With Nintendo Direct came the announcements of a few additions to Nintendo’s online network: Miiverse is coming to the 3DS, and Wii U and 3DS eShop accounts are being merged. Both have been asked for by fans for some time now and, while it’s great that they’re listening, there’s still a long way to go before Nintendo’s online services are everything they should be.

Miiverse

Miiverse is one of Nintendo’s more brilliant ideas of late, arguably surpassing that of the GamePad. Building a social community into the console itself, allowing players to talk about the games they’re playing with friends and others who share the same interests is nothing short of genius.

However, it simply hasn’t been implemented as well as it should have. While it is fairly enjoyable to go on a community and read a few comments, “Yeah!” a few pictures, and respond to people asking if they should get the game, it’s not a very deep experience or a cohesive community. As a result, I visit it rarely — and from the low membership I’ve been seeing recently, it seems others have been doing the same.

They need to make it more like a traditional online community, if a different and heavily moderated one. For starters, it should be a lot easier to interact with friends. Wall posts are an obvious addition, as are chat rooms, or if that’s too risky, the already confirmed user-made communities will be a great inclusion.

Looking through the activity feed of status updates and community posts isn’t that enjoyable —instead of showing every update your friends have made on Miiverse, it should only show general status updates. Posts to specific communities should be shown only if the poster wants it to show up in his friends’ activity feeds — or perhaps it would make more sense to have it the other way around and you can choose what types of posts show up in your feed (something that was also mentioned back in January to be in the works). Having to scroll through dozens of Arkham Origins achievements to get to the interesting stuff gets a bit frustrating, to say the least. Anything and everything that would make Miiverse a more enjoyable community experience without taking away from what makes it so unique should be added.

Miiverse

Miiverse is already a very cool community and, if Nintendo acts on the above advice, it could become an even better one. I am, however, liking that Nintendo is taking Miiverse in unique directions from other similar services. The stamps for Mario 3D World and Animal Crossing: New Leaf is genius and should, in my opinion, be their version of achievements and trophies. Completing challenges and getting tangible rewards would be a really cool way to show off gaming skills in community posts or status updates.

Even if they decide not to go in that direction, like nearly everyone else, I believe Nintendo needs some form of a trophy/achievement system. Regardless of your opinion on them, a lot of people get super into that sort of thing. In fact, it often dictates which system people buy a multi-platform title on. With Miiverse, they have the opportunity to make trophies/achievements a more satisfying experience than ever, boosting sales on their console in the process.

Before accomplishing that, though, they need to make Miiverse a more personalized experience. Profiles should be customizeable to at least some degree, like personalized backdrops and featured posts. If not that, it should at least show more about the user. Instead of just a brief bio and their community posts, it should show more about them — maybe a page that tells their favorite games, movies, TV, music, and other interests beyond what can be said in a brief bio. This is beginning to sound a bit like Facebook, admittedly, but it would be a great way to find other gamers with similar interests to play games with, become friends with, and form a more enjoyable community with — but one that is still strictly moderated so that things don’t get out of control.

With browsing the community a more fun experience, achievements/trophies would suddenly be huge. Showing off how good (or obsessed) you are at games would be more fun than ever, as now you could do it in tandem with interacting with an awesome community. It would certainly improve multi-platform game sales on Nintendo consoles, as it would be the best place to show off what you’re capable of.

All this said, it’s possible implementing all these ideas would take away some from what Miiverse is supposed to be: a way to interact with fellow gamers experiencing the same gaming experiences you are. If done properly, however, I believe that it could elevate Miiverse to something truly incredible, something even more addicting than Twitter and the various gaming forums and communities on the internet.

Luckily, a few of these things were confirmed by Nintendo to be on the way back in January, but there’s been no sign since. Hopefully, Miiverse can become what it’s capable of being soon.

Adding more devices, unifying everything

I hate to sound like a broken record here, but, well, it’s kind of hard to avoid in an article like this, so I might as well get it out of the way: Nintendo needs a unified account system. I actually know several people who outright to refuse to buy anything from the eShop because it’s tied to the system. If your console breaks, you lose everything, and Nintendo’s track record for returning everything lost has been less than consistent. Knowing content is completely safe, even if the system breaks, would go a long way for consumer trust.

