Saturday, June 07, 2014

Miiverse Two Years On

When Miiverse was first revealed in a pre-E3 digital presentation two years ago, I was hopeful that it could be a killer app for the then upcoming Wii U console.

Nearly two years after the Wii U's launch, Nintendo's sales have continued to decline and the Wii U, like the GameCube two generations before it, feels like the odd console out.  Ignored by third parties, defended by a core group of fans.

Dire as the situation might be, Miiverse, like Sony's PlayStation Network or Microsoft's Xbox Live holds the promise of Nintendo's future.  The service has since evolved into the nucleus of Nintendo's nascent unified platform strategy, linking the 3DS with the Wii U and allowing access on other connected devices with browsers, such as PC, phone or tablet.

The Miiverse community itself has been quite successful in terms of where it matters most, user participation.  Every obscure game has a community and the participants appear to be quite varied  in their skill level and time spent  on the service.  It's not difficult to find people who spend considerable amount of time posting and commenting and those who only do so casually.  There are sub-communities within 'open' channels like the YouTube Miiverse community who show off their amazing drawing skills on a quite limited black and white palette.

On that level, the optimism I expressed 2 years ago about the potential of the community has been fullfilled.  But Miiverse hasn't been quite the killer-app that I initially had envisioned.  Though I can certainly be wrong in this regard, I do still firmly believe that Miiverse is, if not in this hardware cycle, an integral part of a larger strategy to bring Nintendo back into competitiveness both in terms of mind-share among consumers as an integral killer-app feature.

What are the things holding it back?

1) Lack of Miiverse App outside Nintendo platforms
It's true that the Miiverse web application ( is available on Tablets and PC.s but it's a web-based app and not an app from the appstore.  This in theory puts Miiverse on any machine, including SmartTVs, with a browser. But in practice there is simply no visibility for the web service. It's barely mentioned in Nintendo's own promotional material and it's not immediately obvious that there is even a web URL for people to go to.  

Furthermore, many tech-savvy users simply view web/mobile versions of something as a lower tier service. Just as Twitter has a mobile website, it is meant for lower powered  devices who only has a browser but no app environment.  Casual users who may have heard about accessing the Miiverse would naturally first look to for an app instead of a web address.   Having an app in the app/play stores also work as a kind of advertising billboard, getting eyeballs on passive app searches from low-information users who may be vaguely looking for something like Miiverse.

2) Uneven Miiverse integration
Miiverse works amazingly in games like Mario Kart 8 where almost every feature, from video sharing to Ghost data has a Miiverse component.  It also works in games like Mario 3D World where Miiverse posts are downloaded and integrated into the game world itself and a scroll of posts are shown at the end of each stage showing a selection of comments from players who have played the game.

Miiverse is well-used by first-party games
That is clearly the ideal Nintendo have for how Miiverse is to be used. Moving outside of their marquee titles however, Miiverse usage becomes less clear.  While some games integrate their own in-game achievements system into Miiverse, using it as a kind of twitter feed to advertise a player's progress in the game, many more simply use the bare minimum.  Hit the Home menu to pause the game to make a post with a screenshot.

Whether its the lack of time from the developer, tools from Nintendo or both, these kind of 'bare minimum' application of Miiverse are at best neutral to the service, and at worst giving people a negative impression (see the next point).  There needs to be more encouragement for developers to use Miiverse in a consistent way.  Perhaps make Miiverse integration with in-game achievements mandatory, or give away the technology to allow other developers to do what Nintendo was able to achieve in Mario Kart 8 with video/ghost data and other integration of Miiverse.

3) The Miiverse Application & servers needs streamlining
It simply takes 'too long' for the app to load on both the Wii U and 3DS. It only takes 14  seconds to access twitter mobile, including time tapping on the bookmark and about 10 seconds if twitter was pre-loaded as the last viewed website. This is on the 3DS.  In comparison, it takes 30+ seconds for Miiverse to load on the 3DS on a cold boot (including time for the system to connect to my NNID) and slightly less on subsequent uses once I've connected to the Nintendo Network.

Twitter Mobile Loads faster than Miiverse on 3DS
On the Wii U, It can take  about 15~20 seconds to access Miiverse from the Wii U menu/game on a cold boot and about 10 seconds on subsequent boots. It's worth noting it  only takes less than 5 seconds to access the 'lite' version in games with Miiverse integration.  But even there, Miiverse breaks the experience by pausing the background action. Rather than an application layering on-top of the game as is now common in applications found on multi-core systems where a CPU core could be assigned to handle such fuctions, the halting stops caused by the in-game use of Miiverse gives user  the distinct sense there isn't even enough processing power to handle both the game and Miiverse, and that's probably not a good impression to give even if  the issue may not be entirely hardware related.

Ideally, the load times need to be kept at 10 seconds on the Wii U and under 20 seconds on the Wii U.
 Given that Twitter Mobile on the 3DS browser loads much faster (though it only loads the 20 most recent tweets) it may be a good idea to consider a lite version of Miiverse on the 3DS that has the same access as the Wii U version, but simply loads less information upfront to speed up the process.  On practical day to day uses, most users just want to jump into a game community to post a screenshot/comment.  The ~40seconds-1 minute it takes to enter/exit Miiverse certainly cannot have a positive impact on participation in the community.

Miiverse's potential could be immense and it can be a huge asset for Nintendo going forward in terms of creating an ecosystem of users who can carry over to their other products and encourage network effects in a non-game environment. Put simply, Miiverse could be a selling point if there are people on the service with a stake in it and feel more comfortable migrating to a new product with Miiverse features.

Let's hope the next 18 months sees some of the major weaknesses of the service ironed out.  By that time, the 3DS successor should be well on its way and we may even know about it already and whether Miiverse features centrally in that platform could be telling for the future of this interesting experiment in on-line gaming communities from Nintendo.

No comments: