wii woes, part 3

Nintendo has managed to correct its wrongs in recent years, but the list of things they’ve failed to do right is still considerable. With the Wii U, many old mistakes were learned from…and many new ones are in the process of being downplayed, if not ignored.

Part Tri Ultimate: Nintendo Network
Online gaming has been something of a mystery to Nintendo. In the 90s, a small but thriving community existed in the form of Satellaview. While the service’s user base never exceeded 120,000, it had a loyal core that helped keep it alive well into 2001, just 18 months before the debut of Xbox Live. In 1999, Nintendo launched RANDnet as a successor service to support the 64DD; unfortunately both failed.
Perhaps feeling burned by the winding down of Satellaview and the downfall of RANDnet, Nintendo refused to even consider the possibility of online gaming as they went into the sixth generation. While a broadband adapter was released for the Gamecube, only seven games supported it, and only four of those supported online play. The Gamecube’s online community–if it could be called that–scraped by, barely existing for about six years before Nintendo delivered a coup de grace in anticipation of the Wi-Fi Connection service.
But WFC was just another blundering stepping stone for Nintendo. The service wasn’t concieved until after the DS and Wii had reached the market, and the software was difficult to deploy to both platforms. Nintendo’s solution was to put it in the game cartridges, which only created more problems. With no centralized piece of data to rely on, it was necessary to make use of friend codes.
Oh yes, friend codes. Their legacy is so damning and tainted I won’t even go into it here.

With this generation Nintendo has made their first real attempt at creating an online service to compete with Microsoft and Sony. Behold, Nintendo Network. Finally, a service with a centralized profile, a messaging system, and the ability join online games in a manner similar to that on competing platforms.

But it’s still not quite enough. The Network lacks a real method of mass interactivity; the Miiverse seems to want to emulate environments like Sony’s Home, but is really just a visual representation of a message board. The board itself lacks many features that have been long integrated into even the most basic forums. Direct responses are not an option; one can only respond to the main post in a thread, and hope that anyone else addressed will see the message. The one function that is both unique to NN and useful is the ability to post a screenshot of a game to the forums. This is actually something I would love to see in other services.

The system is also heavily fragmented; Nintendo leaves virtually every aspect of it up to the publishers of each game. While this is great for publisher freedom, it means the user has a very inconsistent experience. Some games may support parties, some may support voice chat. There are no cross-game parties or chats. These are things that need to change for this service to compete.

Even headset support itself leaves much to be desired. There is no bluetooth support; only 3.5mm headsets will work, and even then coverage is spotty. Really the only good choices are Nintendo’s first-party headset or one made by Turtle Beach specifically for the Wii U. Even then, headsets can only be used with the gamepad, as the Pro Controller lacks a 3.5mm port. This all adds up to create a distinct impression of a colossal lack of planning. At the very least, adding a connector port to the Pro Controller would be greatly appreciated; Bluetooth headset support would be ideal, however unlikely.

From Nintendo’s point of view, the Network is a huge leap forward, bringing them closer to their competitors’ online gaming and social webs. From outside, though, it’s less significant. I would really call it a Planck step, personally. But it’s a step. Now if they can just take a few more…