Nintendo likes to go at its own pace when it comes to technology upgrades. They brought us Wiimotes to waggle around our lounge rooms before there was the PS3 Move. But now it is time for Nintendo to play catch up with the announcement of the Nintendo Network putting up its hand to compete with Xbox Live and PlayStation Network.
Nintendo President Satoru Iwata announced:
“Unlike Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, which has been focused upon specific functionalities and concepts… we are aiming to establish a platform where various services available through the network for our consumers shall be connected via Nintendo Network service so that the company can make comprehensive proposals to consumers.”
The system will be a full online network with actual personal accounts for each user and online communities (like the one in Mario Kart 7). On the Wii and DS, Nintendo does not allow individual user accounts like Xbox Live (XBL) or PlayStation Network (PSN). Instead, users can only play together by trading long numerical codes attached to their consoles. Because of this, the Wii and DS online presence has been an annoyance to set up and near impossible to tolerate.
Through current/previous iterations, gamers have had to trade 16-digit friend codes, access limitations and all round low levels of support from Nintendo. Previously purchasing online through the Wii Shop Channel has been an annoyance at best. Having to buy Nintendo Points with a credit card that you must re-enter each time it goes wrong can be frustrating. I understand Nintendo’s desire to protect their users and avoid the problems that Sony faced with having users credit card numbers stolen, but there must be an easier way.
Downloadable content (DLC) should be available for the Wii U as it has been for the Nintendo 3DS. However, Iwata pointed out that Nintendo has no plans to copy the FarmVille business model of claiming games to be free then trying to hit users up for money to ‘enhance’ the experience.
The Nintendo Network shall provide matchmaking for games such as Mario Kart 7, add-on content such as DLC or Downloadable Games and Personal Accounts for the Wii U. Hopefully we get to see game demos and trailers downloadable as well to bring it closer to XBL and PSN.
Iwata says that Nintendo is ready to sell full games via download on the new Network. Both the 3DS and Wii U will be capable of this in the future. A potential hurdle for an amazing idea like this is that Nintendo still plans to rely on SD cards as the main way for customers to store purchased content and game saves. This is a far different approach than Microsoft and Sony are taking. Both the Xbox 360 (most of its models) and PS3 are equipped with large hard drives for storing downloadable or installed games.
This could go either way as it would take users a very long time to download games (especially in some areas of the world), which will likely be 5-50GB or so in next gen consoles. This would also bring another area into the debate of game ownership and second-hand games.
If you’re a Nintendo fanboy/fangirl, this may shape up to be a great year. The Nintendo Network will be a vast improvement to anything offered on the Wii or GameCube. Hopefully, it will also have a robust apps store that allows for open development, integration with current generation of smartphone/tablet apps and has features like saving games to the cloud. I wouldn’t mind being able to go back to old saves years later. Such as the Mass Effect save file I lost when my Xbox 360 got the Red Ring of Death.