This week Nintendo finally delivered Miiverse, along with the Nintendo Network ID and shared eShop fund support, to the 3DS. While it has its flaws — which we'll cover to some degree this weekend — that's to be expected with any launch, especially one such as this that fundamentally shakes up the infrastructure of the system and its online store. The update delivered two particular aspects that we think are integral — 3DS owners could join the Miiverse community, but more importantly it linked Wii U and 3DS owners together. In these respects, this update could one day be considered as an important step in the evolution of both systems.
We've argued in the past, we think with good reason, that while other portable systems — be they the Vita or the omnipresent smartphones and tablets — strive for multi-functionality and social networking, the 3DS has carved a niche exclusively as a games platform. The Vita, to a degree, made much of Twitter and Facebook integration when it launched. The 3DS does offer extras that weren't on the DS, but in most cases these features link to games or gaming habits in some way, with StreetPass and SpotPass being notable examples. Swapnote / Nintendo Letter Box was perhaps one case of Nintendo opening the device up for more social interaction; its recent loss due to concerns of illegal activities was felt by some dedicated fans, to be sure, but we're not convinced that the widespread userbase would have been particular affected. It was an extra, and arguably not integral to the system's main purposes; most turn on their 3DS to do one thing, play games.
While that's been a strength of the system, there are signs that targeted social features are on Nintendo's radar, with the admittedly clunky Animal Crossing: New Leaf implementation with social networks such as Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook filling up plenty of timelines — this was via the 3DS Image Share function. It perhaps best represented why the 3DS has been a game-centric device and not gone into the realms of seamless social interaction; hardware and firmware limitations meant that the process worked but, compared to similar sharing on a typical modern phone, it was old-fashioned. This isn't a slight on the system — it's a games machine selling big numbers around the world — but a bit of context.
Yet the Miiverse update does work within the system's limitations to deliver a solid experience, including popular features such as posting with screenshots (for applicable games). What's been noticeable is the increased activity on Miiverse now that the large 3DS userbase is on board — from some test runs on our part, we've seen far greater engagement — through Yeahs and comments — since the update was applied. It's blindingly obvious that adding over 30 million users to a social network helps drive activity, but it's also significant for the simple reason that Nintendo's tweaked Miiverse to be multi-platform in its presentation and dynamic; that's been an important step.
With the exception of friend requests and direct messages, the 3DS Miverse app operates in largely the same way as the Wii U and web browser equivalents; veterans of the home-console version will likely feel right at home. Nintendo's been clever in giving easy access — simply through a selectable option — to view Wii U communities, and we'd wager that the "tap and experiment" nature of apps like this will drive various users to explore these areas. We've already mentioned that the early take-up of Miiverse on the portable has seemed to be substantial, and Nintendo may have just produced the most effective, inexpensive and targeted Wii U advertising that's possible.
We should remember that Miiverse is, broken down, rather like a Twitter / Facebook hybrid that serves as a sanctuary — of sorts — for Nintendo gamers. It's entirely unique in how focused and managed it is, with a moderating team always doing a reasonable job of keeping the platform clean and inoffensive. That audience is now being aligned across the two platforms — in a significant way — for perhaps the first time. We've had limited examples of cross-platform content, such as Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate and less direct cross referencing such as the Animal Crossing Plaza on Wii U; it's unclear whether Super Smash Bros. will have any interaction between the two versions. These are limited examples, however, and due to the technological limitations and — perhaps — stretched resources, we're very unlikely to see anything like the connectivity between 3DS and Wii U as is possible with PS Vita and PS4. As a comparison that's not necessarily valid, but what Miiverse can do is align audiences, if not actual experiences.
We'd even suggest that, as time goes on, Nintendo should cater and drive Miiverse on the 3DS, in particular, to drive attention to the Wii U. Beyond the current button to switch to Wii U communities, more could be done. It's worth noting that, across multiple generations, Nintendo's handhelds have mostly outperformed — in pure sales terms — their home console counterparts. Future Miiverse redesigns should hopefully draw the attention of 3DS gamers to the Wii U in more significant ways — a banner pointing to a new release, for example. In an ideal world Nintendo will also establish communities that more directly tie Wii U and 3DS gamers together; so perhaps a combined Mario Kart community, likewise Smash Bros. We have these already, in cases such as Smash Bros., but optimising the layout to draw more eyes and attract more posts should be a priority.
The 3DS is Nintendo's golden ticket of this generation of hardware, and the latest update opens up an opportunity to truly spread Wii U awareness. One of the Wii U's issues — though others can naturally be highlighted — has been awareness and marketing; we should remember that a number of 3DS owners may not be enthusiasts that visit gaming websites on a daily basis, but consumers that were attracted by a specific title or brand such as Animal Crossing or Pokémon X & Y; add that to the affordable price of the various hardware iterations, and it's flourished. Yet plenty of those owners may own a Wii for very similar reasons, and the reasoning is simple — if they sign up to a Nintendo Network ID and become charmed by Miiverse, their eye may be drawn to the Wii U, curious about a home console that now has major Mario / Zelda titles and more and, of course, the bespoke network.
The Miiverse community has suddenly grown substantially, by tens of millions users — not everyone connects their system, admittedly, but the majority do — and it gives Nintendo a fresh opportunity. There's never been such an accessible, direct connection between Nintendo's portable and home consoles — if there are opportunities to use the successful handheld to lift the struggling HD system, they should be used.
Miiverse is, we'd suggest, Nintendo's finest non-gaming app in recent memory, and is truly a revolution in how Nintendo gamers can interact and share experiences. Perhaps it's now ready to take off.