As we were bombarded with announcements and details about Wii U in the past week, perhaps one feature stood out as something distinctly new in the world of Nintendo: Miiverse. After enduring the lacking online options on Wii for the past six years, Nintendo gamers can look ahead to potential levels of social interaction unknown to this point, apart from limited and preliminary updates on 3DS.
In a Nintendo Direct demonstration, also known as ‘that video with the Non-Specific Action Figure’, we saw a rather goofy gamer seeking help through a chat/forum screen, chatting to a friend who was viewing his question on a mobile phone, before jumping into a video call with a friend registered on his system. After the horrors of friend codes and sending messages on Wii, this showed a significant and much needed improvement in Nintendo’s attitude to networking and communicating with gamers.
As always though, there’s a big but, as Nintendo has a reputation to maintain: its system needs to be safe and accessible for children and families. As anyone who’s played an FPS online with voice chat will know, the gaming community at large isn’t full of friendly and polite individuals, but has its share of foul-mouthed and abusive idiots. Nintendo has stated, without going into too many specifics, that it will offer a triple layer of Miiverse moderation. Let’s look at what was said and whether it will be a good or bad thing, as well as suggest potential ways to accommodate a wide-range of gamers.
Miiverse promises to have a number of different layers to its interaction: a home screen where Mii characters gather around bubbles and share opinions on games, message board areas that are also available during play, and messaging to friends in text and video. That’s what we’ve gathered so far, so when Satoru Iwata outlined automated, human and user moderating of content in Miiverse, it’s wasn't entirely clear whether this is intended to cover every nook and cranny of the network or specific, open areas. It seems appropriate and fair that areas visible to everyone have some sort of moderation, as we all know what images and words will appear prominently should users have unrestricted access.
If content goes through a filtering process, especially with human intervention, it’s inevitable that this will cause a delay from the moment a message is submitted and when it appears. It’s clear that Nintendo is yet to think this through in detail, or at least hasn’t yet shared what it knows, but Satoru Iwata has said that he thinks a 30 minutes delay would be reasonable. If we assume that this delay will apply across message boards in all areas – which may not be the case – then the Nintendo Direct demo of seeking help and getting a number of responses would be a drawn-out process. That said, if the message area is well structured and the community is active, it may be the case that answers will already be available if you know where to look.
The problem of potential moderation, or delays to message delivery, is that it would deprive Miiverse of immediacy, which Iwata admits is vital in social networking. Finding a balance is the challenge, so that’s where a friend system and an opt-out option can come into play. It’s possible that video calls and direct messages will be restricted to friend’s lists, so perhaps these interactions can be spared from moderation delays. The issue of children making the wrong friends could be resolved by a robust parental control system, which would push any Wii U user profiles subject to these controls straight into the moderation system.
For those who want to avoid delays at all levels, we’d suggest that there be an opt-out where users with relevant access can choose to send and receive communications, in all levels and areas of Miiverse, without delays. This would essentially set up two tiers: an area where children or those who don’t want to see crude messages can interact, and an area where gamers can communicate instantaneously with the understanding that there’s potential for abusive messages. The third option is one we’ve already suggested, a moderator-free zone where friends can interact while excluding the community-at-large.
We’d suggest that, with its track record, Nintendo may potentially play it safe and moderate all areas to avoid any possibility of children bypassing parental controls, or perhaps just as part of a broader philosophy that abusive content has no place on the system, even for those that don’t object. While it’s tempting to point at Nintendo Letter Box/Swapnote and say that it allows free communication, it’s possible that the slow delivery of letters is really due to a moderation process, not a system limitation. Ideally, Nintendo will give us the choice to bypass moderation with an acknowledgement of the risks, but time will tell how ‘immediate’ the Miiverse social network will truly be.