Will Nintendo Screw Online Gamers Again?

Will Nintendo Screw Online Gamers Again?

Between poor connections, the under-realized Wii Connect 24, and Wii owners having to endure the tedium of Friend Codes, Nintendo has never been praised for traversing the cutting edge of online gaming. Next to Xbox Live Arcade and even the troubled PlayStation Network, going online with the Wii is something of a joke.

But maybe Nintendo just needed to see with its own eyes that online gaming and digital stores are a non-negotiable part of gaming’s future. After all, the Wii was released at a time when online and HD gaming had yet to prove itself to the mainstream, so Nintendo had decided to err on the side of simplicity and affordability. The Wii U’s online capabilities will catch up to the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3, right? Maybe it will go beyond?

Nintendo, being Nintendo, isn’t offering up a firm answer at this point, and what little information they are offering doesn’t inspire confidence for online-happy gamers. In June, Shigeru Miyamoto told MTV Multiplayer that the Wii U will not try to dominate Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network.

“We’re not going to sit here and say that our goal is to become the number one online gaming company, because that’s not our goal,” Miyamoto said.

Cue sighs, groans, and complaints about how Nintendo still won’t take online gaming seriously, even though its draw has been proven over and over again. Our fears are valid: Nintendo is (in)famous for going its own way as far as gaming trends are concerned. “Gosh darn it, Nintendo,” we cry, “why won’t you just conform?

However, we shouldn’t be too quick to despair that Nintendo won’t take online gaming seriously with the Wii U. The remainder of Miyamoto’s discussion with MTV Multiplayer (via Industry Gamers) indicates that Nintendo has some very interesting plans for the Wii U’s online capabilities–different plans from what we’ve become used to with Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network. And moving in a different direction from the competition is not the same thing as overlooking online gaming entirely.

“[U]nderstanding that the types of experiences our consumers like to play do often contain elements to them that can be improved or may even require an online connection,” Miyamoto said, “and also knowing that the system is going to have a browser I think suggests that obviously internet and internet connectivity is going to be very important for the system.”

Nintendo is still brainstorming ideas for how the Wii U might perform online, and some of those ideas are intriguing. “For example, there are opportunities to take advantage of online to expand a local, same-room multiplayer experience by connecting that to the internet and making new types of play that way,” Miyamoto said. “Also by having the smaller screen, being able to go online and perhaps see what game your friend is playing or see what TV they’re watching, I think there’s a lot of possibilities for how you could use that. Certainly internet functionality is something that will be important for the system.”

Imagine not only being able to see what your friends are playing, but being able to watch them as they play. Depending on your viewpoint, that’s either really cool or really creepy. Either way, Miyamoto’s statement reveals that Nintendo isn’t letting online slide by them this time around, even if the company opts to go in a different direction from Microsoft and Sony.

Of course, when Nintendo is in the equation, not everything can be straightforward. Miyamoto also told MTV Multiplayer that Nintendo is still committed to providing a family-friendly environment for online gamers of all ages–which, likely as not, means more messing around with Friend Codes (siiiigh). Even though the Nintendo 3DS’s system-specific Friend Codes make it easier to maintain your Friend List than it has been with past Nintendo systems, it’s inconvenient to have to chase people down and make sure they add your code to their own roster.

It’s understandable that Nintendo wants to maintain its family-friendly image, but the company simply can’t be expected to protect its userbase from the perils of the Internet–especially if it hopes to recapture its core audience. At some point, Nintendo has to let go and realize that big boys and girls like to game, and that minors should be policed by their parents. In fact, Nintendo could compromise by offering strict parental controls on the Wii U for families that decide to use them.

If Nintendo doesn’t grant us our online freedom, then it won’t do the company much good to take the Wii U’s online functionality seriously: At this rate, gamers will be the ones who won’t take it seriously.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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