With 2014 now here, it provides an opportunity to take stock and consider ambitions for the year, as well as identify areas of improvement. We can all do better things and improve ourselves, but what of major corporations? The same rule applies to them, so below are some suggestions for Nintendo, which brought us so much to enjoy in 2013 yet, despite those shining moments, has some areas of performance that can undoubtedly be improved or continued.
Improve Nintendo Network Reliability
We'll start with the most recent issue, that of Nintendo Network stability. The online services, most notably the eShop stores, went down for the entirety of 25th/26th December, with sporadic and limited access for at least a further 24 hours. The unified Nintendo Network ID system was launched earlier in December — which itself caused some hours of disruption — and the weight of new 3DS and Wii U registrations, along with the brief release of Pokémon Bank in Japan, caused a meltdown that delayed the X & Y app in the West, a good deal of inconvenience to gamers and, perhaps worst of all, lost download game publishers vital days of potential sales.
As the wording of this segment hopefully makes clear, expecting 100% performance and reliability is unreasonable; there were reports online of network issues with Steam, PlayStation Network and Xbox Live on Christmas Day as the result of demand. In those cases the issues were largely resolved on the same day, and the biggest issue for Nintendo was the length of downtime, and it's clear that infrastructure needs to improve. The blame could be placed on the decision to release Pokémon Bank in Japan on potentially the network's busiest day of the year, but the issue is more to do with infrastructure.
We've seen Nintendo's online services creak and struggle relatively often, mainly when a new feature is unveiled, but the festive downtime was perhaps the worst to date. It may not have fallen victim to a disastrous weeks-long hacking scandal like that of PSN in 2011, admittedly, but there's certainly scope for Nintendo to improve and strengthen this vital area.
Let Gamers Communicate
We refer to the disabling of Nintendo Letter Box / Swapnote online messages, in which Nintendo reacted to disturbing revelations of illegal exchanges of images by shutting the service down. To be clear, Nintendo was right to stop this happening; that should be beyond debate, we'd suggest.
What is also the case. however, is that the solution was phoned in. The issue was with 3DS owners exchanging friend codes and arranging to meet or using the share photo option for sending inappropriate images. Yet the photo option was added by Nintendo in the first place, and it clearly wasn't confident in its ability to moderate hand-written messages. We cited Miiverse as a potential saviour at the time, yet its arrival on 3DS matched the browser-based version of the network in not supporting direct messages between those on each other's friend lists.
There are various potential reasons for this. The 3DS still uses a friend code system, and isn't yet integrated with the Nintendo Network friend system on Wii U, and Nintendo's repeated warnings that exchanging Friend Codes on the portable platform's Miiverse suggests ongoing diligence to prevent future incidents. The point could be made that Nintendo is trying to take too much responsibility away from parents that should utilise parental controls, yet even when supporting the company's caution it can be argued that it's taken a quick, easy way out.
The fact is we have direct messaging on Wii U, and as such it should be on 3DS. Nintendo has the control, so it could make DMs text message only, with no images or handwriting allowed, if it wanted, and those text messages could go through the standard filtering and moderation process in place for Miiverse. Why hasn't that happened? Perhaps we're missing a key point, but it seems that issues of resources and keeping things simple may be holding that functionality back.
The majority is missing out on being able to communicate with friends on the 3DS, and that should be resolved. The Wii U sets the standard, but it should be network wide.
Stop Tying Downloads and Content to Hardware
We'll keep this one very short. Purchased content and licenses should be tied to an online account, not tethered to hardware. We shouldn't have to go through Customer Services in order to replace our Wii U with another model and transfer our content. A good deal of work would be required to bring these licenses etc to the cloud and off hardware accounts, but it should be done.
Raise Awareness and Buzz Around the Wii U
A bit of a no-brainer, this one, and we'd suggest that later weeks and months in 2013 saw plenty of improvement in the marketing of the home console. What the system needs is consistent messaging that's clear, enticing and clear. Yes, we've repeated the latter point, as it is mind-boggling that, to this day, there is confusion about whether the Wii U is a new console.
Some can point to the name, but we're not convinced that's the main issue. Look at Apple products, sometimes distinguished by one letter or perhaps just a "new" iPad, the Xbox One, Samsung S phones, and all manner of annual technological releases. It's not inconceivable for new tech to have a very similar name to predecessors, yet consumers often get it with those devices.
Nintendo, in multiple regions, also appears to have learned that commercials need to be clear in emphasizing that it's a new console, with adverts being at pains to emphasize the point. Yet if very few people see these commercials, the message can't get out; it's not just a messaging issue, its about spending the money on airtime and ad space.
The issue is improving with passing time and improved marketing, so the momentum needs to keep increasing in 2014.
Avoid Game Droughts
It's no secret that the Wii U, in particular, had a painful post-launch game drought last year. The company has made assurances that this won't happen in 2014, and it needs to be good to that word; the challenge is producing enough first-party content, yes, but also attracting support from partners and third-parties to reinforce those in-house efforts.
There is a solid line-up for the Wii U in prospect, with more surely likely to emerge in the coming weeks and months, but let's not forget the 3DS. It had a great 2013 but can't sit back and relax; excellent games from various parties need to keep coming, and the confirmed 3DS line-up isn't exactly bursting at the seams.
Let's hope for a big Nintendo Direct soon to remind us why the Wii U and 3DS will keep us entertained all year; Nintendo's suggested it has content for the full year, so let's hope that's the case.
Keep the Focus on Fun and the Nintendo Difference
This final suggestion is less around improving an area, but actually maintaining it. Despite a poor year of home console sales and a lot of pressure, Nintendo retained its style and light-hearted approach in Nintendo Direct broadcasts and the games it produced. This culture continues to set it aside from rivals, and the most recent Nintendo Direct videos retained that sense of frivolity and silliness — it's typical Nintendo.
Some may say that's a problem, but we'd suggest not. We suspect that the company will have tough moments in the next few months — expect sales and profit targets to be missed — and again some will say that Nintendo's decline requires great change. Evolution is important for any company, but it shouldn't forget what made it such a successful company; even most recently with the Wii, DS and 3DS, the emphasis was on fun.
In other words, don't lose that philosophy of placing enjoyment above raw technical grunt. Light-hearted enjoyment and fun are certainly around on other platforms, of course, but Nintendo specialises in those areas, and will need to keep doing so.
Those are some of our suggestions. What do you think are the most important areas for Nintendo's focus and improvement in 2014?