There is an astronomical number of people playing video games together online. Just consider Zynga’s games alone. FarmVille, Mafia Wars, and those games’ myriad descendants command an audience of 252 million active users per month. A quarter of a billion people play games together on Facebook, plunking away at each other’s farms and buying new hats. That is nearly two and a half times the number of Wii owners there are in the world.
It isn’t exactly fair to compare Nintendo’s decrepit console to social games that can be played on PCs and mobile devices seamlessly, but it’s useful in illustrating a point: The people of the world are perfectly comfortable playing games online with strangers and with friends. People don’t need network holders to protect them from the dangers of the Internet; they can do it themselves. Just like the Wii and the now 8-year-old Nintendo DS though, the new Wii U will use Friend Codes to connect people for online gaming.
In an interview with Kotaku, Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime confirmed that the new home console will indeed keep Friend Codes around. “There are Friend Codes, but it’s not the existing Friend Code system,” said Fils-Aime, “What do I mean by that? Here’s what I mean: You will be able to identify people as friends and a have a certain level of interaction versus a different level of interaction for the more general population. The method by which you identify someone as a friend is a lot simpler than what’s happening with Friend Codes.”
Fils-Aime went on to say that adult players frustrated by the barrier will be happier with this new system.
The old system for identifying friends on the Wii and DS involved exchanging long numerical codes with each other. For Wii owners, a code needed to be entered for both the consoles themselves and then for each individual game that could be played online. When the Nintendo 3DS was released in 2011, Nintendo promised a simpler system, but the Friend Code system was only simplified to the point that one code needed to be entered into a system, with no codes for individual games. Players met in the 3DS’ Street Pass mode still cannot be added to friends lists.
That “level of interaction” on the 3DS sounds similar to what Fils-Aime is describing for Wii U, which is simply unacceptable in the modern games market. If Nintendo legitimately wants to compete in the social gaming space that has transformed the video game business, if it wants to remain a key player in the industry, it needs to unshackle its online strategy. Nintendo of Japan, the decision makers in all these processes, needs to finally understand that it can’t protect the common user from rude people online. It’s impossible. People simply have to protect themselves and Friend Codes won’t do anything but block them from using the company’s services.