Feature: Taking Off to the Miiverse

Remember everyone, it's all about empathy

Apart from those living in Japan, many Nintendo gamers will have now spent some time with Wii U, Nintendo's new home console and foray into a variety of bold new directions. A great deal of focus, unsurprisingly, is given to the company's first dalliance with HD visuals, and more prominently the various uses of the GamePad. While the latter is undoubtedly bringing a lot of innovation to game experiences, we feel that Miiverse is worthy of a special mention and, even at this very early stage, a fair amount of praise.

While 3DS has made some decent inroads in online social functionality with Swapnote/Nintendo Letter Box, along with the ability to jump into a chum's game from the friends list, it's still relatively simplistic. Compared to Wii, however, it's a leap forward, with the friend code and messaging system on Nintendo's previous home console being rather slow, inconvenient and unattractive, to be kind. In fairness, Wii brought a lot more to the gaming landscape, and was never given the sufficient tools to offer a social experience comparable to that on Xbox 360, PS3 or even PC services such as Steam. With Wii U, of course, there were no such excuses to be made.

And so we have Miiverse, Nintendo's answer to a social network on Wii U. When describing Miiverse it's tempting to be lazy and just say that it's so, well, Nintendo. It becomes immediately apparent that the service is quickly evolving into the most friendly video game social space out there, possibly the cleanest we've ever seen. The occasional rude picture trickled through on launch day in the U.S., according to some humorous posts on Twitter, but in general it's clear that a combination of a friendly user base and a remarkably efficient moderation system is keeping it family friendly, 99% of the time. Even communities dedicated to titles with notoriously foul-mouthed and abusive — in general terms — gamers on alternative systems are welcoming and relatively troll-free; we're looking at you, FIFA 13 and Call of Duty: Black Ops II.

Which brings us to the Communities, of course, which are a major part of the main Miiverse app. In one sense, the community counts can act as a basic popularity contest — poor little Your Shape: Fitness Evolved 2013 only has 111 participants in Europe and Oceania at the time of writing — and shows which titles are engaging Wii U owners the most. By breaking up posts into these communities Nintendo can monitor content easily, and it also keeps gamers relatively on topic, with any madness generally being dealt with.

It's not foolproof, mind, as a rather peculiar campaign by a popular internet game critic has taken over one community with a series of posts dedicated to a Hollywood star; if you want to see for yourself, select Americas as your region and track down the Rabbids Land community. As has been observed plenty of times, the communities, messaging and Activity Feed functionality combine to be like a cross between Twitter and Facebook; yet the Rabbids example does highlight one minor niggle mentioned by multiple members of the Nintendo Life team — there's no "say what you like" area, where you can post a message on any topic for your friends or followers to see. As we've said, we can understand the practical reasons why posts are limited to communities, but it's also clear that determined gamers will try and break that system. It also means that if you want to post something nice along the lines of "yikes, the Wii U internet browser's pretty darn fast", there's no intuitive place to do so.

Beyond that minor complaint, however, the platform is off to strong start. While an included friend list area on the system is useful, the ability to send and receive friend requests via Miiverse makes things nice and simple, while being able to view a feed of just your friend's posts and also send them direct messages is a real step forward; each step's easy in a clear, well structured touch interface. Miiverse is also a place where, perhaps for the first time, it's possible to truly feel part of and follow a Nintendo community while gaming on your console, a welcome and wide-reaching extra beyond websites such as this, of course.

It can be a platform to express yourself, with which to show off some artistic doodling skill. The charming WaraWara Plaza is an early entry point, with unknown Mii characters running to a bubble and showing off their messages and pictures. It's the relatively minor touches that help, too, with the ability to type with the keypad, hand write messages, show your mood with your Mii's facial expressions and to post screenshots from compatible games. These touches lead to a pleasing variety of posts from all sorts of gamers, and it can be a small thrill when a stranger that isn't registered as a friend decides to "yeah" one of your posts, the equivalent of a Facebook "Like" or Twitter retweet. It's surely that tingle of excitement and eagerness to see what others are posting that brings us the the "empathy" that Satoru Iwata so wants from Miiverse.

Perhaps the most exciting thing about Miiverse is that, on day one, it's so instinctive to use and full of functionality. We can't imagine that Nintendo will rest on its laurels and leave it alone, with the 3DS showing evidence that the company is eager to embrace change and continually update and improve consoles with system updates; for one thing, with such an active community it'd be nice to have more than 100 friends. One thing's clear, however, which is that Miiverse is providing a social element that includes some of the functionality seen on Xbox 360 and PS3, while also avoiding some of their pitfalls. It's clean, fun, friendly and — we'll say it again — very Nintendo. It seems fitting to let the words of Satoru Iwata finish us off, which reflected his hopes for Miiverse back in August; based on our early experiences, we think it's on the right path.

We have reached an era where even a single-player game experience [can] have a social component that is very important. And I think, again, that social component is mandatory.

...I feel that we need to create—or present—a gaming platform as the place to create that 'social graph' for folks who are in gaming circles, I guess. So that's kind of the reason for creating Miiverse.

When we looked at the timing of how we are going to be implementing it, [we said], 'Okay, when are the best points when people want to have social interactions and makes them want to reach out and say, "Me too," "I did that," "I feel the same way,"?', I think, on a very human level, that is what will give them a sense of satisfaction.

What do you think of Miiverse so far, what do you love or hate? Let us know in the comments below.

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