I’ve expressed quite plainly that I don’t think Nintendo necessarily needs to embrace big budget production values and huge next-gen technology leaps to get ahead with Wii U. That’s because shiny graphics don’t really have much to do with the fun value of a game; in the end, they’re largely window dressing. It’s not the level of detail that matters; what’s important is how the existing detail is leveraged.
That said, I think there’s one area of technological advancement that Nintendo has stubbornly refused to take that I think will come back to shoot them in the foot – the lack of fully online multiplayer experiences. Sure, Nintendo aims its consoles at kids as well as dedicated gamers, so an emphasis on local play is to be expected. But with Nintendo Land, the flagship multiplayer title for Wii U, completely leaving out online play, Nintendo is sending a message that what they think is important in terms of online connectivity isn’t in touch with what gamers want.
This is a huge problem for a number of reasons. First is the obvious one: gamers no longer take a console seriously when it doesn’t give them plentiful options in terms of playing with others over the Internet. Call of Duty would never have become a widespread mainstream phenomenon without online play to give it the leg up. The most popular games on PC platforms are the games that are most integrated with the Internet. This is no accident. As more and more people have become embedded in online interaction, they expect their games to follow the same pattern.
On a subtler level, we’ve seen the kind of “word of mouth” social dimension beyond live gameplay transferred from local interactions to discussions on gaming message forums and other online platforms. Nintendo seems to understand this, which is why they’re dedicating so much of their time and resources to developing a social networking platform made to be used directly from the game console in Miiverse. Of course, what they’re forgetting is that if your social interactions about gaming take place online, the people with whom you play are also likely to be online, not just local.
“Playing with friends and family” no longer requires being in the same room – and with a society as globally-oriented as today’s world, distance within one’s social circles is almost a given, not an exception. The bulk of my family lives two or three timezones away, and very few of my local friends are particularly avid gamers. How often am I going to get a chance to sit down and play Nintendo Land with the people I normally hang out with? Probably once or twice a month at maximum. To truly reap the longevity the game’s multiplayer features deserve – and I do believe the game’s fun value is definitely through the roof – I’m going to need a readily accessible way to play with others. Unfortunately, without online play, it simply isn’t there.
I believe in what Nintendo Land already offers, especially in its showcase of asymmetric multiplayer. I enjoyed the attractions I’ve experienced so much that I’d go so far as to nominate it as my Game of the Year for 2012. It’s just that fun – Mario Chase alone is easily my most-anticipated game on the system.
Unfortunately, I also believe that the lack of online play will cripple Nintendo Land‘s reputation. With Nintendo holding up Nintendo Land as a shining example of what Wii U has to offer, I think that’s going to be a very critical blow to the reputation of the system and the company across the rest of this gaming generation. Who is ever going to believe that Nintendo is at all serious about online play in the next five or six years if their very first big multiplayer game doesn’t even bother to include it?