You’ve probably seen the headlines about Nintendo shutting down its online services for Wii and DS/DSi. Don’t panic--all that’s going is the gaming stuff, which is only used by a tiny percentage of Wii players anyway. The Wii and DS’s ability to perform matchmaking, leaderboards, and online play will cease on 20 May, worldwide. It’s a smart move by Nintendo, as the company looks to offset some of the losses suffered by Wii U by trimming services no longer required by its customers.
While the actual financial gains are minimal, the shutting down of services is actually a savvy PR play by the company. Why? Because it recognises that many families still use the Wii for services like Netflix and LoveFilm, both of which are unaffected by the online gaming shutdown. Similarly, users will also have access to the Internet Channel, and will be able to access YouTube.
Most hardcore Nintendo players have moved on to Wii U and upgraded to 3DS, but the fact that Wii is such a family-friendly machine, means that it will enjoy a longer-than-average lifespan as a family entertainment device.
The only potential problem comes if you want to use online features while playing in Wii Mode on Wii U. Sorry, all: that’s not going to be possible after 20 May. While some still use these to play Mario Kart Wii and Super Smash Bros Brawl online, the fact that both SSB and Mario Kart will reach Wii U this year should offset any ill-feeling towards Nintendo. Providing no-one is forced to wait too long…
While many like to read unflinching doom into every negative Nintendo story, there really is little to complain about here. Online service shutdowns are natural wastage in every console’s lifecycle, and few ever used Wii’s online play to begin with. Nintendo is making sensible cost-cutting measures to get its business back on track.
Perhaps more unsettling is the call from one of Nintendo’s main investors--Seth Fischer--to apply free-to-play principles and micro transactions to the company’s stable of games. He even used the phrase “Just think of paying 99 cents just to get Mario to jump a little higher” during an open letter to Nintendo President Satoru Iwata. I image the masked masses are already setting fire to the rhododendron bushes in his garden.
While his example is crass, and absolutely not the way to make future Mario games, his insistence that “Nintendo needs to embrace this thematic change in consumer demand, behaviour and expectations to stay relevant” is more sensible. Microsoft and Sony have both experimented with free-to-play to varying degrees of success, but Nintendo is yet to dip its toes into that particular pool. Few would want to see a Killer Instinct style monetisation model applied to Smash Bros, for example, but I do think there are massive gains to be made for Nintendo and its fans in mobile gaming. And it needs to start thinking about this area of gaming sooner rather than later.
The cost of maintaining a presence in the home console space is an expensive business (again, I point you towards the closure of Wii’s online gaming service), and as smartphones and tablets become more ubiquitous, Nintendo could potentially lose customers who can only afford (or want to carry around) a single mobile device. Sony tried to match the versatility of tablets and smartphones with the Vita, and although the hardware is fantastic, the portable itself is far from a success story.
So the idea of creating games for mobile shouldn’t be dismissed, even though several Nintendo spokespeople have played down the idea of a move to mobile over the past few months. Personally, I think it should be encouraged, providing Nintendo creates a sensible pricing strategy and maintains a considerate (well, it’d be nice to get a few more games) treatment of its existing audience. Surely having our favourite games on more devices can only be a good thing.