During an investor assembly this week, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata announced the Nintendo Network, marking the first time the company has attempted to streamline its online gaming effort in a way that promises a consistent and reliable experience across all platforms, all while delivering the content and features that gamers have grown to expect.
It's no secret that Nintendo has struggled with its online presence and follow-through since the launch of the Wii and DSi, attempting to navigate the fragile balance of a younger-skewing demographic and the inherent dangers of online gaming and interaction.
Unfortunately, these real-world issues mean nothing to the average gamer, who has had to deal with 16-digit friend codes, access limitations and shoddy presentation, not to mention several name iterations that include almost every combination of the words "Wii", "DSi", "Shop", "Store" and "Channel".
While it's certainly a refreshing change of pace (and way past due) for Nintendo to embark on a one-stop shop for all things online, the company will undoubtedly have its work cut out. Services like Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network have had years to refine their respective experiences, to the degree of devoting entire teams and spokespeople to represent each brand.
The plan is for the Nintendo Network to live across two platforms, the 3DS and the Wii U (or whatever it winds up being called). The service will give users access to "Communities for Mario Kart 7" (see matchmaking), "add-on Content Sales" (see DLC), digital distribution and the "Introduction of Personal Accounts for the Wii U". Of course, I'm assuming this will also include game demos and ways for the big N to communicate directly with customers.
While all these bullet points are safe bets, Nintendo could learn a thing or two from the competing services I listed above. It's time Nintendo gave of-age users complete and unrestricted access to the rest of the Nintendo-playing world. Friend lists and voice chat must become the norm and, most importantly, be easy to use. This doesn't mean cutting the friend code digit count down to 8 from 16. This means "give me your Nintendo Network name and I'll add you to my list".
Believe me, I could go on, but I think communication is paramount to the success of the Nintendo Network. If this service is to flourish, Nintendo must make the effort to supply users with a web-based component as well, similar to what Microsoft has done with the newly improved Xbox.com and the recent My Xbox Live iOS app. Gamers need to be kept in the loop about what's available online, when it'll be there and how much it'll cost.
One could argue that the second half of the current console generation saw Microsoft and Sony playing catch-up to the Wii's motion control, but Nintendo has a bit of ground to make up on the online front this next go around.