Fortunately, Nintendo seems to have realized this and is beginning to make steps towards fixing it. Recently announced is that Miiverse is coming to 3DS, and that 3DS and Wii U eShop and Nintendo Network ID accounts will be linked. This is great news — we’re on the way to having a consistent online profile and hopefully, they’ll take it a step further by linking games to accounts. In addition to helping immensely with game security, however, merging the eShops could help in many other ways to boot.

The most obvious is cross-buy between consoles, but we’ll talk about that in a later section. What I’m thinking about here is multiple devices being able to access the same account. Of course, a few months back, Miiverse was made accessible from a PC and comments by Satoru Iwata indicate that Nintendo means to make smartphones more their ally than they have been.

Hopefully, this shows they intend to put Miiverse on smartphones soon. Particularly with some of the added functionality for the service talked about in the last segment, being able to access the community anytime, anywhere would improve the experience immensely. It would feel more like a traditional social network in the best way possible, with users checking it regularly and by force of habit, not just “Oh, snap, I should probably use Miiverse!”

I would argue they should go a step further and add eShop support to both PC and smartphones. This is something Sony has already done with their PlayStation brand and it’s worked very well. It would be only a convenience for consumers; pushing a button on your phone and having a game download on your console would be quite nice and shopping on a computer is always easier than other places.

Nintendo would benefit as well. For starters, it would help impulse buys. You see a link to an interesting game, you check it out, and then you can push a button, and it’s yours. As nice as the eShop layouts are, things are easier buys when you don’t have to boot up a console to find it. There wouldn’t be nearly as many second-guesses before purchasing.

More importantly, though, it would help a lot with the more casual consumer. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re a pretty enthused Nintendo fan. You know about the gaming industry and you know everything about Nintendo — or what games and systems are coming out, at the very least. The average consumer doesn’t know about all that stuff.

This could be Nintendo’s chance to change that. By drawing them into their online community, convincing them to download and connect to the “Nintendo app” (or something along those lines) that allows users to access Miiverse and eShop, suddenly drawing them into the world of Nintendo isn’t as hard. Now, finding out about new games is simple and easy, and store kiosks and TV commercials won’t be the only places they learn that the games exist.

If done correctly, implementing a constant Nintendo environment could be way to help more casual gamers turn into something more intense about the hobby. It wouldn’t work for all consumers who try the app, but it would doubtlessly help, and if visiting Miiverse and the eShop becomes as regular an occurrence along the lines of visiting Twitter and the App Store, that would only mean good things.

Again, some of this stuff has been confirmed to be on the way, but we’ve heard nothing about most of it for some time. If we are lucky, these improvements will begin to roll out in the near future.

Nintendo TVii

It’s not exactly an online service, but it’s close and it also happens to be useless. Before the console launched, this was the biggest thing giving the Wii U popularity among the mainstream media; after it launched, we learned that it is completely and utterly pointless. It was supposed to give users the ability to browse TV while using social media on the GamePad and become a conglomeration of all the major streaming services for quick and easy discovery what shows to watch and where you can watch them. Instead, it all just feels rather pointless.

Fixing that shouldn’t be too much of an issue, however. Making loading times near non-existent is a start, as would adding more functionality and options. It really would be the simplest fix of all the things I talk about here or, at least, the most obvious. The service has potential and could be a really cool addition to the console, maybe even helping gain more sales and interest from consumers that aren’t so enthusiastic about gaming. It just needs to work better and do what is advertised.

Virtual Console

One of the eShop’s best features is the option to buy countless classics from Nintendo’s extensive past for fairly cheap. While it was great during the Wii’s era of dominance, it’s becoming frankly pathetic. I’d argue that of all Nintendo’s services, this is the one with the most potential and, at the same time, the one that has been abused the most. That may sound overdramatic, but it’s true. Given Nintendo’s unmatched history and collection of unbelievable classics, Virtual Console could be near a system seller all by itself, but recently, Nintendo’s shown nothing but apathy towards it.

