Nintendo has been busy with Wii U promotion in recent weeks, with E3 at the core of a number of interviews and reveals about the system and what it will offer on the day it hits stores. Satoru Iwata has spoken about the console and its GamePad controller becoming the centre of the family living room. An image of four family members being together but not together due to their individual gadgets, was at the core of Iwata’s message in the pre-E3 Nintendo Direct broadcast: part of Wii U's objective is to bring everyone together around one source of entertainment.
It seems slightly strange, in that case, that the focus from that point on was on a man who was alone – apart from a certain Non-Specific Action Figure — using Miiverse to communicate with gamers around the world, and then in E3 itself we mostly saw flashy game trailers. Titles such as Nintendo Land, New Super Mario Bros. U and Rayman Legends will have a major focus on local multiplayer with a twist, absolutely, but these are only part of the answer when trying to bring people together around the console.
If Wii U is going to truly become the central entertainment source of the living room, then it’ll be apps that will make the difference. Sony and Microsoft have already made significant strides in this way, with movie and TV streaming, as well as music players, already integral parts of those systems. It’s a game of catch up for Nintendo, making the 10 second appearance of video services such as Netflix and Amazon Video at E3 a surprise. The potential for unique features, as is the case with games, rests with the GamePad, and it’s the partnership with Amazon that has significant potential.
A potential Amazon Video app offers obvious opportunities for movie and TV downloads or streaming. The area where Amazon and Wii U can truly shine and make genuinely innovative strides, however, is with eBooks.
Many eBooks currently available are, for the most part, simple text-based affairs with occasional images: a paperback in digital form. That may seem like an obvious statement, but it’s important to recognise that digital reading is also evolving beyond this simple format. Enhanced and interactive eBooks are becoming more common, with the standard reading experience being integrated with audio and video clips, celebrity narrators and even basic interactive features. The issue that’s faced Amazon is the limited capability of the standard Amazon Kindle e-reader, and the Apple iPad was the most significant major platform for these enhanced eBooks until the emergence of the Kindle Fire tablet, which is still not available in the UK. It’s an evolving industry, yet the most prominent distributor of digital books has actually lagged slightly behind.
While Wii U will take time to establish a significant user-base, eBooks could be a perfect fit for the system and its GamePad controller. The obvious application is for the touch screen to function in a similar manner to a tablet device, a simple way for the existing Kindle platform to be replicated on the console. To stop there would be a pity, however, as the immediate connection between the GamePad and television offers new possibilities that, although perhaps possible on existing tablet devices, could be used in an intuitive and fun way by Nintendo. The concept of group reading can go to a new level.
On one hand, the interactive elements of eBooks can easily be reproduced, and the ability to share content from the GamePad on the big screen can mean that a video, narrative track or music can be enjoyed by everyone else in the room. There’s also an opportunity for the ground between gaming and reading to be closed, which can benefit both young children learning to read and also older experienced gamers who can become more immersed in favoured franchises. As well as the GamePad the system can have accompanying Wii Remotes, so interaction and actually affecting the eBook content in entertaining ways both on the GamePad and television is full of potential.
Sony has actually already shown how reading can be combined with motion controls and augmented reality with its own Wonderbook concept on PS3, and similar ideas could be possible if Nintendo and Amazon share expertise and resources. The potential for educational eBooks that encourage activities and exercises with the Wii U hardware is vast. When it comes to publicity and exposure around eBook products, meanwhile, Amazon is easily the best platform due to its dominance in the industry and the sheer volume of its trusting customers. Painting and drawing, music or even brain training-themed eBooks could attract parents as there’d be substantial learning material alongside fun, game-related exercises, allowing more exposure than that offered in the gaming sector.
Of course, interactive educational experiences hold little attraction for many of us, but there is potential for game fiction and comic book tie-ins to become more dynamically linked to the source material. What if a story-driven game was released with surrounding fiction included, that provides even more context and background to a title's lore? Simplistic mini-games could be included within an eBook, with potential links to puzzles or hidden areas in the actual games. Experiments like these would be rife for abuse with publishers seeking a fast buck, inevitably, but it could encourage reading among those that don’t do enough. Featuring an extensive Amazon app would also provide potential links with Miiverse, where groups can form to socialise about books or, potentially, films or TV shows being bought or viewed on the service. Netflix, Hulu Plus and YouTube can also make good use of Nintendo's social network in that way.
Some of these concepts could easily be replicated in a retail disc or download, but increasingly tight budgets put the potential success of those releases in doubt. Scaled back experiences with additional reading on offer, at competitive eBook-style prices, could attract audiences looking for a different experience. It’s through sharing creative ideas and expertise with companies such as Amazon, therefore, that the console can stand apart from the crowd. The eBook industry is popular and expanding, so if Wii U can embrace the format and form a strong partnership with the company behind the massively popular Kindle, it could be exciting for us and financially lucrative for Nintendo.