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Wii Pay and Play - one of Nintendo’s cleverest ever moves?

This year’s Game Developer’s conference was a fairly quiet affair where Nintendo was concerned, but if there was one announcement that was going to ruffle the feathers of players, it was the confirmation that the firm would - after years of offering it for nothing - be charging players for the privilege of playing certain Wii titles online thanks to Wii Pay and Play. Although many see this as Nintendo jumping late onto a bandwagon that they surely couldn’t afford to miss, could making the decision at this point in time in particular, as well as factoring in some of the firm’s pre-existing marketing tactics, be one of the cleverest it has ever made?

There is no doubting that Microsoft’s Xbox Live service, first launched in 2002 for the original Xbox console and carried on with the Xbox 360) has set the benchmark for online gaming where home consoles are concerned. Its growth has not been without its fair share of problems, but all in all it has proven to be a massively popular and successful business practice for Microsoft, developers and gamers. Nintendo’s main console competitor at the time, the GameCube, also arrived with the possibility of online play via its Modem or BroadBand Adapter, but Nintendo never looked comfortable at the prospect and only four, third party-only games ever supported it (most notably the Phantasy Star Online franchise).

Fast forward a whole three years later to Nintendo and its intention to launch the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection for the Nintendo DS, a service that allowed gamers to experience the likes of Mario Kart DS, Tetris DS and Animal Crossing with players throughout the world - and unlike Xbox Live’s subscription service, it would all be provided free if charge. “It’s no secret that we didn’t invent the concept of online gaming, but we do intend to reinvent it,” explained Nintendo’s Reggie Fils-Aime at 2005’s E3 Expo in anticipation of the service’s launch late that same year.

It turned out that a free Nintendo Wi-Fi service proved to have great pulling power; so much so, that by May 2007 over 5 million Nintendo DS owners had connected to it, clocking up over 200 million gameplay sessions across 65 different titles. By comparison, Xbox Live had attracted 6 million (fee paying and non-fee-paying) members by the same point in time, despite a significant head start.

With the success of online gaming in the handheld gaming sphere secured, gamers waited with baited breath to see just what Nintendo had up its sleeve with the arrival of the Nintendo Wii. The little white box launched in December 2006, but nothing (in terms of player versus player gaming) was made available until the arrival of Pokemon Battle Revolution in May 2007. Since then the likes of Mario Strikers Charged, Madden NFL 08 and Battalion Wars 2 have proven that Nintendo isn’t averse to providing a net-based multiplayer experience on Wii, but clearly nothing to the extent of what is available on rival machines. Take, for example, the omission of online play from the multi-format titles such as SEGA Superstar Tennis, Medal of Honor: Heroes 2 and Mortal Kombat Armageddon and you begin to see what we’re getting at.

Nevertheless, online gaming on Wii is still all provided for free, but disregarding the disc-based shenanigans and its really it is the Weather, News and Internet Browser Channels and, crucially, the Virtual Console that has kept a significantly large proportion of Wii owners in touch with the console’s online capabilities. Checking the latest headlines, weather forecast or exchanging pleasantries via the Wii Message Board pale in comparison to the impact of the Virtual Console, so they do.

Not only has Nintendo successfully managed to keep gamers hooked by drip-feeding them with a small selection of retrograde videogame titles each week, but the simplicity of the service (enhanced by its user-friendly layout) has buttered Wii owners up when it comes to parting with Wii Points. Call us daft, but isn’t purchasing items from the Wii Shop and Virtual Console a strangely enjoyable experience in itself, helped largely, no doubt, by the mesmerising music? We know that a lot of people agree, with Nintendo announcing in October 2007 that more than 7.8 million games had been downloaded. That equals a staggering rate of more 1,000 an hour, maths fans.

And so we come to WiiWare – Nintendo’s answer to Xbox Live Marketplace, where developers are encouraged to create original, downloadable games that be distributed at the fraction of the cost of disc-based titles. With the Virtual Console a massively successful litmus test as to how susceptible Wii owners would be to downloading content and developers flocking to WiiWare’s inviting structure for independent software houses, it seems as if it won’t have any trouble at all in getting off the ground.

Look at Super Mario Bros. (a game they may have owned in various forms in the past). If hundreds of thousands of gamers are willing to fork out for it again, the chances that they might want to own brand new content from Nintendo and an array of other developers on WiiWare is greatly increased. More importantly, gamers young and old, new and experienced, know how to do it without confusion and are happy to do so with the Wii Points currency – something that many Wii owners will testify is easier to spend than a wad of notes on a foreign holiday, where your perception of cost is somehow lost.

