News Article

Feature: The Evolving Role of Swapnote

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

More than just a letter box

Nintendo Letter Box, also known by the catchier title of Swapnote in North America, filled a notable gap in the 3DS’ functionality when it was launched in late December last year. When the handheld launched various features were bare-bone or missing, and one frustrating omission was the lack of any meaningful way to communicate with other 3DS owners. Apart from painfully short status messages on the friends list or on StreetPass Mii, owners of the console existed in an isolated bubble from online friends; unless they used any of the numerous social networking options, of course. It seemed strange that in an age of Facebook, Twitter, online forums and chat rooms, Nintendo offered no means of genuine communication on a device that, supposedly, represented a step forward for the company’s online networks.

When Swapnote arrived just in time for Christmas you could almost smell the whiff of 21st century communications coming from Nintendo HQ. Then we actually explored the app and realised that Nintendo had somehow managed to take a modern idea and make it retro: messages were actually notes/letters, with virtual pieces or paper carried to their destinations by winged envelopes, while typing in a featureless font was disregarded in favour of handwritten notes. For those who have grown up communicating almost exclusively through email, SMS text and social networks, it may have been a strange proposition to hold a stylus and write a message by hand, with a handful of cute templates and the ability to include photos or sound clips being the only nods to modern technology.

Although still in its infancy, the unique composition of Swapnote has already inspired a few notable ideas in 3DS owners and Nintendo themselves, using the service to convey messages that could seem impersonal or less effective through another medium.

Creating new game experiences

An impressive example of this app becoming a game in its own right is Swapnote RPG, an adaptation of a tradition paper-based RPG by game design student Ben Gray. Replacing paper with Swapnote letters and following the standard rule of a dungeon master co-ordinating the game, which is by nature based on trust between participants, it’s possible to play a Dungeons and Dragons-style game with almost no limits. For fans of these games who can’t meet up directly with friends, Swapnote provides a unique opportunity to recreate the experience. Check out the video below for an introduction to the concept.

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Say it with a letter

We’ve already spoken about the personal touch that a handwritten note can have over a typed message. While it’s possible to spruce up letters with some nice templates and images, it’s the scruffy, almost illegible handwriting that shows the recipient that a fellow human-being has made the effort to communicate. Here at Nintendo Life we’ve sent and received charming messages with friends and family that express support, reassurances of awesomeness or even some playful rebukes. Sometimes people just like to write about what games they’re playing or looking forward to the most, often sharing their thoughts with improvised illustrations.

The best example of a meaningful, personal letter that we’ve seen so far was the marriage proposal that we reported on recently. The utterly charming and heart-melting video is below.

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Tell me about it, Satoru

Before the recent Nintendo Direct broadcast, Satoru Iwata and Reggie Fils-Aime sent Swapnote letters advertising their respective broadcasts, giving Nintendo enthusiasts a welcome opportunity to marvel at their handwriting in the process. In the case of Nintendo of America head honcho Fils-Aime, he either has an assistant with scrawly writing or, like many of us, he’s a mere mortal with a slightly messy writing style. Not only were the messages an effective way of raising awareness of Nintendo Direct, but it served to humanise two of the most important people within Nintendo.

Eiji Aonuma, producer of The Legend of Zelda series, has also joined in on the act. He sent a letter – including a rather pleasant Zelda template – to thank fans for support of the series’ anniversary, closing the message by saying ‘I hope you're looking forward to new Legend of Zelda games’. Not only did this message provide new content in the app, but it showed that Swapnote could become a charming communication tool for Nintendo, with messages and details about upcoming games a very real possibility.

Time for more deliveries

These examples show that Swapnote can be used to communicate in a number of ways. None of these methods are so unique that they’re not replicated in a number of ways online, but they do show that this app has a distinctive flavour or its own. There’s potential for further messages from Nintendo to keep gamers informed, but also for the functionality to be used in different ways.

For example, Nintendo ran a Zelda flipnote competition only last year, utilising the DSi app, and in many respects Swapnote is better equipped for contests such as these due to its SpotPass connectivity. Competitions to submit drawings, poems, photos or audio clips are all possibilities, and prizes could simply be download codes for eShop titles or even store funds. Running regular competitions of this nature would not only encourage 3DS owners to use the app and take the handheld online, but also help to develop a stronger sense of community around the device. This service could become a valuable means of communication for Nintendo, and not just a basic marketing tool.

