Think of the Internet not as a web of interconnected servers but as an ocean, deep and dark. Now think of Nintendo, a middle-aged technology company, that is only just learning to swim. It’s a metaphorical perspective useful for understanding the company’s tentative, painfully slow to evolve relationship with online connectivity. For every step forward (online play for select Gamecube, Wii, and Nintendo DS games) the company has always taken a step back (Friend Codes). The Wii U console and 3DS handheld are no different. Nintendo is plunging into digital distribution with all of its games, but the company still fails to offer even a basic centralized account system for purchasing games. It’s a service Amazon offered as far back as the mid-‘90s.
Nintendo swam into slightly deeper waters this week when it unshackled its Miiverse social network – the service it uses in lieu of an account system like Sony’s PlayStation Network, Microsoft’s Xbox Live, or Valve’s Steam – from the Wii U. Miiverse members can now access the network and its various community pages through their web browser on both PCs and mobile devices. It’s a beta version of the service, and isn’t accessible on all devices (such as, say, the Nintendo 3DS browser), but it’s a start.
This functionality has been a long time coming for Wii U owners; it was originally promised back at the end of January as part of larger update for the console itself. The spring update for the Wii U was supposed to connect the Miiverse to a web service, as well as introduce the Virtual Console store and improve operating speeds for the console. Virtual Console launch games like Kirby’s Adventure for NES have active Miiverse boards, but they still aren’t yet available on the Wii U.
Letting people access Miiverse via a normal web portal might seem like a small feature, but it represents significant growth for Nintendo. Club Nintendo program members can link an account to consoles like the Wii and Nintendo DSi to track digital purchases, though not to secure them for future downloads if a device is stolen or lost. There’s also the recent release of the copmany’s first paid iOS app, Pokédex 3D, last fall. That’s pretty much the extent of Nintendo’s third-party online accessibility. Bringing Miiverse to the web outside of Wii U suggest that the company may be getting ready to finally slip out of its lifejacket.