Exclusive: In an Xbox Live world, Nintendo defends online Wii service

Nintendo’s online service is better than most hardened gamers give it credit for. At least that’s what company spokesman Kit Ellis told Infendo in an interview last week.

When asked how the popularity of Xbox Live and PSN have encouraged Nintendo to rethink their online strategy in planning their next console, Ellis turned the conversation back to the present. “The Wii is here now, so let’s talk about its online offerings rather than speculating on the future,” he said. “The idea of online services is incredibly broad, so I’ll point to a few specific products that spotlight what Wii can do online.”

Although not as usable as either Xbox Live or PlayStation Network when connecting with others, Ellis said Nintendo’s free Wi-Fi Connection is more than capable of satisfying wired gamers, especially in light of recent improvements such as demos.

“For downloadable games, Fluidity, which launched earlier in December, is a great showpiece for our WiiWare downloadable games service,” Ellis said. “It’s packed with a lot of fresh ideas that pull from a number of genres, utilizes fun motion controls and has a really creative presentation. There’s a demo available for the game now, so there’s really no reason not to try it out.”

He goes on to say, “Our library of hundreds of downloadable classic titles via the Virtual Console has no equal. As far as head-to-head online play, we’ve seen a tremendous response from players that are really enjoying what GoldenEye 007 has to offer. That’s a game only available for Wii, and of course we have other classic Nintendo franchises with strong online offerings, such as Mario Kart Wii.”

Lastly, Ellis points to Netflix streaming on Wii. “That’s an instance where the Wii Remote makes for a very smooth user experience,” he says.

Since first launching in 2006, Nintendo’s online service has been heavily criticized for its use of hard-to-remember friend codes, which some games require to play online with friends. Playing with strangers is as easy on Wii as it is on Xbox 360 or PS3, but communication tools including voice chat and texting have largely been missing from online-enabled Wii games.

For the full interview with Ellis, stay tuned for this week’s episode of Infendo Radio, hitting Internet airwaves Saturday morning.


  1. Yeah, I would assume most people’s main gripe with online Wii services is not the quality or quantity of available content, or the controls. And it’s definitely not the fact that it’s free, which is an obvious advantage over Xbox Live and PSN. It’s the freakin’ friend codes. Friend codes are so annoying that fans of other consoles are willing to pay for an online service where they don’t have to deal with them.

    I look forward to hearing if Mr. Ellis is willing to get anywhere near the friend code debacle in the podcast.

    If Nintendo dumps friend codes with their next-gen system and instead ties our content to an account, not the physical console itself, it will demonstrate that they really mean business in the online realm, are listening to their fans, and want to be taken seriously. We’ve all been screaming for the end of friend codes for years. Does anyone actually prefer friend codes?

  2. While I get why Nintendo does what it does, I really do think they need to open up their online connectivity a lot more. Fair enough if they want to make their current system the default going forward, to retain the family friendly flavour, but allow gamers to adjust it in parental control settings or something to open themselves up to more direct interaction with other people if they want, so they’re not all being dragged down to the level of the lowest common denominator. And yeah, eliminate the friend codes already. Putting aside that people find them hard to remember, no one likes even the impression that they’re being “treated as a number”.

  3. I insist: it’s NOT the Friend Codes!! After all, you only have to enter them once!

    No, the difficulty in using the free Nintendo network is the lack of a permanent online “hub”, where you can see if your friends are currently online, what are they playing at this moment, and what games they have. The only way to connect online with friends is through the games, which means there is VERY little chance that you will all be playing the same game at the exact same time in order to play together.

    I’m not entirely sure why that issue never comes up when discussing the problems with the Nintendo Wi-Fi network. For anyone who has used both Xbox LIVE and tried to use the Nintendo network this problem is immediately obvious.

  4. I’m glad they turned it around, mainly because the way internet games sites like to push it, Xbox Live is like the only online service around and everybody should copy it, despite the fact that various other services either charge less (or nothing) and have similar feature sets.

    Xbox Live shouldn’t be the standard just because Xbox owners are dumb enough to pay for something Steam users and PC gamers get for free. (MS has even since increased the price on Xbox Live.)

    I’m sure Nintendo will offer more robust online in the future for 3DS and Wii2, but they’ll try to keep it free which is what I want from them, more than chatrooms or facebook links or whatever. Free is the best thing Nintendo’s online has going for it.

  5. Yeah, they don’t seem to have any interest in building or being responsible for an online community. I think the “responsible” part is key here. One of the first things that comes to mind when people think about Xbox Live is players cussing each out over their headsets. I just assume that Nintendo doesn’t want that sort of thing showing up on their systems.

  6. “…there’s really no reason not to try it out.” Yeah, besides the fact that logging on to the Wii Shop Channel is a pain and its online infrastructure is broken.

  7. InvisibleMan,

    “I insist: it’s NOT the Friend Codes!! After all, you only have to enter them once!”

