The Wii U's Online Strategy is a Rorschach BlotS

The WIi U will have better, more impressive online functionality than any Nintendo console before it, we learned last week at E3. What does that mean?

Reggie Fils-Aime, president of Nintendo of America, told us: "We've spent a lot of time talking to a variety of publishers about what they want in an online environment. What they've told us is that they want it to be flexible. And they've told us that they want it capable of connecting across platforms. So we're building a system that is able to do that. ["Cross-platform," we asked? What do you mean? He said:] Whether it's social networks or mobile or things of that nature. We've built that system. We have that capability."

Katsuya Eguchi, tenured Nintendo designer, creator of Animal Crossing and multiple Wii U demos, told us: : "I can't go into details... We're trying to find new experiences... In looking at the approaches on the Xbox and PlayStation—what they've done and what people have responded really well to—we've definitely considered including those kinds of experiences, and we think that our third parties also want those as well... but there are also things Nintendo does and other companies haven't. We need to balance out what exactly what we need to bring to the user to bring the best experience possible."

Nintendo president Satoru Iwata didn't talk to us at E3, but he did talk to investors, and said:

To start, I'll have to say that I don't have any materials with me today that can illustrate precisely what our online environment will be like, but I can speak generally about the direction that we are moving in.

I think, in general, the online environment is changing quite rapidly.

So, what I have come to feel lately is that the idea of saying, "we are going to create this style of online structure and that we would like you, the developers, to fit into the online structure that we are creating" is perhaps already out-of-date.

I think that Nintendo's past console business has often included this idea of a set and fixed online structure. So, I think that, going forward, the question is really to what degree Nintendo can create a more flexible system for its consoles.

And, what we found at this point is that, as we discuss the online structure with different publishers, the things that the different publishers want to do are in fact seemingly rather different.

Our current direction is how we can take the desires of the third parties and create a system that's flexible enough to enable them to do the types of things that they might want to do.

So, for example with the question of VoIP [voice-chat], I think then what we would like to do is work with them on how to enable them to do that. But, what we're not going to do is to consider as prerequisite conditions that every game includes features like that because obviously there are some developers who may not want to do that.

As for social networks, after examining the penetration and adoption rate of social networking services like Facebook, etc., we've come to the conclusion that we are no longer in a period where we cannot have any connection at all with social networking services.

Rather, I think we've come to an era where it's important to consider how the social graph of the social networking services can work in conjunction with something like a video game platform.

So, once we get to a point where we're able to talk more concretely about our online plans, I think that once you hear what we'll have to say, you'll feel that Nintendo has a policy of adapting itself to changes in the network environment in a flexible fashion rather than the one of sticking to a rigid mechanism, or perhaps you'll notice that we have found ways to take advantage of these types of features like VoIP and social networking, where our systems have been seen as being weak in the past. However, unfortunately, we won't be able to share anything concrete today.

Got it now?

We don't have details about whether there will be a unified Achievements system, though we do know that Nintendo's internal teams aren't a fan of such a thing. We do know that Ubisoft showed at E3 that they're planning all sorts online match-making and stat-tracking, some of which will be available without the game fully being turned on, right off the Wii U's screen-centric controller. We do not, however, have anything close to a vision of what Nintendo's answer to Xbox Live or PlayStation Network is.

The pessimist will say that Nintendo is once again not aggressively promoting a unified and specific online strategy and certainly not leading the way with online-centric Wii U software. The optimist will say that Nintendo finally gets it. They finally sound like they care about online.

All of you will probably want more details. Us, too.