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Why Nintendo’s online gaming paranoia could kill the Wii

It’s hardly an industry secret that Nintendo is the most reluctant console manufacturer of “the big three” when it comes to pushing online play on its latest home console. Xbox Live has really set the benchmark when it comes to providing what players now readily expect from a gaming experience that takes them into the wider virtual world outside of their own machine, Sony also seems to want to reach that same wavelength, but Nintendo still appears somewhat cautious about the whole idea - a decision that could potentially harm the chances of the Nintendo Wii in the years to come.

Nintendo has been reserved about the process of online gaming for years now. While Microsoft had the ambition, foresight (and monetary funds) to pursue the idea as far back as the launch of Xbox Live with the firm’s first console, Nintendo seemed somewhat reluctant. While allowing third parties to dabble in Internet gaming on the GameCube (most notably SEGA, who provided the GameCube’s only online title, Phantasy Star Online), George Harrison, vice president of marketing for Nintendo of America stated at the time in May 2002 that it saw online projects as “a very interesting market” and one that would be “very small” for the foreseeable future.

That may have been the case, but Microsoft’s openness to developers keen on the idea helped build Xbox Live into what it is today, a fully fledged service that neither Sony nor Nintendo can claim to rival at present. With the Xbox 360 launching a full year before the Nintendo Wii (and with Xbox Live attracting near 5 million paying subscribers as 2007 and the arrival of the Wii approached), you might think that Nintendo’s head honchos would have nodded at each other agreeably across the boardroom table and started working hard towards something similar for their newest machine. Heck, it probably should have happened at least a few years before.

But no, with gargantuan Wii sales throughout the world in 2007, building a credible online service for the machine was probably the least of Nintendo’s worries. Third parties, meanwhile, were getting a little concerned. SNK’s president, Ben Herman, stated in March last year that “Nintendo is still not letting Wii third-party publishers include online capabilities in their games and it doesn’t look like they will during 2007.” And while the situation did slightly improve (both on the third and first party front) as 2007 unfolded, all told the situation was rather pitiful, with only a handful or releases sporting limited online options.

It’s a problem that continues to affect games on the Nintendo Wii into 2008, particularly multi-format titles in which an online offering is a stable part on rival machines. SEGA Superstars Tennis, Rock Band and Madden NFL 09 (which it appears will lack key online components) are just three notable examples. Nintendo seems to be slowly moving in the right direction with the likes of Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Mario Kart Wii, but the severe server problems many gamers have has in relation to the former’s release proves, somewhat, that Nintendo just weren’t aren’t prepared as they should have been. And without a unified structure such as Xbox Live’s, third parties are also all over the place.

Downloadable content is another issue Nintendo is severely lagging behind with, something that looks to be on the mend with the introduction of Wii Pay and Play in the future. And then there’s the debacle, confusion and restrictiveness of Friend Codes and lack of voice chat, both of which are regularly hotly debated. The huge popularity of Xbox Live, Sony’s ambitious plans with Home and LittleBigPlanet, as well as Nintendo’s success with online gaming on the Nintendo DS, prove that the demand is there from players who want to play online, which makes Nintendo’s current paranoia over the home console situation all the more baffling. Baffling and disappointing in equal measures.

Online gaming is integral part of the industry nowadays. It might not seem a priority to Nintendo with the Wii selling so well right now, but come the time where the PS3 begins to catch up with Xbox Live (all the while improving its online service) and in a market more and more developers cater to an audience attracted to such content, the Wii really can’t afford to be left behind, especially in relation to big mult-format games, just because its online component is lacking.

Nintendo’s relatively poor relation towards third parties over a number of issues has been a major contributing factor to its success (or lack thereof) in previous generations, and we reckon, it is imperative that it doesn’t go isolating itself as far as online gaming is concerned during the life cycle of the Wii. The welcoming and relaxed strategy it has adopted to allowing developers clamber over WiiWare should be its inspiration, letting others lead the way a little instead of being so uptight - just lay the foundations properly and let others take advantage of it. C’mon Nintendo, pull your socks up!

Do you share our concerns over the Wii’s online capabilities so far, are you disappointed with the current offering? Let us know all your thoughts on the issue in the comments section below.