    Until you buy another online game. Then you get to trade another set of friend codes for that specific game. And mis-type them, and transpose numbers and go through that exact same pain in the butt every time you buy a new online Wii or DS game. And that’s after you and friends have added each others’ impossible to remember Wii system codes.

    My main point is this: Why keep all these endless, cumbersome friend codes around when you could tie all online gaming services to a gamertag a la Xbox Live?

    It would also make it 100 times more convenient to restore your Wii Shop purchases in the event that you buy a new Wii. And let’s not forget the fact that currently, Nintendo does not even allow you to transfer online-enabled game saves (such as Mario Kart Wii and Smash Bros Brawl, two of their biggest games) to an SD card. That belies terrible planning on someone’s part. Why should I have to lose my online saves and start those games over again if my Wii breaks through no fault of my own? These are all questions that Nintendo needs to examine closely if they want to create a user experience with less frustration for tasks and capabilities that should’ve been brainless “of course we’ll let you do that!” additions to begin with.

    Just my thoughts on my biggest frustrations with the Wii after my old one broke. Nintendo’s customer service was great (they replaced it for free), but the limitations of the software are borderline absurd.

  8. The Wii has a terrible online structure. Friend codes aren’t even the worst of it. No way of telling what your friends are up to or playing, no achievements/trophies (not that big a deal), the Shop is dreadful, and there are barely any demos. oh and Wii Speak is the biggest joke

    Oh and look at Super Smash Bros. Brawl! the online in that game shows you how much Nintendo cares about online.

    No online for NSMB Wii? Nintendo can make all the excuses they want of “it wouldn’t work very well”, but thats just unacceptable.

    Nintendo is obviously either blind to how much people care about online, or they are just scared to enter that foray.

    Its very disappointing, and is one of the reasons why my Wii collects dust

  9. the on-line is getting better and i believe the changes we are seeing now will make it better for the next console….its “tolerable” at this moment

    but as a poster had mentioned…there’s no excuse NSMBWII didn’t have on-line support. but w/ the new Mario sports game, maybe it shows they are finally trying the online element.

    I don’t even know what to say about Wii Speak….great idea, but poorly implemented, even Ninty didn’t support it.

  10. After seeing a couple complaints about the shop, I’m honestly confused as to how it’s so bad (or at least, not as good as the online offerings of Xbox Live and PSN). What are people’s specific issues with the Wii Shop? Is it because the menus are so slow? I remember one of the nuisances being that sometimes, the “Confirm” box and “Cancel” box will switch from left to right, and I would accidentally cancel out of a screen when trying to confirm something. Annoying.

    electricfuture, I definitely agree that Smash Bros Brawl’s online play was very poor. I just don’t understand how they could allow choppy, unreliable online experiences in such a big-name title, when Mario Kart Wii’s online play is fluid and fun.

  11. I really hope that they ditch the friend codes and have a central service that would tie all of the online games together and possibly even link it to club nintendo

    @chealsey ssbb online was basically predict the lag game for me… >.> I’ve played maybe a handful of online games and usually play local multiplayer instead of over broadband.

  12. monster hunter tri works pretty damn good. how about everyone try to emulate that? i don’t see what the problem is. if capcom can do a game like tri, so can everyone else.

  13. i absolutely agree NSMBWii should have had online. there’s no excuse that it didn’t.

  14. I just wish that there was a sort of hub like XBL so I could do cross game chat, invite friends to games, play VC games online, etc.

    If the Wii 2 allows you to bring all your VC games to it and pay a small one time fee (like 20 bucks or something) and BAM they’re all online I’d go for it.

  15. Dueing tis interview I hope that Blake and Derek ask Ellis about the future of virtual console. There are several key questions that I want to hear from him: First, is Nintendo considering bringing Gamecube, Dreamcast, and Saturn to the Wii 2 virtual console if it has enough internal storage. Second, will we ever be able to play virtual console games with their original controllers via some kind of adapter. For example, plug a TG16 controller into an adapter that plugs into the Gamecube port and then I am able to use that controller with the titles on Wii. The third and final question pertains to Rare. Will more Rareware titles, including Donkey Kong 64, ever appear on virtual console?

  16. NSMBWII doesn’t have online modes because people don’t care about those things. Look at NSMBWII sales numbers if you don’t believe me.

  17. I want Nintendo to keep the friend codes.

    If I want to play a game with friends then I will invite them over and we can all play together. If there was no friend code system (or if it was better implemented – gamertag (? whatever that is)) I might be tempted to hole up in my man-cave and not get that interaction that only comes in being together with friends in the same room (as well as drinks and natchos!).

    When I have time to play games it is either with my kids (six of them) or by myself (a quiet diversion). Online rarely gets used (except for Netflix).

    The one thing I would like to change is the community aspect of it. A notification system to tell me when someone I know is online. That way I could Wii-text them a quick hello. I would guess it would need some sort of central hub and should probably be based on the Nintendo Account. But I would have to know what my friend’s Nintendo Account name is and then isn’t that basically the same as a friend code?

