incorporating it into games the same way 3DS has AR card functionality.
We are at an exciting crossroads for the big N, in terms of what their focus will be for the course of the next generation. Of course if you were to ask Nintendo this question it is more than likely their answer will be somewhere along the lines of “everyone.” But realistically the online market place is the main area they need to make up ground on. It is clear that gamers want digital content more and more, and Nintendo will not want to be left behind when it comes to the next generation’s online offerings.
Nintendo Network, NFC and the Wii U controller seem to have a large amount of bases covered in this respect. Nintendo are actively thinking about what us, the gamer needs. If we compare how much we know about Wii U against how much we knew about the original Wii, the difference is like night and day. Nintendo are being a lot more open about their plans– maybe not their console’s specs– but about what they aim to deliver during the next generation. The foundations of online gaming are still being set. Nintendo need to have a structure in place to reinforce their own position in the market, and it is heartening to see them taking the online domain so seriously this time around.
I, for one, am looking forward to Nintendo’s offerings more and more as each month passes, and a new slither of detail is released. Nintendo Network may not be a major revolution in gaming, but it is exactly what the company needs to win back some of the doubters and abandoners from this generation (myself included). Whilst digital distribution has its downfalls and flaws, it is undoubtedly the future of the industry in one form or another, and can maximise the revenue from consumers across the board. If Nintendo can strike a balance between the good and bad of digital distribution then they will have a mighty healthy head start as we enter the next generation of consoles.