Oh Nintendo. Why doth thou remain in the dark ages of online connectivity? Anyone who has ever played online using Nintendo’s Wi-Fi connection will know that (compared to other consoles) it is akin to finding your way down a dark corridor in a medieval castle. The tall, dour stone walls surround you as you traverse passage ways lit by the flickering flames of olde worlde torch lights that clumsily guide you to your destination. If you take a glimpse out of the caged window, you may see the bright beaming spotlights and nuclear fuelled electric charges of your neighbours’ PS3 or Xbox360, as they ease down the brightly lit corridors towards gaming goodness with friends online. It’s like living in the Twilight Zone, a parallel universe with only a window to the modern world. Stuck for eternity in a bygone age, as your friends play and interact within the modern world of gaming.
Okay, so you get my (slightly exaggerated) point here. When it comes to online play Nintendo is way, way behind the pack and needs to adapt. Fast. What’s that you say? 3DS has improved the experience with only one friend code per system (instead of per game!) Well I should hope so! For too long, Nintendo has somehow managed to get by with its clunky, poorly implemented online system (especially on Wii) which puts gamers, who want to play with their friends online , through a rigorous procedure of system and friend codes before they can play together. Newer games, may only use the console code (doing away with friend codes) but the whole system needs a major overhaul in my opinion.
Multiplayer experiences with friends and family have always been at the forefront of Nintendo’s thinking since the days of NES. Even introducing robotic buddies (or R.O.B), for ’80s kids who were more into the cybernetic variety of friend, over the old skool flesh and bone people of yesteryear. Nintendo 64 expanded upon the premise of social gaming with four controller ports, which almost spoon fed GoldenEye multiplayer matches into our willing palms. There was no better place to game with friends during the late ’90s early ’00s than Nintendo’s readily equipped multi-player ready systems. So what changed?
Nintendo’s flagship service needs to be taken to the next level.
Nintendo failed to meet with the demand for online, either by choice or ignorance. Microsoft and Sony wet their toes in the pool of ideas for online services with the PS2 and Xbox respectively. Both companies subsequently dived head first into an ocean of online content and gaming, with the release of PS3 and Xbox360. Nintendo’s comparatively timid explorations with online for GameCube, was followed up with a seemingly large splash into the online world with their Wi-Fi Connection Service which launched to much hype with Mario Kart DS in 2005. Nintendo fans the world over thought this would be the start of something great, all out online action against friends the world over after all it’s Nintendo, the forefathers of multiplayer goodness. How wrong we were. Aforementioned friend codes, underpowered hardware and a blatant disregard for the growing online market, meant Nintendo isolated true gamers who wanted the type of experiences Xbox and Sony owners took for granted. Casual gamers were not interested in competitive play with fellow casual gamers and so by default neither were Nintendo.
How could Nintendo screw up something so inherently suited to online play like Super Smash Bros. Brawl? In my experience with the game (which I have had since launch) the amount of games that I have played through without crashing or timing out can be counted on one hand, easily. This is no exaggeration; finding other players was hard enough and I gave up on the online multiplayer a long time ago with. Mario Kart Wii on the other hand is a pleasure to play. I can find races quickly, there are always people on, and the gameplay is lag free. Mario Kart Wii is truly a joy to play online, and is the only Wii game I have played which matches the attributes of online gaming on rival systems. Inconsistencies like this are the bane of online existence and need to be ironed out before Nintendo’s online service can progress. These are two first party titles, so they should offer across the board experiences without the differing levels of playability that they actually offer. Hopefully Nintendo knows this, and they can make it all better with their next console, Wii U. Having discussed the ghosts of online past and present let’s think about what the future for Nintendo may hold in the, now highly competitive, online console domain.
Bringing the industry standard expectations of services like PSN and Xbox Live to Wii U is essential for Nintendo’s success. Courting the true gamers, (as well as casual) means that Nintendo must offer us titles, and online experiences, that are consistent with of the opposition or better. In my opinion, Wii U will be Nintendo’s first real attempt at “true” online gaming across the board. Wii gave us a poorly thought out, user un-friendly interface that we must toil with to get access to (generally) sub—par online efforts. This means that come 2012 Wii U will be seven years behind 360’s Xbox Live (in its current form) and six behind Sony’s PlayStation Network.
For this reason, I am going to stick my neck out and say Nintendo will not charge for their online gaming service. If Nintendo released a statement tomorrow, announcing that from now on, Nintendo Wi-Fi connection on Wii would be a subscription service like Xbox Live, then the world would tremble with the sound and impact of people rolling around in laughter at the very thought of paying for such a dire, out-dated service. Nintendo has everything to prove in its online offerings and asking people to pay for the service on Wii U would be a massive risk considering most gamers have (correctly) formed negative opinions of the company’s current offerings.
Sony may just get away with such a move for their next console, but if Nintendo attempted the same thing then no-one would bite and it could, potentially, be devastating for sales of the console. Eradicating the cursed friend, console and any other twelve, sixteen, or however many digit codes is the next demon Nintendo must slay. Just stick to gamer tags, Nintendo. What on earth is wrong with the simple name system PSN and XBOX Live have incorporated into their massively successful services? Answer. Nothing. Nintendo’s online privacy phobia is personified by the dreaded friend and console codes. Do away with this torturous method of playing something which should be enjoyable, and usher in a modern world that most gamers bought into back in 2005.
Nintendo have done the right thing with monetising games and content for the 3DS shop. Hopefully this will be carried forward into the Wii U and will give the Big N a much needed one up over Microsoft’s ridiculous points system. Keeping the online aspect of Wii U open to developers is essential to Nintendo, and in my view for general future online service’s for consoles. Sony has the right idea in letting other developers (e.g. Valve with Steam) use their PSN service as a hub for content and communities which may not have formed on the console otherwise. Microsoft is very closed minded at the moment with this sort of content and it is an area that Nintendo can pick up on and run with, to help prove their one time introverted image is truly behind them.
All of these ideas ultimately pale into insignificance when compared to the most important component of online play: Games themselves. Can anyone think of a good reason why New Super Mario Bros. Wii does not have online four player co—op? No? Thought not. I mean, it is ridiculous! And no amount of excuses can detract from the fact that it comes across as plain lazy from Nintendo not to include such a function. This is exactly the sort of thing which needs to be sorted out for Wii U. Games which so obviously cry out and beg for online multiplayer support such as Mario titles (even Mario Party games) should not be neglected. Nintendo must shake off this dazed, vacant expression, which is etched onto the company’s face, whenever someone mentions online services. Bringing a new service which is open, up to date, accessible and free must be priorities for the team alongside developing AAA content, we know they are capable of producing.
It boggles the mind as to why Nintendo is still way behind with their online package. Bringing a comprehensive online offering with the most recognisable and lauded games the industry can offer would be a no-brainer to most developers in the world today, though for some reason is something Nintendo is yet to pick up on, and turn into gold. We can only sit, wait and hope that Nintendo answers our prayers and expectations with the release of Wii U, as the burgeoning online world of 3DS also starts to take off. However I remain cautious, on the chances of all these ideas (if any) coming to fruition, given Nintendo’s track record. Although this time I get the feeling it will mean more than ever before to Nintendo and could make or break the Wii U once it is released to the online hungry, core gamers clamouring for something new to feed on. For now we must theorize, safe in the knowledge there is only a year left to wait until we know for sure what the future holds.