  18. BlueRocks,

    Trying to make sense of what you’re saying…

    “If there was no friend code system (or if it was better implemented – gamertag (? whatever that is)) I might be tempted to hole up in my man-cave and not get that interaction that only comes in being together with friends in the same room (as well as drinks and natchos!).”

    Friend codes have nothing to do with local multiplayer at home with friends in the same room. Friend codes are exactly what allows you to sit in your man cave and play with friends online even if they are currently 200 miles away.

    The gamertag is Xbox Live’s way of tying all your online activity to one username that you create. For instance, on Xbox Live, you could play Halo 2 and 3 with your friends online, and both of them will only require that your friends add your gamertag (BlueRocks or whatever). However, if you want to play two different online games on Wii — for instance, Brawl and Mario Kart — you and your friends have to exchange long numerical Wii system codes AND individual long numerical game codes for both Brawl and Mario Kart. That’s a lot of work to accomplish something that’s already being done much more efficiently elsewhere.

    I would be much happier if I could just register one name on my Wii and play all online games with that. As was already mentioned, connecting that one Wii username to my Club Nintendo account, or providing leaderboards, online notifications and other perks, would be great as well. The less individual codes and usernames I have to deal with, the better.

  19. @firstone

    There’s a crapload of people who don’t care about nsmbwii having online. But there are a ton who do. Adding an online only adds to the game, it doesn’t take away. So the people that don’t care wouldnt have been affected by this mode. If u didn’t know already, anything with ‘mario’ in the title sells. Adding online would only have increased sales. It’s definitely a missed opportunity.

  20. Thanks, Chelsea, for explaining the gamertag thing. Sounds ideal.

    But I don’t want to play online with friends. I want to play in the same room with them. If the online was easier to use I would be tempted to use that little free time (and more) playing with them.

    I would rather keep my gaming time mine and invite friends over for extended ‘party’ game playing.

    Maybe if I ever played a shooter then I could see some value to the online play with friends.

  21. User Code System with Game/User Access and Availability Controls Solution

    There should be one User Code for each user, instead of using a separate Friend Code for each game. The Nintendo 3DS system should include a menu in its firmware that allows you to control, organize and choose which of your games will be accessible to particular users that you have User Codes for.

    For example, Let’s say that I have the games Nintendogs + Cats, Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition, and Animal Crossing 3DS. Let’s say that I would like to play online games with the users Brother, Friend, and Acquaintance.

    I want to be able to play all three of my games online with Brother; I want to play Street Fighter and Nintendogs with Friend, but I do not trust him to be in my town in Animal Crossing; I want to play Nintendogs online with Acquaintance, but I don’t want to play with him in Street Fighter or Animal Crossing.

    Using the old Wii and DS/DSi Friend Code System, I would give my Friend Codes from all three games to Brother, and I would receive all three of his Friend Codes. Then, I would give only two of my Friend Codes, the one for Street Fighter and the one for Nintendogs, to Friend, and I would receive those two Friend Codes from him. Finally, I would swap Friend Codes for only Nintendogs with Acquaintance.

    Using the new 3DS User Code System, I would give my User Code to each of the other three users, Brother, Friend, and Acquaintance, and I would receive each of their User Codes (Just one User Code from each of them). Then, I would go to the menu in the Nintendo 3DS firmware and organize the settings so that Brother has access to all three games, Friend sees only Street Fighter and Nintendogs, and Acquaintance can only see that I have Nintendogs.

    The User Code System also allows for more customization. As with Monster Hunter Tri, having a User Code allows me to use any User name that I want for my account (Even if it is in use by other users). Also, it has the added benefit of allowing me to change these settings as I see fit. Besides having the ability to change my username whenever I want, I would no longer be stuck with someone having a Friend Code for my game where I no longer want to play online with that person. For example, if I no longer wanted to play Nintendogs with Acquaintance, I could hide the game from his view. Or, if I don’t want to play Street Fighter with Friend anymore, I can hide that game from his view. It would also be convenient to add games to users as well. If I wanted to play Street Fighter with Acquaintance I can make it available for him to see that I have it. Or, if I wanted to play Animal Crossing with Friend I can make that game available to him, all without having to provide or retrieve more Friend Codes. The User Code System should even be able to allow multiple users to login to a single Nintendo 3DS system with each of their configurations saved for them (Think of single system households with multiple Nintendo 3DS users).

    I hope that this has been explained clearly enough. I believe that this will work, and I hope that Nintendo uses a system like this. As inconvenient as it is to use Friend Codes in their current state, at least it functionally keeps Friend and Acquaintance out of my Animal Crossing town. I would not prefer a system that allowed anyone with my User Code to connect to any of my games or even show them which games I own. As long as there is a way for me to control, set up, and organize which of my games are available to which users, then I’m good. That is why have not been too upset with the current system. However, I believe that this can be done in the firmware instead of through the use of multiple Friend Codes. With the Nintendo 3DS, now is an opportunity to improve the efficiency and convenience of a functionally effective system.

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