Nintendo's Wii home console and DS portable console were undeniable successes — but the company's online strategy has always been a sticking point. An unnecessarily clunky "friend code" system and a near-complete lack of voice chat made Nintendo's online offerings far less user-friendly than the excellent Xbox Live or even Sony's PlayStation Network experience. Now, the company's finally taking some steps to improve that system with the launch of the Wii U's Nintendo Network ID, an online identity that will eventually represent users across multiple pieces of hardware. Users will need to download a software patch that will be available on day one to take advantage of any of the console's online features, however.
In a video released earlier today, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata detailed the console's online and user management features, first starting with the introduction of a User ID. The Wii U will support up to 12 different users, and each user's game settings, saved game data, and intenet book marks will be kept separate — though some games will allow save data to be shared between users.
From there, users can create a new "Nintendo Network ID," which the company says will replace friend codes. You'll need to input your email, birthday, gender, and location to get this ID set up, and it's not yet clear how exactly your Network ID can be shared with other friends. We're hoping that you'll be able to set up a handle or name that you can easily share, or search for friends by their email addresses, but Nintendo unfortunately didn't outline this process in its video. It's also not quite clear whether each Wii U user account can have its own Network ID; Iwata said that any games or content purchased with a Network ID can be accessed by all users of the WIi U console.
Nintendo's online strategy takes a confusing step forward
Aside from serving as a friend code replacement, the Network ID will be used for video chatting, or to purchase items from the Nintendo eShop — and all purchased games and content will then be linked to the account. It wasn't explicitly detailed, but it sounds like purchases that are tied to your account can be restored on other pieces of hardware, in the event of your console being lost, broken, or otherwise inaccessible. That's a major improvement over Nintendo's previous restrictive policy regarding purchased virtual content — restoring past purchases has long been a sticky process for Nintendo.
As for online gaming, Nintendo says that other publishers will be able to tap into the Nintendo Network ID system, potentially opening the door for the Network ID to be used as a way to log into services like Valve's Steam or EA's Origin. Iwata also said that the Network ID would be coming to other Nintendo hardware — though it wasn't clear if he meant existing systems like the Nintendo 3DS or whether he was referring to future hardware down the line. Either way, it sounds like Nintendo users will soon finally have a unified account to manage most aspects of their online experience. There are still a lot of questions as to how exactly everything works, but it should at least be a step forward from the friend code system of old. The Wii U launches in just a week and a half, so we won't have to wait much longer to find out how everything works for ourselves.