Does Nintendo have the resources ready to compete?
As Nintendo prepares to enter the next console cycle, one of its biggest hurdles is developing a competent online network. Nintendo must overcome not only a lack of experience but also its competitors’ entrenched user base. The gaming giant is no doubt making deliberate efforts to stay competitive. It recently hired Duncan Orrell-Jones to fill the newly formed position of senior vice president of Network Business, and in an investor meeting, chief executive Satoru Iwata announced that Wii U‘s online services will be free.
Nintendo’s inexperience is a major concern, and it shows. In an interview with IGN, Shigeru Miyamoto revealed that Pikmin 3 would not support online multiplayer, explaining that ”since you would have lots of individual, small creatures, the Pikmin, whose every movement and location is going to be really important in the game, it would be very difficult to sync up over an internet connection.” This is hardly an acceptable excuse, considering that real-time strategy games have supported online multiplayer for over a decade.
However, quite possibly Nintendo’s biggest challenge is reconciling the inherent incompatibilities between online gaming networks and its family-friendly reputation. At a recent Q&A session, Iwata said, “Parents and grandparents view our products as good products to buy for their children and grandchildren without any concerns.” Upholding this reputation while creating an online network with open communication between its users, which can quickly become a breeding ground for abuse and obscenity, is a tricky balancing act.
As such, Nintendo told GamesIndustry International that Miiverse will not integrate with Facebook or Twitter. While this may reflect Nintendo’s lack of understanding (or motivation to understand) social media, it’s more likely that Nintendo wants to make sure that Miiverse stays small and internal enough to regulate and control. In fact, Nintendo plans to intensely moderate Miiverse, requiring that every message be audited by a human, a process that could take up to 30 minutes. This is a clear example of Nintendo making sacrifices to Miiverse features in favor of safety.
That said, Wii U will offer certain online features that are quite progressive, especially for Nintendo. For example, Wii U will facilitate the free-to-play business model. Iwata said, “We have designed the system from a technical standpoint to allow developers to freely take advantage of things like free to play and micro transactions.” While free-to-play titles such as DC Universe Online and the upcoming Dust 514 do exist on PS3, they’re few and far between.
Furthermore, Nintendo told IGN that it plans to sell digital copies of first and third party Wii U games on the same day as their retail counterparts. Again, while similar functionality has appeared on PSN, it’s relatively rare. Microsoft, on the other hand, has no plans to sell digital games on launch day. Xbox Live product manager Pav Bhardwaj told MCV that “We don’t do Games on Demand on day one, we focus on boxed retail for day one. That’s where our focus has always been and will remain that way for the foreseeable future … That’s our model and we’ll be sticking to that.”
Wii U’s built in touch pad also comes with some inherent benefits for online functionality. Typing with a touch screen is far easier than navigating an on-screen keyboard with a traditional controller. This would make messaging more convenient, barring any 30 minute delays. Moreover, the second screen could be used to display scoreboards and leaderboards, or to more easily navigate through often cumbersome digital marketplace menus.
Nintendo’s commitment to maintaining its family friendly image may prevent it from competing directly with Microsoft and Sony’s online offerings, but if Nintendo successfully circumvents that competition, it could provide an online network that is compelling for different reasons. While its inexperience is troubling, some of Nintendo’s online plans are in fact quite progressive, and the Wii U’s hardware could offer some unique functionality.
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