With the GameCube having a shambolic online ‘service’ Nintendo promised big things for the DS and even more so with the Wii. So far, they have failed to live up to the hype, so just what is going on?
When Nintendo rolled out the Wi-Fi Connection for the DS a couple of years back everyone hailed it as the second coming of the messiah. It was a free to use, wireless, reliable and easy to access online service for a portable gaming system - and people loved it. In Metroid Prime Hunters Nintendo gave us online voice chat, lobbies and all sorts of other extras, but fast forward to today, and the online aspect of the DS is looking a little sparse. Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis used the Wi-Fi Connection a bit, but in all honesty the online fun has really started to dry up.
When the Wii was announced with a Wi-Fi link up and WiiConnect24 everyone thought Nintendo had finally embraced the online world, but we’re still waiting. Whilst sending messages and checking the weather and news is all well and good, the gaming experience of Nintendo’s online strategy on the Wii is yet to take off. Last week I suggested a WiiWorld Channel might be a good way for Nintendo to go, so this week I’ll be doing a bit of speculating as to what the online future for the company will hold.
Some people call it overpriced, but the Wii Virtual Console is a superb addition to the system. Not only is it a steady revenue stream for Nintendo, it keeps people using the online service and it keeps them using their Wii systems to do new things. On top of that, it has opportunity for expansion. Nintendo have already promised that the Wii Shop Channel is also meant for unique and original content, not just retro rehashes. So far, this is yet to materialise, but I can see it appearing very soon.
A lot of people have been enjoying flash based games on the Wii’s Opera Browser, but they certainly have their limitations. Nintendo have always been about innovation and fun, so why not start releasing some quirky little mini-games through the Wii Shop Channel. Open it up to indie developers and the like, run competitions to get games featured on it and really start to push it as a major prong of the Wii’s online strategy. Shove in some online scoreboards and everyone will be happy.
Nintendo need to be more progressive in their online strategy, but if I’m honest I think they are a bit scared. The security issue is a major one for Nintendo in their lovely family-orientated world, but I’m sure they can work around that. The difference between the online services of the Wii and the XBOX 360 and the PS3 comes down to the games. Super Smash Bros Brawl, Mario Kart Wii, Batallion Wars II and Mario Strikers: Charged. Colourful, fun and unique to Nintendo. If Nintendo are really willing to go with the online service and have a Wii Online Channel as well to ‘hub’ it all together, then they will have a very powerful selling point. At the moment, what they have is a bit naff.
The ambition for an excellent online service simply doesn’t seem to be there. Why isn’t Excite Truck online? Or Mario Party 8? Why isn’t WiiConnect24 being used in games more? All of this adds up to the kind of half baked strategy that the old Nintendo used to be so good at. Whilst the online service on the DS started off excellently a lack of must have titles in quite some time has lead to it losing momentum. Every other aspect of the Wii and DS strategy is going rather well then, so perhaps I should stop complaining?
According to sources, third party companies will start to release Wii titles with major online functionality during 2008, leaving 2007 to focus on getting quality titles that make good use of the Wii hardware. EA have done this excellently well and other companies are following suit with some very promising titles being lined up. From this perspective, I think perhaps it is a wise move for Nintendo to delay the online prong of the Wii plan. Developers need time to get used to the Wii hardware, and online functionality would only act as an added distraction. I’m not saying it is an excuse, it is a genuine reason.
It is clear Nintendo do have plans to take games online, they have spoken about it in the past, they have signed up GameSpy to help take it online in a major way, but at the moment everything is a bit of a mystery. I wouldn’t expect Nintendo to break their silence any-time soon either. Whilst Reggie stated that the Wii’s online service would ‘roll out’ from Q2 2007, I’d expect it to start to finally get into the full swing of things as 2008 arrives. In all reality, Nintendo’s silence probably speaks volumes. The world of online gaming isn’t important to them, not yet anyway.
Whatever the case, Nintendo are going to need to have a very strong online strategy in place. Whilst they keep on saying how the Wii is about gaming being ‘sociable’ and ‘for the whole family’ they are going to rely an awful lot on sales from the sort of people who like to play games online. If they fail to compete with XBOX Live in their own unique and Wii-styled way, Nintendo will have made a major mistake.
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