Friday, January 27, 2012

Nintendo Network

Nintendo's investors meeting just passed, and with it came a ton of statements from the big man Iwata himself. A lot of interesting things this time around: from the announcement that their next console, the Wii U, would be released towards the end of 2012, that the final product may not even be called the Wii U at all, lots of sales figures showing positive growth for 3DS, projected earnings losses for the past year, and this year's games to look forward to. A ton of games.

But by far the most interesting was the mention of Nintendo Network (top pic); Nintendo's own step into the online world which the other console makers have inhabited for years now. Typical of them to be late to the party, but better late than never!

The details Nintendo were willing to disclose about the new service are:
  • Free and paid DLC (downloadable content) for 3DS and Wii U games, the first of which will be Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, in which you can download extra songs online
  • Digital distribution of physical copies of games, much like what Sony was gunning for when it launched the PSPGo and subsequently ran both physical and digital in tandem
  • Personal accounts, so family members can share games
  • Games to make use of online networks, like in Mario Kart 7's Communities, which are usergroups that can be set up so everyone in it can race together easily.
I'm actually quite stoked about the idea of Nintendo finally offering downloadable content, so hopefully it comes at a reasonable price and will not seem like an attempt to rip anyone off like in cartridge-locked content that has to be paid for. Current DLC packs for most games, for me anyway (I'm a stingy bastard when it comes to digital downloads), are still too pricey. A costume pack in Marvel vs Capcom 3 for $5, which add virtually no functionality to the game? I'd pay that price for an extra character or two, but not extra aesthetics that go to waste because all your attention is focused on fighting instead of marveling the new threads. Nintendo's DLC better be worth the money, and storage problems need to be solved as well.

Even more so because of their plan to offer digital downloads. Everyone in Nintendo 5-Star is mixed on the issue; some view it as a blessing because digital downloads cost less to produce than physical copies, others don't think so because they're more inconvenient to share around and hard drive space is always limited, more so on a Nintendo console. If things go the way they should, Nintendo would end up with a tandem strategy of selling physical copies and digital downloads as well like Sony is doing, which is win-win for both sides of the argument. Personally I'll still stick to physical. Call me old-fashioned but it just feels more secure to me. Having a physical copy means the game is in your hands for good. A digital one runs the risk of being deleted at any time and you can't lend it to your friend or little brother or whatever who wants to try the game out. Legally speaking lending games to others is frowned upon but with Nintendo being so community-based and family friendly, will this strategy work?

Also for the Wii U, we are planning to introduce a personal account system compatible with Nintendo Network. With this, for example, the ease of using a video game system when the hardware is shared by multiple family members, which has been a challenge we needed to tackle, shall be improved, and we will also be able to construct and offer the system by combining a variety of different services and content. ~Satoru Iwata

Which is why the 3rd point excites me. Profiles for each family member so they can access the same games as you? It would work on the Wii U regardless as everyone uses one console anyway, but I really hope for something like this to be implemented on portables as well. Something that links a few 3DSes together and then digital games can be transferred freely to and fro between them, for family usage. It's exploitable, but that's the only way I can see digital downloads as being slightly more appealing, cause currently they seem like a legally bound, cold area of gaming to me. I'm sure the console makers can figure this one out, maybe extra security measures or something.

The problem now is as I mentioned above, other console makers have been in the online space for years and are more hands-on experienced in it, while Nintendo is just starting out. What does Nintendo have to make its own online offering relevant? What does Nintendo plan to do to entice those already accustomed to online networks on other consoles to support their own? What does Nintendo offer that its competition still doesn't? Nintendo being late to the party is fine, but if it's a party that no one has interest in joining then they are still in trouble in terms of online.

Not to say there's no hope though, we've always trusted Nintendo to pull off miraculous things when we least expect it (well, except for the bloody Friend Code system which is being phased out to much fanfare). No matter how they decide to improve from here on it's definitely going to look better than Nintendo's current online service. The only question is how much better. Good luck there!
blog comments powered by Disqus