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19 comments on 'Why Nintendo’s online gaming paranoia could kill the Wii'

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Comment by danny dinizo on 2008-03-28 01:51:32 | Reply

Good Article but I think the lack of a hard drive will kill the Wii

Comment by Trist on 2008-03-28 03:23:46 | Reply

Yeah Nintendo needs to do something, some online player feedback service would be nice as well!!!

We talk about the Wii’s online play in our episodes of WiiNewsNReviews. We are highly appalled by Nintendo’s crippled online play!

Comment by raymond on 2008-03-28 04:30:48 | Reply

The online play is really crappy, but it doesn’t bother me too much since I’m primarily a single player gamer. That said, I don’t think this is going to kill the Wii. To claim that it will would be stretching it a bit, imo.

Comment by FFRPGFAN on 2008-03-28 04:51:57 | Reply

I have a feeling that Nintendo set up its Wii online stuff the way it currently is for two reasons.

One, because it is essentially free provided the person using it has wireless internet or some other internet with an adapter, they do not want people abusing the system’s online play and alienating other users by randomly shouting/swearing/insulting at others. This is not as big of a problem with the other two systems because the X-Box 360’s online stuff costs extra money which is paid for by people who do that to start with, don’t care, or probably monitor their kids because of having to shell out money each month, and the PS3 is really expensive to begin with.

Two, they have the least experience and most work to do to begin with for online things. Microsoft and Sony both have other business ventures other than video games including computers and other electronic equipment that give them an edge for online stuff to begin with. Nintendo is playing it safe by taking smaller steps and fine tuning things along the way.

Comment by Gerrard on 2008-03-28 09:59:31 | Reply

I hope that Nintendo will open their Eyes, cause all of Wii and DS games with online play suffer of lacks.

When we are alone, and want to play versus or with someone, like in lots of FPS, it’s very important !

About RockBand, it’s a port of the PS2 version, and if you disagree with that, please think about sign and share this petition ( http://www.petitiononline...com/rockwii/petition.html ). Thanks !

Comment by jtucker78 on 2008-03-28 11:45:31 | Reply

Brawl and Kart Wii are meant to be played socially on a single screen. That is Nintendos whole marketing strategy - don’t knock it. They’re aiming at the family market. So it needs to be simple. My dad or my kids don’t want to try and get online. That is why Nintendo haven’t spent time on their multiplayer experience and hence is woefully poor.
If you’re a student or in a big family, living in a shared house that doesn’t matter though and you’ll have a great time on Brawl.
But if you have your own place and work during the week like I do, you aren’t going to invite your friends over every single night to play. Now that I’ve left college and some of my friends have moved to different cities and even different countries it isn’t worth owning a Wii for social gaming. It’s easier to go online with COD4 in a team deathmatch put our headsets on, mute the other players and have a blast. It’s a great laugh.
I don’t want to send one of 4 pre-recorded text messages like “ha ha I’ve got you” to a friend I haven’t seen for a month. I want to talk.
When I owned a Wii setting up a game was a joke, my brother kept forgetting to write down his friend code then when we finally sat down to play, we had to wait half and hour for the machines to find each other. It was a joke.

Like I’ve said in previous posts Nintendo has changed direction. It doesn’t need online. The primary market its aiming at isn’t interested in it.
You’re either the sort of person to own a Wii or you’re the sort of person to own a 360/PS3
Wii can’t offer what PS3 and 360 offer
and PS3 and 360 can’t offer what Wii does.
There is space in this world for the Wii and the PS3/360. In fact its quite clever of Nintendo because now they have no competition. PS3 and 360 are fighting to the death over high end games and multiplayer and the Wii is enjoying the casual market all by itself.
That’s why I think the “who’ll win the next gen” argument is a joke.
This generation has split into a party console for getting together and having a laugh.
AND
The high end, online multiplayer consoles.

Comment by Dyno on 2008-03-28 11:56:00 | Reply

I think that its online capabilities aren’t very good at all and this isn’t only because of the lag im getting the fact that it doesn’t have voice chat for its big first party titles like SSBB and Mario Kart is very disappointing but ive seen feedback from wii owners that they haven’t had any lag yet so all i can do is hope that pay 2 play what nintendo is bringing out will stabilise the connections online.

