miiwhatnow

My Nintendo and Miitomo finally reached the West the other day. For years Nintendo’s fans have endured outdated, sometimes badly-supported online systems, and finally the light has arrived to drive back the dark age.

Sometimes you just need a brighter bulb.

So far, My Nintendo is mostly a replacement for the long-beloved Club Nintendo. There are certainly some nice things in there: you can use points to get games at a discount, or get games for free outright, or get new digs for your Mii. Points can be earned by doing social activities like logging into the eShop or doing things in the Miitomo app, or by spending money on the eShop. So far, it feels like Nintendo is trying to be a facsimile of itself, and not entirely doing it well.

For one, coins are no longer awarded for registering games or doing surveys. No, you actually have to spend money on Nintendo’s eShop to get those “gold” coins that can later be spent on…other games. The loss of surveys particuarly irks me. They allowed for a channel of feedback from people who played the games to state what they did and didn’t like about those games, which could (hopefully) be used by developers to improve further releases. It was one of the few survey systems out there that actually rewarded the survey takers with something more concrete than a vague chance at winning an undefined prize. Not only was this communication allowed, it was encouraged…and now that’s gone. It’s a big loss in my mind. We’ll see how long that sticks.

Now there are three types of points, and three primary means of earning them. Miitomo points are earned through actions taken within the Miitomo app, such as making friends, answering survey questions and logging in. Platinum points come from slightly more meta activities like logging into the eShop and Miiverse, and linking a Nintendo Account to various social media. Gold points are only given in response to eShop purchases, and (thus far) can only be used to redeem games or discounts on games on the eShop. Everything is now broken down into categories…if you want something specific, you have to do something specific. Most notably, if you want an item with some real value (ie, a game), you ultimately must spend money for it.

This categorization alone isn’t something that concerns me. The rate of return, and relative value of these points, seems to be somewhat less than in the old Club Nintendo system. Super Mario Land 2 on the 3DS Virtual Console costs $3.99. It is listed as a My Nintendo reward for 35 points, making MN Gold points worth roughly 11 cents apiece. But to get 35 Gold points, you have to spend at least $30 on the eShop. Is it worth it to spend $30 just to get a $4 download for free? Of couse not, but it still puts it in “nice bonus” territory. You definitely don’t spend purely to get the freebies, unless you’re really that gullible, but it’s nice to get what amounts to a loyalty reward. But just to ruin the experience a little, physical purchases can no longer be registered to get points, only eShop purchases do. This cuts out a lot of people who prefer owning games on disc, and kind of turns this into a shit sandwich for them.

Now the rub: My Nintendo points don’t live forever. In fact, they have a rather short shelf life of six months. Yes, you have half a year to use up those points before they vanish forever. I get the impetus to drive customers to “use it or lose it”, but this just feels barbaric to me. It reminds me of retail store gift cards that would expire, sometimes within a year, whether they were used or not. Of course, this isn’t an entirely comparable situation, as these points are very much not intended to fill the role of a gift card. But it’s still kind of dickish. Then again, it will depend entirely on how often the virtual stock of the My Nintendo rewards rotates.

I still can’t quite figure out Miitomo. It’s like Nintendo tried to make their version of PlayStation Home, except it doesn’t have the big persistent lobby. Or they wanted to reinvent The Sims via the Wii U dashboard. I don’t know. It’s weird. Other than the odd activities like dressing your Sim Mii, what really confuses and irritates me is the lack of social integration. Well, not even that…there is social integration in the app, but not with Nintendo’s own social network. What?

Among the swell of hopes and promises of this sea change, many anticipated the arrival of a modern account system, something Nintendo has had trouble grasping over the past decade as Microsoft and Sony passed it by. While they’ve made strides with the web-accessible eShop, purchases are still heavily tied to hardware rather than accounts, making replacing a broken console a tedious and frustrating process. But Miitomo seems to have been concieved in a bizarre quantum state, a mix of old and new, lacking most of the advantages of both.

When you first launch the app, you can login via your Nintendo Network account, and then link the two together. This is an obvious move, being that all these things fall well within Nintendo’s ecosystem. The next obvious move would be effectively tying Miitomo and NN accounts together, making your friend list accessible from the app, right? Not in Nintendo’s world. Not only does Miitomo not give you direct and immediate access to your friend list, you cannot add friends via Nintendo Network IDs. Only three methods are available: the first two involve linking Miitomo to your Twitter or Facebook acount, which will trigger the app to search for friends who are also on Miitomo. The last method involves phones being in physical proximity to each other. I get that Nintendo wants people to be social, and that’s nice, but this is kind of a ridiculous method to rely on for something that’s intended to be internet-based. Oddly, there is a screen to generate a QR code, which you can distribute to people to scan in via their phones, but this does not function as a friend-adding mechanism; rather it only adds their Mii to your app. What exactly this does, I have no idea, and I find it rather pointless.

But still, Nintendo…why? Why isn’t there some cross-functionality with Nintendo Network? PSN and Xbox Live let users buy games, manage friends message people and organize groups from any point of the holy trinity of console, smartphone and PC. Nintendo saw this, and decided it needed to catch up…but then stopped somewhere along the way, presumably to talk about another Star Fox Zero video or reference its long history as a card company. It looks like they still have some studying to do. Or maybe even more changes are in store, and they’re just keeping them as pleasant surprises for now.

Let’s hope.

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