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Six Things The Wii U Online Service Needs To Be Competitive

by Matt Bertz on Sep 03, 2012 at 01:25 PM

Boasting (reportedly) serious hardware and an impressive lineup of blockbuster third-party games, the Wii U targets the core gamer in a way Nintendo hasn’t attempted since the GameCube. Given the extreme popularity of online co-op and competitive multiplayer, the suite of features Nintendo plans to offer could considerably bolster the console’s chances of success. A lot has changed since the days of Eternal Darkness and Wind Waker, so to smooth the transition back into the big leagues, we offer a few ideas we think are crucial to the success of the Wii U’s online service.

1. Don’t Make Us Juggle Gamertags
Nintendo said it plans to allow third parties to integrate their own platforms into the Wii U online service, but this better not come at the expense of unified gamertags. Nobody wants to manage separate Call of Duty, Battlefield, Borderlands, and EA Sports accounts that all have different login IDs and passwords. It makes finding friends across different games a hassle, and would be a major step backward from the industry standard set by Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, and Steam. Convenience and familiarity are keys to luring the hardcore gamers Nintendo claims to covet, so it needs to steal a page from the industry playbook and create one gamertag to rule them all. 

2. Offer Unified Communication Services
If Nintendo is serious about drawing in the legions of competitive multiplayer aficionados to its console, it has to embrace the tools they are accustomed to using. The company previously stated that it doesn’t want to have a “centralized, one type fits all approach” to its online service, but failing to give gamers universal communication tools that work over the entire network regardless of what games people are playing could make it hard to convince hardcore gamers to migrate from their current setups. On Xbox Live, party chat is often the first stop I make before jumping into an online match. The GamePad offers a great opportunity for players fielding and responding to friend invites and messages during a match without interrupting the natural flow of the experience, and this tablet experience could give the Wii U a slight mindshare advantage should Microsoft stumble with the SmartGlass launch this fall. 

3. Develop A Deep Multimedia Library
Offering a compelling gaming environment no longer cuts it when trying to draw in consumers. Consoles are becoming the de facto entertainment hubs in living rooms, and Nintendo should aggressively seek media partnerships that align with the company’s considerable weight it has with casual gamers. Netflix and Hulu Plus are givens, but delivering content from Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Food Network, and the various sports leagues would go a long way toward convincing people that the Wii U is a one-stop shop for entertainment worth the price of admission. 

4. Give Us Game Demos
Games are expensive, so consumers want to know what kind of experience they are getting before they hand over their hard-earned $60. The best way to convince them to pony up cash is allowing them to dive into a game demo. With Xbox Live and PlayStation Network already offering play-before-you-buy experiences, it’s also a matter of keeping up with the Joneses. 

5. Support Alternative Pricing Models
If Nintendo seriously plans to compete with Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, matching their current feature sets isn’t enough. The company also needs to predict how these services plan to grow as they migrate to next generation consoles. One area of growth that is massively appealing to third-party publishers is the loosening of constraints to allow them to reach consumers with new business models like free-to-play games and seasonal game subscriptions. Judging from Iwata’s comments, Nintendo seems to be on board with allowing publishers to integrate these types of models into the online experience, which could give it a leg up if Microsoft balks at loosening its stranglehold over Xbox Live. 

6. Take Your Icons Online
If Nintendo wants to convince the casuals to embrace a connected future it needs to offer them a compelling reason to jump online. All it needs to do is rely on the familiar faces that got them to this point in the first place. Wii Sports, Mario Kart, New Super Mario Bros., and Super Smash Brothers are all natural candidates for online integration, but Nintendo has stubbornly clung to the idea that these games are best experienced with friends in the same room. Sometimes that’s not possible, and the company needs to realize that the thrill of playing together can still be experienced even if you’re not in the same city as the other person.