During the Wii era, major VC games were released on the service few and far between, presumably to fill in software gaps for retail titles and/or increase hype for brands with upcoming releases. At the time, it was understandable, but now they’re doing the exact same thing again for the Wii U eShop.

Despite having all the content available to purchase in a roundabout way by accessing the Shop Channel in Wii Mode, they created a brand-new service for slightly updated versions of the same game — and then, once again, staggering out the content for the same price. I fully confess to not knowing much about how programming this sort of thing works and I also realize that changing a game so that it also controls and plays on the GamePad, not to mention adding save states, takes time, work and money. That said, now that all Wii games can be played solely on the GamePad, I don’t see what’s stopping Nintendo from updating the console to allow downloadable Wii games to be opened from the Wii U menu, followed by adding WiiWare and a full, already existing Virtual Console lineup to the eShop.

As of now, none but the most hardcore of fans, people who know what they’re buying before they even turn on the console, would access the full library. While it is possible to get to everything from the Wii U, there are too many hoops to jump through. You have to open up a secondary mode, open up a channel most don’t even know exist, and attempt to navigate a confusing and slow-moving OS most could barely tolerate on the system it was originally on to buy anything more than the meager offerings from the eShop.

Though not being able to control the games with the main method on the system (the GamePad) may cause some confusion to much of the audience, it would undoubtedly be better than their current method. They can slowly release versions with the added functionality as they are doing now, allowing current owners the option of upgrading for a small fee. It would also let the average consumer find easily the hundreds of fantastic games from past generations rather than the limited amount available from the eShop, which in turn would lead to far more sales. All they need to do is figure out how to get Wii software to be available from the Wii U menu and let the games be downloaded from the eShop.

All this said, it’s hardly the most important issue with the service, that claim belonging to the fact that the games are far, far too expensive. No matter how good it may be, a twenty-five-year-old game is not worth five dollars. That’s not true, technically speaking, considering that many NES games are better than modern ones, but given the amount of ways there are to easily download any game prior to the GameCube, charging five, eight, even ten dollars, for content people can easily download to their PC, phone, or tablet for free simply isn’t smart.

The problem is that the Virtual Console isn’t a place for impulse buys. Here’s the thing: when someone else is offering a free service, you need to make sure your own comparable service is better than theirs. Sure, the Virtual Console is the only place to buy Nintendo classics legally, but illegal methods are not frowned upon when it comes to getting older games. While Nintendo has attempted to make their service better in minor ways, there is nothing they can do to make the average consumer think, “I should spend five dollars on this instead of downloading it for free instead.”

While giving the games more visibility on the eShop would help with this, the key thing they need to do is decrease the prices exponentially. No matter how amazing Super Mario Bros. 3 may be, no twenty-five-year-old game is worth five dollars. When you can get fantastic modern experiences from indies on PC or the App Store sometimes for as cheap as a buck, games as old as these need to be generally thoughtless purchases: NES games $1-$2, SNES games $2-$4, and N64 games $5-$8 — tops.

The Virtual Console needs to be a easy to get into with no risk for buyers. You see something you’re interested in, you buy it with no problem. It’s clear what the benefits to consumers is naturally: cheaper games are always good, right? Not to mention, more people will get to experience incredible games and get into the franchises with no problem, which is where the benefit to Nintendo comes in.

With lower prices comes less money per purchase, yes, and if they mark down their games by 50% or more as they should, chances are the increase in sales won’t quite make up for it. However, in addition to much happier customers, they’ll have more people being introduced to lesser known franchises or becoming more obsessed with ones they otherwise might had simply have a passing interest in.

Particularly for the younger audience, these lower prices would bring in more fans to the series, get people enamored with Nintendo as a brand or, at least, their franchises. I speak from experience when I say this — I wouldn’t be the gamer or Nintendo fan I am today if I hadn’t asked for Wii points cards for my birthday several years back and having these games more readily available would be huge. Nintendo can strengthen fan loyalty, bring in more new core fans, and help solidify themselves for the future: they just need to make their Virtual Console games cheaper and easier to find.

