The Nintendo Direct conference featured several newsworthy announcements prior to the actual E3 event. Easily the chief among these though, was “Miiverse”.
If you didn’t catch the live stream or our coverage earlier, we’ll let you in on a few details about it. The second you turn on the Wii U, your virtual Mii avatars will be running around in “Miiverse”. This is Nintendo’s new social platform that connects players all over the world playing different things in different places. Look at the screenshot on the right to get a good idea of how this works.
Even those not currently gaming will be able to communicate; the service will be accessible on mobile devices, PCs, the 3DS, and of course, the Wii U itself. The Wii U will display what others are playing and allow easy communication and status updates. From within the games, you can see what other people who are playing the same games are doing. For example, a Mario platformer could let you share your opinions on a particular level and your thoughts would pop up for your friends once they play it. That touch screen is going to get plenty of use for drawing and communication.
Perhaps the easiest way to describe this would be to call it the Nintendo Facebook. Aside from not having individualized profiles (which is in all likelihood just a function not shown in the trailer), it looks like Nintendo is well on its way to creating a social network that everyone who plays Nintendo games can enjoy. Heck, there’s even the ability to share your artwork, in-game creations, and screenshots with this.
If you ask me, the ability to communicate on such a level between the multiple platforms and devices is a gargantuan step up, even in the realm of what the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live services offer. This is a whole social network integrated into the console so deep that no one will be able to ignore it given its prominence. I’ve no idea what the PS4 and next Xbox will offer in terms of operating systems or social interactivity, but it looks like Nintendo is at least future-proof with this approach (not talking specs, naturally).
Granted, all of this functionality won’t be available from the get-go. Nintendo President Satoru Iwata noted that the PC, mobile, and other platform integration will come at a later date (which is understandable considering the state in which consoles launch these days).
If Nintendo can ensure that all this functionality isn’t too complex for the average user, things can only go up. It will be interesting to see how most “casual” consumers perceive the Wii U in light of all its features and more intimidating controller. If billions of people have adapted to various social platforms that are getting more and more complex by the day, that aspect shouldn’t be too challenging with the right execution. The tablet setup combined with functions familiar to the masses might make this easy for people to understand. That can only mean good things for the console's internet attach rate.
As for the people who will cry “immersion breaker”, I wouldn’t get too riled up about that yet. I’m guessing that like achievements, this intense level of integration can be lowered or ignored somehow. It’s important to present this feature as a basic thing that everyone will be using, but it would still be grave mistake to irremovably inflict it. Some people want to be "alone, alone" when they play games, not "together, better".
I’m now cautiously optimistic about what Tuesday’s conference will hold. I checked into today’s Nintendo Direct with mild cynicism and apathy, but left feeling buoyant about the state of Nintendo's online functionality. I’m not ready to hop aboard the hype train, but can’t deny that my eagerness for Tuesday to come has increased exponentially. Let’s hope this isn’t all smoke and mirrors.