All which leads us to the near future and Wii Pay and Play, a service that will charge gamers to experience games online on a title-by-title basis. Many may scoff at Nintendo’s decision, but the fact of the matter is that the move - at some point or another - was inevitable. Despite the deep-set buddy-like affinity that many gamers seem to have with the firm, when push comes to shove Nintendo is a business – and a shrewd one at that. And when one business (Nintendo) sees others (Microsoft and Sony) making easy money through either online play or micro-transactions, it is only natural that they will want to follow.

The difference is that Nintendo has bided its time considerably and waited for all the groundwork to be laid by others. Whether it’s factoring in the ease at which the purchase of digital downloads - be it mp3s, on-demand television shows and the like are made - or the wider-than-ever availability of broadband Internet connections (which had to go some way to the demise of SEGA’s online-enabled Dreamcast console all those years ago), now has never been a better time for Nintendo to begin its own onslaught into the market.

During a lecture at this year’s Game Developers Conference, Nintendo’s Takashi Aoyama explained that the firm will begin to collect “fees for some services that will allow us to adapt flexibly” when referring to the upcoming project. And if Nintendo is continue to compete with the Microsoft Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, without the obvious graphical prowess, it has to match them in online offerings at the very least, something Wii Pay and Play opens avenues up to do.

The introduction of the Wii Pay and Play service and downloadable content, no doubt, going to please third party developers. To take Guitar Hero III as an example, the revenue, longevity and brand loyalty driven by the availability of extra downloadable content and online play is priceless. If this is as successful on the Wii as it has been on the PS3 and Xbox 360, it can only be a positive influence on firm’s to bring their biggest franchises back to the console year after year. A lack of third party supported helped kill off the GameCube in no time at all, and it’s not something Nintendo is likely to want to repeat again any time soon.

Aoyama stressed that many Wii games would remain free to play online and that the boxes for those that were not would be clearly marked with a red Nintendo Wi-Fi logo. Neither a pricing strategy nor which upcoming games might be affected by the changes were mentioned, but having quietly built up an army of millions of willing Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection-playing, Wii Points-spending minions over the last few years, attracting millions of new gamers to the industry and settling them in, all while the concept of playing online for a fee was still being piled upon established gamers in other quarters, could Nintendo waiting until now to unleash its latest online strategy be one extremely clever move?

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29 comments on 'Wii Pay and Play - one of Nintendo’s cleverest ever moves?'

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I personally think this news is awful. I can’t stand the fact that companies hold onto content for a game, charge full price for it, and then release said content and charge you again. I would rather wait a year for the full-blown sequel while playing the original than pay $30-$40 to “upgrade” the same game and then pay for the sequel a year and a half later anyway. A game like Animal Crossing on the Wii, which I was once excited for, now holds some serious potential to be a total wallet killer by forcing us to pay for every single piece of furniture. Disaster in the making? I sure hope so. This may be the first time I have ever hoped for something that Nintendo does to fail. So much for appealing to everyone huh Reggie.

As for paying to play online games, until Nintendo’s online services prove not to suck compared to the competition, one of which is also free, then this move should be held off.

Comment by Arielle on 2008-02-23 22:56:40 | Reply

Travis, we will definitely not have to pay for every single piece of furniture in Animal Crossing. The Pay-to-Play thing means that some companies will charge extra money to play their game online. Animal Crossing probably won’t even have you pay for anything since it’s first-party.

Comment by Shaggy on 2008-02-24 00:05:51 | Reply

well… they better be really fricken awesome games to pay to play otherwise this move is bad…

Comment by DonWii on 2008-02-24 00:43:51 | Reply

MMO’s anyone?

I’d pay for a Pokemon/Animal Crossing MMO.

Blah blah blah what Iwata said. If they are making people play, it no longer has to appeal to everyone.

Comment by Sonic Flash on 2008-02-24 04:09:45 | Reply

All consoles have this system in place. Do you want to be able to have games like Rock band and GH3 where you can, in fact, take advantage of downloadable packs? If so then realize that Nintendo needs this. It’s not as evil or unexpected as people think.

Thank you for an enlightening article.

Comment by Jedi Master on 2008-02-24 04:56:30 | Reply

I’m honestly a bit confused here - how are they going to actually enforce such a policy?