Not that the benefits for doing this will happen overnight; they will for consumers, of course, but Nintendo may not receive the benefits for a while. However, I truly believe doing this will help as much as I said it will. Either way, they’ll finally catch up to the competition in terms of offering classics for affordable prices and, if they drop the prices as low as possible, they might just surpass them.

In fact, to an extent, this could be Nintendo’s way of beating the App Store. Sure, there are plenty of $1, semi-quality games on there, but compared to legendary Nintendo games for the same price? The eShop may not be able to match up in terms of indie support, but they can make up for it through the Virtual Console. This could be a huge addition to their consoles, but they seem determined to ignore it for the most part, delegating it to a bad service and ridiculous prices.

They’re mistreating it in plenty of other ways, as well. For starters: where are the other consoles’ games at? Not having GameCube games is actually pretty understandable, as the architecture is extremely different. Still, it’s a multi-billion dollar company; someone must have an idea of how to get GameCube’s criminally underplayed library working on the Wii U.

Wii games should also be available. Rolling out games already released on a console that’s fully compatible with the system would be easy money and consumers being able to buy games from Wii’s incredible library for cheaper prices and added convenience would make it a win-win for everybody.

Not to mention, bringing Game Boy Advance games to the 3DS as another idea; through the ambassador program those have been ready to go for ages now. Why they haven’t been put on sale is unfathomable. It brings to light another major piece of evidence as to Nintendo’s apathy towards the VC — even for the system with a huge amount of titles waiting to be added, they still don’t update often. Game Boy and Game Boy Color have tons of excellent classics that Nintendo just hasn’t put on the 3DS VC.

Obviously, it takes time and work to port the games over with no technical glitches, but still, there’s no way they have to push them out this slowly. Honestly, it just doesn’t make sense why they aren’t taking a more offensive stance with the Virtual Console. They’re resting on their laurels, barely even meeting the bare minimum of what they should be doing.

And finally, there’s the issue of cross-platform compatibility. Obviously, buying a game twice on separate consoles as is currently required is a bit ridiculous, but it is clear to see why Nintendo has elected not to combine sales. Putting in the extra work of making it available for two consoles and getting nothing back for the second would be a bit of a waste for them. That said, it’s flat-out unfair to consumers, forcing them to pay full price for the same game twice.

I personally expect them to initiate something like the upgrade system they used for the Wii U’s VC trial run: twenty to fifty cents for a game you’ve already bought and you get the ability to play it on your other console. With Nintendo Network IDs being linked, that’s a certainly feasible thing to do from a technical standpoint. Whether they decide to drop prices or not, I think it’s what they’ll end up doing — though, of course, free would be proffered from a consumer standpoint. The competition is already doing cross-buy, but I don’t think that will be the immediate step for Nintendo. A small fee to play on both would be a huge improvement compared to the current method, at least.

Conclusion

I spent the majority of the article on Virtual Console, but the entirety of Nintendo’s online services can and should be stepped up, and luckily, they seem to be on the right track. Better online services will lead to happier customers, and thus, better sales. Of course, the benefits to said customers are clear: we’ll get a better and more enjoyable experience with our consoles. Unifying everything and improving Miiverse, Virtual Console, even TVii, are all things Nintendo needs to do and hopefully, they do them sooner rather than later.

Fixing online services may not be the biggest of their problems, but it would go a long way towards making us happy and helping them have more long-term security. Other companies continue to get farther ahead in the online game, but Nintendo has the opportunity to surpass them with an online community bursting with potential, a constant Nintendo environment, and the chance to play their classics and try new games with little to no risk. Let’s hope that we see these improvements — and soon.

Written by Jonathan Harrington

Jono loves to play and try out all types of games, but he’s especially fond of those with “Xenoblade,” “Okami,” or “Zelda” in the title. He is a features and reviews editor at Nintendo Enthusiast, though he also dabbles in news.