Game maker Nintendo has announced that it plans to launch Wi-Fi based online gaming via its new Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection on November 14, 2005. Available at first for the portable Nintendo DS and for the company’s next-generation gaming console, code-named Revolution, in 2006.
Although details remain sketchy, Nintendo says users of Nintendo DS systems will be able to connect to existing home-based Wi-Fi networks with "minimal setup procedures," and folks who have broadband Internet but no wireless network will be able to use a separate Nintendo Wi-Fi USB Connector (on their computer?) to create a wireless access point for the Nintendo DS.
Away from home networks, DS players will be able to use thousands of free Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection hotspots in the U.S., although Nintendo has not announced any information about these hotspots, who will be providing the network, where the hotspots will be located, or how to connect.
Once wirelessly connected to the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, Nintendo says "characters from the Nintendo universe will be playable online, as part of a unique wireless community," A series of online-capable games from Nintendo will be released in the next few months, including Mario Kart DS,Animal Crossing: Wild World and Metroid Prime Hunters; Nintendo says these games will require no additional charge for online play. Online-capable third-party titles are also expected, including Activision’s Tony Hawk’s American SK8Land.
According to Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo America’s executive vice president of sales & marketing, "With easy setup and no added service fees, players far and wide will log in and play with one another as easily as if they were sitting in the same room." The Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection will apparently enable players "of all kinds" to log in wirelessly and begin play. Specific capabilities will apparently vary from game to game. For instance, Mario Kart DS (set to be available November 14) will enable up to four players at a time to race, and players can select opponents from a roster of friends, randomly selected strangers of similar skill levels, or, literally, anyone else in the world who happens to be online. Animal Crossing: Wild World (to be available December 5) will enable players to travel to each other’s towns, or invite up to three players registered on the host’s roster to visit their downs by opening the town gate.
Nintendo also plans to include the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection in its forthcoming Revolution gaming console in 2006, presumably enabling interactive online game play for online-capable games developed for that platform.
Going with Wi-Fi—and bypassing wired networks entirely for Internet-based gameplay—seems like a smart move for Nintendo, which leads the handheld/portable gaming market but faces stiff competition from Sony and Microsoft in the console game arena. The real question will be how well the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection works with specific types of game play: network traffic and latency may make some games essentially unplayable at various times, and, if players are constantly dropping on and off the network ("Can you play me now? Good!") the entire experience may be too frustrating to catch on.