I don’t have an Xbox, so my knowledge of Live is admittedly limited, but if I understand right, you pay a set fee for access to Live, and that basically covers all games.

So how will Nintendo have us pay for only certain games?? Will one have to use Wii Points for a game? I’m just not sure I understand how this works.

Comment by aiouy on 2008-02-24 07:16:19 | Reply

hell no. i am buying ps3 and selling my wii.i want free online.

Comment by byr on 2008-08-23 22:22:25 | Reply


Comment by megulito on 2008-02-24 08:51:09 | Reply

this is dumb i cant belive nintendo is doin this i understand paying or add ons and additional content (only when it didnt have to be included in the game) but this is crazy and i was goin to buy a wii but i dunno if i will now ill wait n see how it plays out

Comment by Firetheguy21 on 2008-02-24 16:47:33 | Reply

Guys, guys guys guys! It’s not going to be like playing online in a game and you have to pay it. It’s for only extra CONTENT! So let’s say you want to get a new kart for a character online. You pay and play! And Jedi Master, probably we will have to use Wii Points.

Comment by onlysane1 on 2008-02-24 17:01:04 | Reply

you are retarded. impulse much? the full details haven’t even been released yet

you’re not as bad but still irrational. wait until the deatils before you judge it. the name is stupid but it could be misleading

Comment by Anthony on 2008-02-25 00:28:05 | Reply

So are we paying just to play certain games online, or are we paying for the entire Nintendo Wi-Fi service?

@Anthony - just certain games, with boxes that will be clearly marked to say so.

Comment by Andrew D on 2008-02-25 05:54:08 | Reply

I think it’s either an MMO, or something similar to Xbox live GOLD and Silver.

Perhaps Nintendo will charge to get the extra stuff that the gamers want to badly (i.e Voice chat, and MSG). And maybe Nintendo could justify this by the idea that “If you can pay for it, you’re old enough to use said content”. And you can play for free in it’s current, limited state. Although this is wishful thinking. I think Nintendo would have developed this type of service with SSBB in mind. But then again, it’s been in development for awhile (Before Wii became a surprise hit)


It’s an MMO type of game. There was a Animal Crossing rumor that it was being developed as an MMO. This is a neat idea, as long as the price is right and the content is there.

Either way there are little details released, but any move to expand onto their service will be good. I cannot see Nintendo start to charge for their existing online service

Comment by FirustheHedgehog on 2008-02-26 22:57:15 | Reply

This article really isn’t all that enlightening, it’s deceiving.

The truth is, you only have to pay for DLC a.k.a. Downloadable Content. As Firetheguy21 said, only if you want an extra kart or a new character or course. You will NOT have to pay for any online PLAY, just for downloading new content. That wouldn’t make any sense, if you have to pay for online as a whole, you’ll pay it. But if you own the console already and have enjoyed free Wi-Fi, and all of a sudden they come out with games that have Wi-Fi you have to pay for, unless you REALLY want the game there’s no way you’ll buy it. At least, that’s my opinion.

And yes, you will pay using Wii points. In which case, I don’t think this system will be in place for the DS, since they are WII Points.

Comment by Firetheguy21 on 2008-02-27 00:33:22 | Reply

Exactly. Nintendo wants users to have free wi-fi. But this could be a hint to a Downloadable songs for GH3 anyone? =)

Comment by Keys1281 on 2008-09-23 23:18:56 | Reply

How ’bout GH:WT?

Sorry the article seems to have confused; it’s main focus wasn’t so much to explain the premise behind Wii Pay and Play and downloadable content, but the fact that over the past few years (DS Wi-fi, Virtual Console, WiiWare to come) has settled millions of gamers (old and, importantly new) into making playing online simple and accessible, as well as easing them into some sort of payment process with the Virtual Console.

All of which adds to, at this time, given the current gaming climate in which a robust online option for certain games is almost essential, makes announcing Wii Pay and Play and DLC now a clever move.

Comment by FirustheHedgehog on 2008-02-27 02:25:26 | Reply

It is an interesting article and an interesting point, deceiving I suppose is the wrong word. I’m just annoyed by people that don’t know that it’s just Downloadable Content that you have to pay for and start bashing Nintendo for it.

