On the one hand, we know that the Wii U's online network is definitely going to be better than the Wii's. The reason? Four words. "Friend Codes. Lack of." A proper unified Gamertag-style system is going to work wonders in getting it taken seriously as a hardcore online machine.
On the other hand though, it sounds increasingly like the Wii U's online connectivity is currently a vague, messy unfocused heap of confusion, and potentially even worse than the old Friend Code debacle. You see it sounds like no-one really seems to know who's actually in charge of it right now, or how the player will be expected to interact with it. Or at least no-one's saying. Nintendo is giving the impression of being comparatively hands-off, and no-one else is giving the impression of being particularly hands-on. So how the hell is this thing going to work, why is no-one claiming responsibility, and how much more could it damage Nintendo's already crappy online reputation?
Nintendo's stance, first mentioned at E3 and reiterated yesterday, is that it is creating - in comparison to the 3DS' online functionality - "a much more flexible system that will allow the best approaches by independent publishers to come to bear"
Hmmm. Certainly sounds like a buck-pass to me. So what's Nintendo's reasoning? Well according to Reggie, "...instead of a situation where a publisher has their own network and wants that to be the predominant platform, and having arguments with platform holders, we’re going to welcome that. We’re going to welcome that from the best and the brightest of the third party publishers".
So to translate, going off Reggie's comments, it sounds like where we currently have a situation on the other two HD consoles where XBL and PSN are the de facto, unified systems, and individial games are occasionally plagued by irrelevent, unnecessary, arbitrary additional network services run by third-party publishers (I'm looking at you, EA and Ubisoft), on the Wii U the online system is going to be run predominantly by those arbitrary networks, or at least heavily subsidised by them. Suddenly John Riccitiello's appearance at Nintendo's E3 press conference has a slightly more ominous context.
Above: Seriously, no-one wants that shit
And I see that as a big problem, unsurprisingly. Because there's no point getting rid of the hassle of Friend Codes if you're going to make people use four or five different log-ins for tertiary online systems. And what about publishers without networks? Are they going to have to sign deals with those who do in order to get an online infrastructure up and running? How much support will Nintendo's core network provide anyway?
Frankly, it sounds like no-one really knows at the moment. When asked for details, Nintendo is saying "we think it’s much more compelling for that information to come from the publishers than to come from us", which sounds likea definite avoidance tactic. But at E3, all Ubisoft could disclose in regards to Ghost Recon was a wish-list of online features which may or may not appear. Whether Nintendo is being unclear to third-parties as to what it will provide, whether third-parties are currently still trying to work out what they can provide themselves, or whether no-one really knows what is going on, I can now detect the smell of another Nintendo online clusterf*ck in the air. I could be wrong. I hope I'm wrong. But with so little focus and so few details openly discussed from either side of the Wii U's online equation, this one certainly has a disturbing whiff about it.
What do you reckon?
July 06, 2011