Nothing beats free and that's why Nintendo is going to continue offer its online service for zero dollars when the Wii U launches this fall. Does that mean Nintendo's online service is going be lousier than Xbox LIVE and the PlayStation Network once again?
LIVE Gold and PlayStation Plus for Xbox 360 and PS3, respectively. The paid subscription services offer far more features and access to premium apps than their free counterparts.
Nintendo's Wii has a service called "Wi-Fi Connection" but it's nowhere near as robust and community-friendly as Xbox LIVE and the PlayStation Network. Ask anybody who has tried to play Super Smash Bros. Brawl or Mario Kart Wii online and they'll shake their head.
The fact is, maintaining servers and keeping them running smoothly costs money. Gamers understand that a strong online service can't possibly come at a free price. You pay for reliability and the convenience of digital content.
In the latest Nintendo shareholders meeting, President and CEO of Nintendo Satoru Iwata revealed that the Wii U's Nintendo Network service would be free of charge.
We have a wide variety of consumers, from the ones who enthusiastically play video games to those playing more casually, who are not always interested in them but try to play a game only when it has become a public topic or play it just during certain periods, like a year-end season and summer vacation. We therefore believe that services which ask our consumers to obtain paid memberships are not always the best. We cannot promise here that Nintendo will always provide you with online services free of charge no matter how deep the experiences are that it may provide, but at least we are not thinking of asking our consumers to pay money to just casually get access to our ordinary online services.
By offering Nintendo Network for free, Iwata says that the company is banking on the social aspect of the Wii U's MiiVerse — the referral system — to boost the sales potential of software. Basically, by gamers simply saying they liked or enjoyed certain games in MiiVerse, Nintendo believes game sales for a given piece of software can increase, by word of mouth.
How solid will online servers be? Better than the Wii's Wi-Fi connection? The same? We won't know until the console launches.
What we do know is that Nintendo still plans to make online a bigger part of the Wii U than it has done with the Wii, DS and 3DS. Blockbuster games will reportedly be released simultaneously in digital and disc form and the Wii U will be ready to support free-to-play games and DLC when it launches. A Wii U app store is also rumored to be something the Japanese game company is cooking up.
Is Nintendo shooting itself in the foot again? Does Nintendo still not understand online gaming? Sound off in the comments below.