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Nintendo’s Satoru Iwata embraces free-to-play games on Wii U, clarifies online strategy

Nintendo would have been better off sending company president Satoru Iwata out on stage during its E3 2012 press conference rather than show its confusing cavalcade of trailers for Wii U games. An investor question and answer session with the executive hosted on Jun. 6 and posted online this week offers far more clarity about Nintendo’s plans with the Wii U than anything in its conference or subsequent presentations. Iwata illuminated, but didn’t expressly describe, Nintendo’s plans for its online network and its future with free-to-play games.

First, Iwata firmly stated that the Wii U would not attempt to create an online gaming network akin to Microsoft’s Xbox Live of Sony’s PlayStation Network. The reasons for this are that these types of networks don’t jive with Nintendo’s greater strategy and even if they did, it’s too late for Nintendo to catch up to its competitors. 

“I think that what we see in terms of online gaming networks on existing dedicated gaming platforms is not particularly well suited to the approach Nintendo has taken,” said Iwata, “Therefore, I can’t sit here and say to you that we can very quickly overcome or catch up to other companies, which began to work in the online field from many years ago and have been building these online networks on other platforms, and I don’t think that would be a smart strategy, either.”

Miiverse then is intended to offer some of the same services as an Xbox Live while not providing the full network experience. Seeing other player’s Miis wander onto your system is supposed to help you “empathize” with other players according to Iwata, as well as learn about new games, while providing an easy way for experienced and inexperienced players to co-exist.

As far as what kinds of games will be available for purchase online, Iwata recommitted to expanding Nintendo’s digital offerings, saying that a new, Nintendo-made Digital Rights Management system will let publishers offer all types of games, whether single-fee downloadables or micro transaction-supported free-to-play games.

“With respect to the Wii U system, when we began working on it, one of our goals was to have a variety of purchase options and additional e-commerce options available at its launch. And because of that, we have prepared a Digital Rights Management system. We have designed the system from a technical standpoint to allow developers to freely take advantage of things like free to play and micro transactions.”

The full Q&A can be read here.