Could Japanese online gaming trends be affecting my online?

Nintendo onlineI’m an obvious cas-core proponent of online gaming. I don’t need voice chat, but I definitely feel more excited about a match in Mario Kart DS when I know there’s a real live human being on the other end. They usually beat me.

Even so, Nintendo’s foot dragging about any kind of concrete online gaming message is frustrating for some; annoying to others; and a deal breaker for others still. Some online gaming news out of Japan today, in my opinion, goes a little way towards explaining what, exactly, might be going on in that alabaster Nintendo Tower in Kyoto, Japan.

Kotaku reports that of 15,000 MyVoice members (a Japanese Internet community), over half of them were totally uninterested in online games. The sample was 54% female, 2% teen, 16% twenty-something, 37% thirty-something, 28% forty-something and 17% fifty-something. A further 12% were “indifferent” towards online gaming, which in my mind all but confirms the dreaded Emo movement is alive in well in Japan too. Such is life.
When the members were asked what their image of online games was, the common response was “Geekish.”

Now, I’m fully aware of the fact that surveys can be manipulated and skewed depending on who is taking them and how great the sample is, so I’ll only use this particular survey as anecdotal evidence to a larger, unproven point.

Basically, to this point in time the cautious nature of the Japanese business culture has already affected the Wii in one regard: production. Over the past year, as the supply chain woes at Nintendo grew and came to a head over the holidays, we learned that the company could have perhaps made more, but did not want to appear overconfident or stuff the channel in any way. The idea of the Wii was a risk, but apparently taking a risk and making more to capitalize on high demand was too much of a risk. In this regard, Nintendo is officially the Goldilocks of the gaming industry. It’s just right or it’s nothing at all. Buffeting a culture that does not enjoy online gaming with online gaming would also be a risk. Inundating a system aimed at all types of gamers with something “geekish,” like online gaming, would be an additional risk.

Anyway, today we have the online survey, piping hot out of Japan from a variety of age groups who are, one would assume, tech savvy Internet denizens that are fairly comfortable with online content and producing Japanese emoticons alike. They are disinterested in online gaming, however, and the sample size suggests this is fairly widespread across the country. Alliteration, by the way, FTW.

In light of this I believe the corporate culture at Nintendo of Japan sees online as an afterthought, because that’s the cautious option and the one that’s being reinforced by the Japanese people. It’s too bad, because Americans and Europeans suffer because of it, and if they continue to make money with their present system I imagine it won’t change much. We’ll continue to see awkward, amorphous press releases about “Pay and Play” and the like as Nintendo continues to adjust.

Also confusing is the fact that voice chat exists for some titles and not for others. Again, this could break down to which system we’re talking about. Nintendo has had plenty of time to develop the DS into what it is today, and may feel much more confident allowing players to interact in Pokemon or Hunters via voice chat. Perhaps there’s some hidden exploit they’re worried about in a bigger, more complex system like the Wii (as well as the fact that the Wii was a bigger risk to take than the DS — Nintendo has “pwned” the portable biz for quite some time). The again, it hasn’t stopped other large Japanese companies, like Sony, from capitalizing on online gaming, so there are other obvious pieces of this puzzle that haven’t been placed yet. I just happen to believe there is more to this issue than the ol’ “teh kiddies made them do it” attack.

Remember, this is only a theory, assembled haphazardly by me during an off hour at work, and it doesn’t solve any problems, but at least we might be a little closer to deciphering the mixed messages coming out of Nintendo regarding online gaming. Just a little. We can also discuss the issue more here at Infendo, and hope the Nintendo overlords are watching.