Talking Point: Miiverse and Social Networking

Bringing gamers together

In the past week, two particular news items and events have made us think about the future role of Miiverse on Wii U, and why it could be vitally important to the system. On the one hand, Satoru Iwata spoke to Kotaku to explain that Miiverse will be a ”social graph” for gamers, highlighting that the service will aim to do more than merely provide a competent competitive multiplayer environment, but also bring single player experiences into a community of empathetic gamers. The other key event was our own Mario Kart 7 community race meet, advertised through an article on the site and through plenty of tweets on our Twitter page. As it showed, Mario Kart 7 may have some excellent means of bringing groups together and communicating, but still has plenty of limitations. It also demonstrated that the Nintendo Life community has some rather quick kart racers, and that it was too much fun to not do again.

How will Miiverse potentially change single and multiplayer interaction between gamers, first on Wii U and eventually 3DS? Let’s have a look from both perspectives, in terms of what we know and what we hope to see from the service.

It’s perhaps in the proposed single player use of Miiverse that any comparisons to social networks, such as Twitter and Facebook, become most relevant. Nintendo has already stated that it has no plans for Twitter and Facebook to connect to Miiverse or have Wii U apps, so these kind of experiences will need to be mimicked through its own service.

We know that Wii U will have friend lists, of course, and that Miiverse will inevitably offer ways to communicate with those friends. It's been evident from screens that there'll be private message options, though these exist on 3DS and also featured on Wii. Of more interest are demonstrations of messages through timelines, for example, that can be general and all-inclusive or game-specific. It's the idea of empathy, so often mentioned by Satoru Iwata, that is most prominent in the messaging service that will be accessible via the Home menu. The Miiverse message screen in the infamous ‘Non-Specific Action Figure’ pre-E3 demonstration showed Plaza interaction, which appears to allow the various Mii characters gathered around the virtual bubble of a game to read and post on a message board with strangers. Messages seemed to have voting buttons, one an equivalent to a ‘like’ and one showing the number of responses, so browsing adopts well-known social network ideas.

Nintendo has already stated that it has no plans for Twitter and Facebook to connect to Miiverse or have Wii U apps, so these kind of experiences will need to be mimicked through its own service.

This appears to work as an internal forum message board, in practice, but it’s the follow-up steps that take it from a simple message board to something more fitting for communications in 2012. After receiving a message, the demo showed the ability to video call another player – which we’ll assume is limited to those on a friends list, as is likely – using the camera on the Wii U GamePad. If all of this works well when in action, then it’s easy to see how taking on a tough puzzle, boss character or area could become an entirely new and dynamic experience, genuinely adding a social angle to playing games. It all depends on how quick and efficient Nintendo’s moderation of content is, with almost instant publication promised for messages that pass through an automated filter.

These features are perhaps most like Facebook, with some Twitter touches included. The most direct comparison to Twitter is probably in Mii speech bubbles, shown on the Wii U main screen when around game bubbles, and even within games. As these are short messages, either text or doodles, they more closely seem to resemble the Twitter habit of making a short statement to anyone who cares to read it, without necessarily expecting any kind of response. It’s possibly more fun than functional, and doesn’t seem to be in the same league as the messaging system for actual interaction between players in solo games.

As mentioned earlier, we revived one of the Nintendo Life community rooms in Mario Kart 7. To outline the positives, first of all, it’s a 3DS title that actually allows gamers to set up a tangible meeting place, set their own rules and play together without having to trade friend codes. Aside from the ‘connect to race mini-game’ that can often end in a communication error, it’s a nice touch, even if it’s disappointingly an exception on 3DS at this stage. In-game communication is also decent if simplistic, with set messages to exchange in the lobby – though it’d be nice if starting the race was a group decision, rather than the whim of one over-enthusiastic player.

On the flip-side, however, are the limitations of the setup and the desire of the community to interact with each other in a more substantial way. For one example, some of the Nintendo Life team were playing the game next to computers, switching away from their 3DS to check comments in the website’s article and post updates on Twitter. It was a constant act of race, check monitor, and then race again. It’s encouraging that, potentially, Miiverse will help to remove these limitations, certainly on Wii U and hopefully on 3DS if it arrives on the handheld with much of the proposed functionality. It’s also to be hoped that Nintendo’s efforts with Miiverse, in giving a social platform for its developers and third-parties to access directly, will also encourage greater use of voice chat. We’ve seen it in Heroes of Ruin on 3DS and the ill-fated Wii Speak accessory, but it’s an area that should become more common.

Nintendo may not like the idea of groups setting up private areas for gaming sessions, in fear of potential inappropriate content being shared, but it’s a feature that can add a lot to online multiplayer.

One thing that’s not clear, so far, is how much gamers will be able to set up their own groups and communities within Miiverse. It’s understandable that Nintendo is focusing on bringing lots of diverse people together in its demonstrations, but we’d like to see functionality that not only allows private messaging areas for friend lists, but also in-game areas in the style of the Mario Kart 7 community rooms. Whether that’s possible relies heavily, once again, on the effectiveness of automated moderating, as well as the willingness of developers to provide the functionality. Nintendo may not like the idea of groups setting up private areas for gaming sessions, in fear of potential inappropriate content being shared, but it’s a feature that can add a lot to online multiplayer. We had a lot of fun playing Mario Kart 7 with fellow Nintendo Lifers, so the prospect of doing that on a future Mario Kart U with voice chat, Twitter style bubble messages and message board discussions, all on one platform, would be almost too much fun.

So far, the principles and ideas behind Miiverse are exciting. When Satoru Iwata talks about creating a “social graph”, bringing gamers together whether in single or multiplayer, it sounds like an exciting evolution in how we play games and interact with others. We'd also say that what we've actually seen so far, assuming it all works and the promised 3DS and mobile device support come through, is very encouraging. There are still questions, however, and features that if included would truly enable the service to excel and become more than a rarely used extra function on the system.

Can Miiverse truly become a streamlined, fun and effective Nintendo gamer’s social network? We certainly hope so, and we look forward to finding out.