Sunday, June 03, 2012

Miiverse and the Future of Nintendo

While plenty of things were discussed in today's Pre-E3 Nintendo Direct presentation, and plenty of bytes will be spilled discussing the Wii U Controller Pro (a copy of the Xbox360 controller), the Niiter (Nintendo Twitter) feature previewed in Iwata’s Nintendo direct presentation,  I want to focus on just one passing reference 25 minutes into Mr. Iwata’s presentation.

“We expect several generations of Nintendo hardware will be linked by the Nintendo network.  In a similar way, the social element of Miiverse are also designed for Wii U,  Nintendo 3DS and future Nintendo devices.”

These seems like the usual grandiose sweep of a chief-executive laying out his plan. However, as Iwata spoke, he pans out to a graphical representation of his concept, a solar-system hub with the Nintendo Network in the middle orbited by the Wii U, 3DS and four unnamed planets.

While it could be interesting to headline this as “Four unannounced Nintendo hardware in the works”, what's more interesting to me from a speculation standpoint is that  Iwata’s reference to the Nintendo Network and Wiiverse together all but confirms unified account systems, a cloud storage capabity (at the very least to host profiles, twitter-like posts, and other Miiverse features shown in the Nintendo Direct preview) connecting gamers from across space, time and most likely from across Nintendo platforms.


The feature as demonstrated shows players gathering around icons of popular games being played by the wider Wii U community when they boot-up the Wii U. The Miiverse also displays real-time messages from players playing those games in speech bubbles - confirming the ability to multi-task with the Wii U.  It also integrates twiiter-like commentary in parts of games (even single player only games) where players can see comments left by other players in a similar situation.  Noting points of interest or griping about the difficulty of a particular boss battle.   Mr. Iwata  promises that there will be attempts to mitigate game spoilers through the Miiverse (I assume by a staff of Nintendo representatives and software that filter and edit out inappropriate content)

The Future

What this means for the future is quite exciting and is conceptually a breath of freshness in the same vein as Virtual Console concept revealed in 2005 (a year prior to the Wii’s launch).  It is clear that Nintendo had been working on the Miiverse for a considerable amount of time but chose not to reveal it last E3, likely to avoid/delay their competitors copying it, as they had copied Nintendo’s Virtual Console service.

What I’m most excited about with the future is the idea of a Nintendo Network compatible hardware in the form factor of a Game Boy Micro, with nothing more than a CPU/GPU/RAM, buttons and a flash memory for storage plugging in to the Nintendo Network to access  social content, on-line interactions , commentary and games that were previously purchased for other Nintendo platforms.

The idea of a unified Virtual Console strategy where VC games could well live in the Miiverse is one step closer to reality, although we should be cautious with this leap as Mr. Iwata and Nintendo has as of yet, not hinted as such a service.

With the core of a centralized network built around social interactions and the ability to connect to multiple Nintendo platforms, Nintendo has finally taken the leap to catch up to rivals Sony and Microsoft with the PSN and Xbox Live respectively, but in typical Nintendo fashion, added a spin to on-line gaming by turning the unpalatable prospect of being cursed at by a pimpled teenager in Call of Duty  into a social network of like-minded individuals leaving comments for each other and jumping in to help on a difficult mission.  This is crowdsourcing  meets  videogaming in real-time.

Mr. Iwata also leaves one last hint to where Miiverse could take Nintendo. 

“Miiverse can connect your living room with those of others, regardless of space and time.  Because the key components of Miiverse are browser based, these social interactions will be available from your Nintendo 3DS, PC or any web-enabled mobile device.”

And with that, the idea of a iPhone App, Android app or a Chrome app linking players to the Nintendo Network and the Miiverse is a certainty. 

Nintendo has gone third party, by outsourcing their social network to all platform holders, leveraging the ubiquity of PC, smartphones and web browsers to make accessing the Miiverse the same as checking one’s facebook profile or twitter account.

This is a further blurring of games and everything else. What we used to think of a games only platform with on-line interactions is being positioned as a persistent world of gamers interacting in real-time everywhere all the time, regardless of what platform they may be on.  This is the Nintendo Difference at its finest.

Click Here. For the full Nintendo-Direct pre-E3 Wii U hardware reveal.

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