Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Nintendo just can't get online right

This game is awesome. Pity the download is complicated
From tomorrow, people who bought Nintendo 3DS consoles before the massive price slash will be able to download the first 10 of 20 free games that Nintendo has promised as an apology to those loyal fans.

That was a stunning, humble gesture – indeed, it was well above and beyond what Nintendo needed to do to appease its fans. Clearly the company wants to please fans. And then Nintendo decided to go and make things difficult. The process for retrieving those free games is absurdly, needlessly complicated. It represents, once again, that Nintendo just does not understand online. Digital Downloads and online gaming is meant to be an easy way to consume entertainment, but it is always too difficult with Nintendo, and it’s just becoming exasperating now.

It’s exasperating because it’s not without precedent. When the 3DS was announced, Nintendo promised us that we’d be able to transfer the DSiWare we’d already purchased on our DSi’s. It was unexpected, since the games had previously been locked to the hardware.

And then the day came to transfer the games over to our brand new 3DS consoles (a full month after the console launched, mind you). For anyone who had more than 10 DSiWare titles (let alone 40 or so), you’ll immediately understand the pain. For those who didn’t have the ‘pleasure’ of experiencing this process: you needed to run an application on both the 3DS and DSi, which needed to connect to the Internet. Then you needed to run through five or six series of options before the transfer would happen. And then when it did it was still an incredibly slow process (especially since these games were 20MB in size at the most).

There are some great WiiWare games that Nintendo failed to market properly
Hours and hours later you have most (but not all) your DSiWare games on your new console. If you had a PS3 or Xbox 360 you would have transferred your account to your new console and halfway through one of your games in that time.

Then there’s the friend codes. Nintendo refused to get rid of those with the 3DS, but that wasn’t all. It’s almost impossible to properly communicate with those people that you add to your friends list. There’s no way to message them or invite them into games. It’s an online system that’s deliberately a decade older than its competition, and wholly inadequate for modern game needs.

Then there’s the virtual console. The games 3DS owners are getting tomorrow are NES classics – games that are all available on the Wii Virtual Console. Unlike the PlayStation 3 and PSP, where you only need to pay for and download a PlayStation One game once, Nintendo is keeping the Wii and 3DS Virtual Consoles separate.

The 3DS competing with this... and cross game chat. 
And now this rolls around. Yes, Nintendo will be proactive in getting the message out on how to download these games, but there will still be a portion of the audience that will find the process more confusing than it should be. That audience should never be confused - after all, Sony managed a far more elegant system with its own apology package (which also included free games). When it comes to online, Nintendo seems to have forgotten that gaming consoles should be easy to use and accessible. The competitions’ are, and Nintendo is fast running out of chances to get things right.

It’s a huge pity, because I’m not sure that Nintendo even understands how poor its really is with online. It has proudly proclaimed that its 3DS online was “far better,” that it has worked hard on improving the service. It’s better than the DSi or Wii’s yes, but if this is what Nintendo has worked hard to provide, then it’s difficult to see Nintendo ever finding real relevance with online and digital downloaded content… especially considering the feature set that the PlayStation Vita is boasting.

I don't want to be overly critical of Nintendo, because with a few tweaks, the 3DS could be a genuinely awesome console... including online. As a Nintendo fan though, it is both frustrating and disappointing to see the legendary videogame maker struggle so much in something it shouldn't be.


As a postscript, those free games that Nintendo is putting up for download tomorrow are a genuinely great list of classics - the quality of content does easily compensate for the poor execution. Those games are:

Super Mario Bros.
The Legend of Zelda
Ice Climber
Balloon Fight
Donkey Kong Jr.
Wrecking Crew
NES Open Tournament Golf
Yoshi
Metroid
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
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