Nintendo's latest console, the Wii U, and handheld, the 3DS, make the company’s strongest push yet into the online space with the Nintendo Network.
In 2012, the Nintendo Network replaced the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, which had been running since 2005, as the online ecosystem for the Wii U console, the 3DS handheld and smartphones.
As opposed to the Wi-Fi Connection system, which was essentially integrated into individual games, the Nintendo Network was instead a global infrastructure through which all services, players and games connected. This brought it in line with the services offered by competing consoles the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita.
How much does the Nintendo Network cost and how does it work?
Unlike its competition, the Nintendo Network is completely free to use, with no services or functionality locked away behind a subscription. However, products sold through the Nintendo Network more often than not will cost a fee.
Up to 12 people can sign-up for a unique Nintendo Network ID on one Wii U console, but only one can sign up on the 3DS handheld. It should also be noted that only one Mii avatar can be assigned to any single Network ID. Once you have your ID registered, on the Wii U you are instantly part of the global community and can start generating your friends list (capped at 100 people) and diving into the various features on offer.
The 3DS, however, still uses the legacy system of friends codes seen during the Wi-Fi Connection era, whereby you need to find a user's unique code to connect with them directly. Alternatively, on the 3Ds you can just be matched with other players automatically by the game.
If you haven’t already we highly recommend updating your Nintendo Wii U to the latest software, as many new features, including the eShop if you have not updated the console since it launched are only revealed through these system updates. The updates are free, but can take some time to download and install, so take that into account before setting off down this course.
What can you do on the Nintendo Network?
The Nintendo Network offers all the core functionality you would expect from an online console service. This includes the ability to browse the internet, download and use apps such as YouTube, shop for new games, download demos, and access extra content. The Wii U also allows for video chat, however this is not available on the 3DS. There is also an internal social network infrastructure called the Miiverse that allows you to interact and converse with other gamers (via their Mii avatars).
What is the Miiverse?
The Miiverse is a social networking service (think Facebook or Twitter) that is unique to Nintendo and built into the system software of the Wii U.
Miiverse allows you to exist in a virtual world as your Mii character, interacting with other people in various ways via communities founded around specific games. You can share accomplishments and tips, or content such as screenshots, drawings and hand-written notes. It’s a very open system, and as such is heavily moderated to ensure conversations are kept civil, on-topic and contain no spoilers. This is undertaken by an AI filtering system, followed by actual human staff.
It is possible for a few titles to interact with the Miiverse directly, so it is possible to see some games display user-created content in the game world. An example would be the way the walls in Splatoon can be decorated with drawings from the Miiverse.
What is the eShop and what can you buy?
The eShop is the online marketplace for Nintendo's consoles and handhelds, namely the Wii U and the 3DS. Unlike previous systems, purchases are now made with real dollars at regional exchange rates (as opposed to the old Nintendo Points system), which is a far less confusing way to shop. Everything you want to add to your dashboard, be it games, demos or apps, is done so by searching, discovering and downloading via the eShop.
It is possible to buy full retail games through the Nintendo eShop, however, this is not recommended. Often the price of games is no cheaper than traditional bricks and mortar shops. In addition you need to incur the ISP costs of the download, which can add up with games sizes often heading into the 5GB range and more. However, many digital only games including titles from indie developers and old retro favourites can only be purchased in the eShop.
You can also download demos and apps for free. Additionally you can get DLC for the more popular games, usually at an additional cost, as well as download game videos and screenshots, and even a few short films.
Through the eShop you can also buy Wii and WiiWare games from the last generation on the Wii U, and DSiWare titles for use on the 3DS. Retro titles are available from the Virtual Console section of the eShop. Thankfully, the eShop remembers what you have purchased, so if you have to remove a title from your Wii U at a later date, you can re-download it again in the future free of charge.
What is the Virtual Console?
The Virtual Console is an area of the eShop that allows you to purchase and play retro titles from legacy formats. Despite their age, these games still come with a price tag, although generally that price is less than $10. On the Wii U, that includes select titles from the NES, SNES, Nintendo 64, Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS. They are generally classics well worth a play. For the 3DS, the Virtual Console includes select titles from Game Boy, Game Boy Color, NES and Sega Game Gear.
What was Club Nintendo?
In 2008, Club Nintendo was formed as a loyalty program whereby fans who purchased new games were given an opportunity to fill out questionnaires and offer feedback in exchange for "Stars". These Stars could then be spent to receive exclusive items in various games. It was free to join and worked alongside the Nintendo Network Premium service (see below). As of September 2015, Club Nintendo was discontinued, and the company has revealed it is working on a new program set to be announced in 2016.
What was the Nintendo Network Premium?
In 2012, Nintendo revealed that it was setting up a program called Nintendo Network Premium, to which customers who bought a Premium Wii U received a two-year free subscription. The program was powered by a points system whereby users who registered a new game with Nintendo would get 10% of its value in Nintendo Points.
These could be accrued over time and then spent at the store to get new experiences. Conceived as a rival to PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live Gold, it never really got much attention from users due largely to the time it took to get a relevant number of points, and was ultimately discontinued in April 2015.