Comment by Aiya on 2008-02-28 13:47:41 | Reply

When I first saw this I was outraged; I only recently bought my Wii (I tend to be a year or so behind on console launches), and one of the biggest perks was the free online play. The fact that Nintendo is changing this NOW, now that they are the hottest selling console this gen, is deceiving. I get the idea that the only reason they’re making this move is that they feel like now they have the crown for this gen’s release, and are the cheapest console, they can bleed gamers a bit more by introducing this feature. It’s a lot like Sony’s owning the last gen, then bringing out a overhyped console that costs too much than the average person will be willing to pay. It was arrogance and greed.

If the points are spent on extra CONTENT, but not necessary gameplay, then I’m a bit more permissible with it. And here’s a question — if it’s Wifi access, is it a set fee once for one game? Or a fee every time you load it up? A fee once a month?

I am disgusted at this move, honestly. It basically lets you know that regardless of what someone promises you in the beginning, they’ll change it once they feel like they can get away with it.

Comment by Graham on 2008-02-29 01:22:43 | Reply

yo im so excited for this..i would pay 1 million dollars for this shitty console to catch up to date and get some voice chat (and not just to ur friends)..fuck wii pisses me off how u can not talk to ne1…also we may finaly be able to download new songs for GH3..imagine if downloadable content for ssbb…u could get new chars and levels and better stage builder (new pieces)…i would wack off to that

Comment by megamn606 on 2008-03-18 00:37:20 | Reply

aiouy. please. ARE YOU SERIOUS?!?!?! the ps3 is THE WORST ONLINE SYSTEM EVER. oh man my friend has a ps3 and is a die hard son fan and doesnt even buy games for it anymore he only buys them for his 360 because after you play on live dude, trust me youll never want a Piece of Shit 3

Comment by FirustheHedgehog on 2008-03-19 22:01:52 | Reply

You can argue XBox Live is really nice, and I definitely am not advocating the PS3, but XBox Live also costs money, which WAS his point in the first place.

Personally, I’d take unorganized, Friend-Code-oriented online any day over something you need to pay $50 a year to use. Not to mention, you still pay more when you buy stuff on Live. You pay to buy VC games and will pay when there’s DLC on the Wii, but at least you can access the ability to buy said things for free. You realize how ironic that is, that you pay money so you can spend even MORE money? Although, that happens in a lot of cases, so I guess it’s not THAT ironic.

Xbox Live Silver

Xbox Live Silver will be free for all Xbox 360 owners with broadband and a hard drive or memory unit. Silver subscribers will be able to:

Browse the Xbox Live Marketplace

Access Xbox Live Marketplace downloads and Xbox Live Arcade games (premium content will still require payment to be downloaded)

Create Gamertags and Gamer Profiles

Use voice and text messaging

Download new levels for games

Comment by FirustheHedgehog on 2008-03-22 15:14:50 | Reply

I hadn’t heard of that.

But it still lacks the free actual online play, unless I missed it in there or you forgot to add it. Forget the whole spending money to spend more money point, I would STILL take free online play over paying money to use it.

Comment by Darkrai64 on 2008-03-24 20:27:02 | Reply

I’m not so sure that this is a good idea. If they do do it, then I hope there is downloadable content for Super Smash Bros Brawl. Also, they can add voice chat and fix the lag up so we can have lagless battles, no matter where we are!

Comment by FirustheHedgehog on 2008-03-27 01:27:22 | Reply

It’s possible that Sakurai was lying, but if what he said is true, we probably won’t get DLC for Brawl.

Even if we were to get it, voice chat and fixing up lag would probably NOT be the kind of DLC we’d get. I’d imagine it would be extra stuff for Stage Builder, Characters, Stages, Trophies, Stickers…that kind of thing.

Plus, why do you want Voice Chat so badly? Generally, online is full of idiots yelling swears and racist comments, and if you want to talk about your friends, use a phone. Not to mention, in an interview with IGN, Sakurai himself said he chose to leave it out, he didn’t just not have time.

Comment by Matthew on 2008-04-20 13:00:08 | Reply

I bet if this is true it will only be on newer games because we would have to get a new disc with the game on it to have it on old games. We probably won’t get DLC for Brawl or GH3.

Comment by ptracey on 2008-09-30 18:53:23 | Reply

This news is crap. I just hope they don’t charge to anything for Guitar Hero World Tour unless it’s for Buying new song packs. Unless that’s the case, hen I’m gonna go XBOX360 and just catch up on everything I’ve missed and pay for that Live (Gold).

This article helped me learn a lot, but also ruined my day. :(

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