The examples of user creativity that we’ve provided also show that 3DS gamers will also play their part in making Swapnote an integral part of the handheld’s appeal. Looking at the way it’s been used reminds us that this is an app that is so typically Nintendo: internet communication combined with old-fashioned, handwritten letters. By taking away regimented type and standardised emoticons, Swapnote reminds us that writing a note ourselves is a more intimate means of communication. No matter how illegible our writing or how primitive our drawings, we're reminded that we are all individuals, communicating in our own unique ways.

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User Comments (44)



Smooth27 said:

I also enjoy it, but their is a lot.of modern upgrades that it needs but my top one is instant what if I need to let my friend know something and need a response quick, well that at least an hour wait till he recieves it and an hour till I get the reply if everything goes as instant as possible that is.



x10power said:

Great Article, also love how you mention about the Swapnote RPG, once I am done with this insane school semester I am so going to start on the one I started to design. More information on it will come later when I get around to it.



bezerker99 said:

I really like Swapnote! However, there are only a few friends on my Friends List who actually utilize (or even like) it.

@Mr_Gurgles - Yeah, what gives with it being so slow? Hopefully an update in the future can speed up the app.



SLiM said:

It's neat but it would be so much better if it doubled as an instant messenger.



Wildvine53 said:

I use Swapnote everyday, it's such a nice application. I thought that after the initial release that it would die out, but my friends keep it going every day.



Marakuto said:

There is a double reply glitch, I can show the photo of me receiving it. I lost all my letters back in 23rd of February and I had 2700+ since day one when it was released. Although my friends say I am lucky I don't have the same amount as them as I had before.



WolfRamHeart said:

Good article Thomas. I really do enjoy Swapnote and I have a good amount of friends that actually use it. I try my best to keep up with all the messages but it gets tough especially when you are busy in real life. I haven't been on in over a week and I was bombarded with a ton of messages. I just hope that my friends don't think that I'm dead or something.



U3N said:

@SoZettaFox No one I know uses Swapnote much anymore. I have to start conversations and topics there. If not, then there are seldom messages recieved on my 3DS.



enda_o said:

The damn thing DESPERATELY needs an update.

Its missing so many features. The 3D is blurry, 1 reply only per thread, saving images kills the image quality of the original, 5 second recording limit, cant reply with a picture, no video sending, only 1 colour, limited ink, no way of organizing letters

Theres so much that could be tweaked and updated but nintendo are just way too damn lazy.



RR529 said:

I love sending pictures of neat stuff I've found in MGS3D through Swapnote (I've even found a good number of Yoshis and will send a pic of one along with a clue for anyone looking for Yoshis).

I hope more games include an in game camera, because taking pictures, and distributing them through Swapnote has become addicting.



gojiguy said:

I hate Swapnote... It blocks certain game photos (MGS3D apparently works, Freakyforms and Pushmo DONT), doesnt allow live chat (ala pictochat), has limited replies, is VERY slow, can't be launched while running another app, etc.

It ended up really disappointing, to be honest.



Moonhillwat said:

Swapnote is nice, but it never took away the isolated bubble that I felt. For one, not everybody uses it. For two, it's no replacement for actually messaging a friend that just popped online.

Third, I don't know about you guys, but writing with the stylus hurts my hand.



sillygostly said:

@gojiguy: Pushmo/Pullblox worked for me, but the AR codes are impossible to scan as Swapnote/Letter Box drastically reduces the quality of attached images.



Mariotag said:

I could eventually use swapnote, maybe.
I'm more upset about not getting that Zelda swapnote.



Folkloner said:

Whilst I concede that there are many improvements that can be made to Swapnote, I'm a big fan of taking something with limited functionality and trying to use it in new ways.

To add to the Swapnote RPG example above, i'd like to point you all to the following thread on 3DS Forums:

Swapnote Trivia League:

It's pretty self explanatory with questions being sent out via Swapnote twice weekly and a League Table being sent out on Fridays. Players can even earn achievement badges which also get sent via Swapnote with their own graphic and sound file jingle.




grumblegrumble said:

I think that Swapnote is a little irritating, to be bluntly honest, and that's what we need here. No reasons to fluff up something that needs help. It's a fantastic app! I think it does, however, need to restrict the amount of notifications you can get from incoming mail, needs to restrict HOW much mail one user can send per day or week (and to a limited number of people.) My biggest issue with Swapnote is the amount of junk that's allowed to filter through by the same people a zillion times a day. Let's rethink it a bit, but it's a fantastic little groundbreaking (and much needed) 3dS app.



