Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Seventh Console War and Online Play

Reggie Fils-Aime, CEO of Nintendo of America, regarding Internet multiplayer with the Nintendo Wii:
We will offer online-enabled games that the consumers will not have to pay a subscription fee for. They'll be able to enjoy that right out of the box. The Wii console is going to be Wi-Fi enabled, so essentially, you'll be able to plug it in and go. It won't have hidden fees or costs.
This is good news for Nintendo fans. And in my opinion, this is the "tipping point" kind of feature that will propel Nintendo to a surprising, massively successful launch. Let's review:

  • The Wii will cost half (maybe even less than half) what its competitors will/do.
  • The Wii can play Gamecube games.
  • The Wii will have a Virtual Console for (S)NES, N64, TG16 and Genesis games.
  • The Wii has a simplified, wireless, motion-aware controller.
  • Playing multiplayer games online with the Wii will be free.
All these features put Wii in prime position to, as Fils-Aime said, appeal to non-gamers and casual gamers. The Nintendo DS has proved that this approach can not only work, but that it can work incredibly well.

I, myself, am extremely excited by the prospect of free online play. When Xbox LIVE first came around, criticism started falling upon the PS2 for not having a centralized multiplayer gaming framework. I defended Sony's approach, saying that it promotes developer freedom, and encourages competition in service pricing.

Now, Sony has announced a centralized system for PS3, while retaining compatibility with third parties, while Microsoft has invested further in Xbox LIVE. For both Xboxen, Microsoft has mandated that Xbox titles use their service. This has two caveats: it locks players into paying for online play regardless of the triviality of the game (monthly fee to play Street Fighter II online? No thanks), and it forces developers to throw out their preferred in-house or middleware netcode, instead having to use Microsoft-blessed libraries. (For an example of why that's bad, see Final Fantasy XI's April release date, when FFXI itself was announced for the 360 before it launched in November.)

Nintendo has affirmed (ironically, with Sony's help) the superiority of a provider-agnostic gaming framework. With their increasingly impressive launch library, below-average price point and innovative control scheme, Nintendo looks to be developing a top-notch console launch. This latest development, a pro-consumer take on Internet multiplayer, should have their competitors shaking in their boots.

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