Comment by Peanuts of doom on 2008-03-28 16:08:41 | Reply

I’m not quite sure why Nintendo would choose to limit their console so. If it were for fear of Piracy, I’d note that Wii is currently the easiest of the systems to pirate for - specifically because of the fact that they do not have an online component. Microsoft ingeniously uses their service to block users with modified hardware or firmware from playing online. This is very effective in getting would be pirates to buy games that have a strong online capability.

I can see the argument that their strategy is to get people together and play in person. While I like this return to roots philosophy, why limit or force your users down a certain path? That’s a Microsoft move…

Re: The lack of a hard drive. I don’t see that as too huge of an issue for the current generation of any of the consoles. Even Wii. They’ve got to improve their online store component before I can even get close to full enough downloads to fill that up. I agree with the author that online play and store improvements should be a first priority for Wii.

Microsoft is certainly the king there. What baffles and frustrates me is how badly they’ve limited interoperability with home PCs running Windows. This is a no-freaking-brainer for them, but they are so obsessed with creating a revenue stream out of everything that it’s killing what would be a really cool synergy. To Microsoft: Sometimes a feature is just a feature you add and advertise and hold over your opponents. In the case of Windows / Xbox 360 - it would further tie in your audiences to your precious operating system paradigm that is quicky falling from the good graces of the population. We’re sick of you repacking the same crap when obviously cool features are staring us in the face, tantalizing us even. I spent hours installing XP Media Center only to find its interoperability with the 360 to be pathetic and disappointing. Why would you do that???

Comment by bob on 2008-03-29 00:41:16 | Reply

you have to look at the obvious here nintendo as a couple of you have said has practicly no compitition and has almost a total monopoly on the casual gaming market with the ds and the wii

Though i think that many gamers that are not casual will by the wii i belive that they are not bying it for online perposes because they have a pc or a 360 for that they are clearly bying it for a single player expirence because no other company can offer up metroid fire emblem zelda mario and many other great games or games that would be the eqivelent the wii is the only systim that has a large base of very high single player games (the 360 does have bioshock though and oblivion) meaning that it effectivly does not compete in the online market

For example my friend purchased a 360 for the online component but desperatly wants a wii because of zelda metroid and mario

I don’t use the words hard core gamer above because people now seem to consider that to mean fps obsessed people and don’t include other games and classic games as much

Comment by Andrew D on 2008-03-29 01:38:57 | Reply

You’ll be hard-pressed to tell Nintendo that their current plan is killing them. The Wii is a smash success and they knew before the release of it what they needed, hit that casual market.

Now I agree with you in some ways. Nintendo’s reluctance is killing ‘hardcore’ games/gamers. And ultimately limiting options isn’t always great for the consumer. I wish had SSBB and Maro Kart had Xbox live like online play, but we all know it doesn’t. Still, they make awesome games and its because of that we are begging for more.

Comment by Don on 2008-03-29 06:45:54 | Reply

I am so happy Nintendo has the service it does. As an online PC player it was a thrill to think of a console with voice chat just like the PC. What I got for my expense was a bunch of 13 year old foul mouth racist spouting punks. Unlike the PC were I the person hosting the games could boot people the 360 has no such service. Even the PS2 had mods to complain to. I am thrilled that I can enjoy a match on Super Smash or MOH2 without being offended. I can only hope that my PS3 experience will be the same as my PS2 one. XBox live will soon kill itself if it doesn’t clean up its act. Even now most people enjoy COD4 on the PC more then on LIVE.

Comment by Jaurice on 2008-12-27 01:58:10 | Reply

Xbox live has features that allow you to file complaints against players. Players can also be booted from games at the hosts discretion. Also, you can mute a player if you don’t want to hear them talk.

Comment by Josh on 2008-03-30 03:48:02 | Reply

yeah the Wii is really good but the online play lets it down because of it ’safety’ issues including swearing and sexual talk online which is causing the Wii to only have certain boundries for the online play which is very annoying to the Wii gamers. Also the lack of communication and personalization e.g should be able to customize the Wii Menu, and talk to people online as long as you sign up to a adult account or something, the lack of hard drive and free downloadable demos is another thing that nintendo need to sort out.