XCWarrior said:

Swapnote isn't perfect, but I still find it to be a fun way to communicate. It can be very fast if you want it to be. People complaining about the speed clearly have never just touched the touch screen, it finishes the pages immediately.

Do I want to see an update? Sure, but it's still a lot of fun to use.



gojiguy said:

Then i guess it just actively blocks Freakyforms... Which is a real pain because it'd be great to be able to send pictures of your creations to people...

UGHHH wtf nintendo...



carson said:

I love swapnote! Sadly, all my friends don't like it because they suck at drawing...I tell them, swapnote can be so much more than drawing naked ladies and pokemon, but they don't seem to listen.



HADAA said:

@sillygostly and to all the peeps above saying Swapnote blocks Freakyforms etc, it's only because the image file is too large. Here's a trick, use Pokedex 3D's background snapshot function (set opacity to 99%) and resave, that will reduce the file size and should work for Swapnote, although the 3D will be lost.



Victoria said:

I love the app. I have a lot of great friends - most of whom I met here on NintendoLife - and we share notes daily. In an email type post I suppose they would seem boring, or even like Spam. Because they're all hand written and can include photos and drawings, they are fun to read, and so much more personally than a typed instant message.

I do worry about my friends who don't get on it very often. How many posts they must have and how overwhelming it must feel to not have the time to answer. If I see people aren't replying to my posts, or our mutual friends posts, I stop sending to them. I'd hate to add to mountain of posts when they don't have time for it.



Chobi said:

Swapnote has it's problems but it's nice to finally be able to message friends.



Kirk said:

I've not used Swapnote myself but I like how it's been done by Nintendo.

Imagine if popular email services like Hotmail and Yahoo were a bit more like Swapnote...

How cool would that be!



Joco84 said:

I don't really find it useful - painfully slow and people use it to write pointless messages about their weekends!



Luigi_is_better said:

I'm a fan of Swapnote, but I only have one friend that has a 3DS right now. My friend code is 2836-0093-8545 if anyone wants to add me. I would love to talk to a few people from this site, it's awesome and I've been reading it for a while now.

Could anyone send me the Zelda stationary and/or any other rare ones? I got the one from Reggie, but that's it

I also look forward to any matches in Mario Kart if anyone is up for that!



Capt_N said:

@rentanick Done, & my code is 0173-1967-5074. Also, there is a forum here(on the site), with a topic/thread about exchanging 3DS fcs.

Edit: Yeah, I don't always use Seapnote, so/but it would be nice to be able to delete old letters, more than 1 at a time. A few quirky improvements, like length of sound files, & (size of) photos, also replies to messages that (you) have already (been) deleted(although how this is probably done currently, is through the older messages in the thread being kept on the individual's 3DS), & colored ink. I can understand the ink limit to a certain degree.



MetroidMasher17 said:

I don't see too many problems with this app other than, as mentioned, the junk mail. I get way too many notes from this guy (no one who I've met on this site, mind you) who can't seem to live without telling me how "Emo girls are weird...but hot!" or that he "Got a new hat!". And then, he told ME to stop sending him pointless mail. Granted, it was a message sent to a lot of his other friends who I don't know, but I cannot possibly imagine someone more annoying than he is.

On a side note, isn't it amazing how the Internet and communications in general have devalued the meaning of the word "friend"? I don't personally know 24 of my 27 3DS friends. I'm not trying to say that I haven't enjoyed the conversations some of my 3DS friends and I have had over Swapnote, I'm just saying that if you went back...oh... 20 years, the meaning of friend would be VERY different.



lmwtw1 said:

It's nice to be able to communicate with some of my facebook friends without having to turn on the computer. It's so fun to share photos of our lives without others seeing them. Great Job Nintendo



bezerker99 said:

battLeToaD had a good idea - a Chess match b/t gamers using Swapnote!!!!! sounds pretty epic - now to just find someone to commit to a game.

(Anyone interested???) It's the weekend and that would make a great few days to play a random game o' chess.

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