Nintendo’s Wi-Fi at 5 million users — let’s keep it in perspective

225_wi-fi_dslite.jpgMy my my. What do we make of today’s online news? Seems Nintendo’s completely free Wi-Fi connection service reached 5 million users. To me, this represents the abysmal failure of the Friend Code system. Yes, class, that was sarcasm. But only a *little* sarcasm, not my usual levels by any means.

I’m certainly not going to say these numbers mean Nintendo has a wild success on its hands, but at 5 million people online in this short amount of time, their first effort into a mass audience online network is something to take notice of.

Some basic info on the service to date courtesy of Joystiq:

Nearly 65 games support online multiplayer through the service, accumulating over 200 million gameplay sessions since its launch in late 2005. Not surprisingly, the five most popular games are all from Nintendo: Animal Crossing: Wild World, Mario Kart DS, Metroid Prime: Hunters, and Pokemon Diamond and Pearl.

First of all, I had no idea 65 games had access to the Wi-Fi service. Guess I need to start looking around for the games worth buying beyond the five listed above.

A lot of the recent success of Nintendo’s Wi-Fi service can be attributed to the new Pokemon titles that dropped on the DS last month. I say that because nine months ago the service stood at approximately 2 million users. While I’m pro-Nintendo through and through, I’d be a fool to think a surge of 3 million users in nine months was due to a wave of mass nostalgia for Clubhouse Games.

To keep this seemingly large number in perspective, we need to examine a few things. First, as I said earlier, this is an impressive start for a company that considered online gaming the anathema to a successful video game business model. That said, the fact that this network is provided completely free makes it tough to compare it to something like Xbox Live. As a commenter said on Joystiq, people like free. They’ll fire up the service, play a few rounds, and then forget about it. With Box Live Gold, people are paying for a service and are more apt to put time into it because they have something to lose if they don’t.

The next point to be made to keep things from spiraling into wild speculation and baseless fact land (we’ve been there before, haven’t we Internet?) is that 5 million users means only 12.5% of all DS owners (and now Wii owners, with Strikers out in Europe). This to me speaks to the fact that actually finding a game, like Darts in Clubhouse for example, sometimes takes a while. And by a while I mean all night.

So, before anyone goes off the deep end and starts calling this the bane of Xbox Live, just stop right there. The comparison might be there in the future, but for now each is its own beast. Regardless, 5 million on your first shot is something to take notice of — Friend Codes or not.