The new idea of nintendo pay and play is a rubbish idea because the lack of communiction, also the whole ‘Friend Code’ thing is complete rubbish as you need to sign your friends in for each separate game, each game should use the wii address number that the wii is individually given this would improve the Wii by miles and improve sales and customer satisfaction

great debate here. as a nintendo investor, i’m very concerned about the discussion and it’s implications for nintendo.

i think jtucker78 really spells out how i view the current market for home-based-gaming entertainment systems. (two market segments. one is occupied by two competing companies, another is left alone to develop and sell as it will).

i think management is taking a generally conservative approach because it’s what’s been good for earnings. they are pretty dang profitable too. they’ve developed a strong engineering, art, story, etc base that’s proven more than once they know what it takes to innovate. most recently, by really evaluating all the gaming system users and asking questions like “why does dad/grandpa/whoever sit in with his kid/whoever while they play ‘boring’ games? what if they were fun for everyone? how can we create a new way of interacting with not just the game but the other players? how can we make it more real?”

they knocked it out of the stadium. profit is going to keep rolling in for a while. everyone still wants the wii and the US is supposedly in this midst of this god-aweful recession!

at this point, no doubt nintendo would have a long road to developing a good online community, and perhaps it’d be best done through partnerships. (?) focusing on their hardware and in-house games like always but making sure games played on their system could still access other online communities. ‘open source’ sorta.

who knows though? nintendo could be working on a hardcore, true-to-nature, next gen system but it’s something that would make mr. gates and his buckets of cash weep. or they could just flop. hahaha. i hope not.

Comment by Pedro Bracero on 2008-04-07 21:58:06 | Reply

Ya people need to let this go man. Ya whin like a bunch of nerdy kids about Nintendo little online issues that can be straighten out like that. Of course ya believe their online sucks cause this is their first major step into the online community(besides the DS online play). Give them a f***ing break and let them solve it in their own terms. S***! Ya act like this is going to end your lives(in fact, it would if ya keep bitching). Like what happened to Brawl’s online “lag” problem. The reason to that is because of ya bragging and forcing the developers to rush the game into stores. If ya would give them more time to perfect the game, ya wouldn’t have this problem and you probably have more playable characters too. This is exactly what’s happenning to Nintendo right now. Ya keep bragging, wishing, and even forcing them to include whatever. Back in 2007, ya were enjoying the little white box like nothing and now u want to back away the console cause of this bulls***. Show some patience and good things will come. I was patient for Brawl over 1 1/2 years and it was worth the wait. I have a Wii and I don’t have any problem with it. Like I said, show a little patience and support and Nintendo will likely deliever what u desire. And about the storage problem, get a few standard [2GB SD cards] for [Wii] and problem solved. Damn is this hard for all of u people? Ya need to grow the hell up!

Comment by Pedro Bracero on 2008-04-07 22:04:12 | Reply

Oh yeah and by the way, Nintendo has enough issues to deal with for Wii right now like limited Wii console production, marketing, and such. Allow them to address their own issues one at a time.

Comment by Kamen on 2008-06-11 22:58:30 | Reply

Developers are right to be concerned about Nintendos crippling policies. I agree the friend code system needs to be thrown out. Online gaming is about gaming with other people. Anything that limits this is poison that will shorten the life of any online game. The friend code system, in the rare case a community can form at all, ensures that community is fragmented. I want to be able to find a pickup group when I wake up at 3 am with an itch to game but none of my friends are on. I want to meet new players with new ideas and strategies. I want to be able to communicate and coordinate tactics. I dont personally talk trash but that is a big part of getting into the game for many players. None of this can be found under Nintendos multiplayer lockdown. Developers know a few things about what gamers want, and they will go for the platform that best enables them to deliver. As will the gamers.

Comment by Zooty on 2008-06-27 01:03:36 | Reply

I wholeheartedly agree with this article, I bought a Wii just recently and while I have enjoyed the online experience on Mario Kart Wii (despite the lack of friends list and voice chat) I am extremely disappointed with the online functions of Brawl, a game I’ve been eagerly waiting for ever since the Revolution was announced. The lag is horrific in matchmaking, it only allows FFA and Team 2 minute KO matches (the worst game type out there), and it seems as though it’s only worth playing with peple in your continental region but you have to know their friend code just to play with them. Very poor for the company that’s the furthest ahead in the Console War :(

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