It's only in recent years that Nintendo's embraced connectivity and unified platforms in a meaningful way. Though it dabbled with extensions, add-ons and cables in past pre-broadband generations, the Game Boy range and home consoles retained distinct identities from each other. That's continued a great deal in this generation with the Wii U and 3DS, but the big N has been gradually upgrading its online functionality and realising that sustaining separate portable and home console product lines is an expensive and onerous task.
It began a good few years ago when former President Satoru Iwata confirmed that, as part of a major restructure that would also include a new HQ in Kyoto, the handheld and home console teams would be merging. It was this move that sowed the seeds of predictions that Nintendo would break down the boundaries between the two areas in its hardware, and drives the sense that NX could be a platform that accommodates both elements. Time will tell, but it's been a key Nintendo strategy since the Wii U launched to make its portable and home hardware closer siblings, sharing infrastructure and operating systems.
The logic for this in the current day is obvious. Nintendo has established itself as having its own bubble within the games industry, not delivering the same hardware and games that are seen on Sony and Microsoft systems. It's become a company of exclusives and unique hardware, producing a high volume of content itself while also forming distinct partnerships with certain third-parties; there's also been a focus, through the eShop stores, in fostering relationships with smaller 'Indie' developers. With so much of the load on Nintendo to produce content, having to work across two distinct systems is a serious split of limited resources.
We have, it should be noted, seen some integration in this generation. The New Nintendo 3DS, particularly due to its C-Stick and built-in amiibo scanning, has all of the key features seen in the Wii U GamePad. We've seen a Wii port showing off the upgraded portable in Xenoblade Chronicles 3D, and the most obvious crossover was with Super Smash Bros. Though modes vary across the 3DS and Wii U versions, the core content (and amiibo functionality) is impressively unified, right down to the point that a 3DS can be used as a controller for the home console version. We also have the recent example of Hyrule Warriors Legends, a port of the Wii U original that will also support a cross-platform season pass.
Add to this the sharing of a Nintendo Network ID and Miiverse across Wii U and 3DS, and Nintendo has made strides in unifying its platforms, and impressive ones considering the disparity in capabilities between the two. With My Nintendo (via the new Nintendo Account) around the corner, however, we're heading into a potentially exciting new era, and one that pleasingly includes the latter days of this generation. The new loyalty programme and account system is a further evolution of the NNID, incorporating purchases and activity across Wii U, 3DS, mobile and websites, all communicating with each other efficiently and without pesky surveys.
While we await details on the rewards in the West ahead of the launch of My Nintendo and Miitomo on 31st March, we already know from the Japanese programme how Platinum rewards focus on activities across the social app, the eShop and Miiverse. Add to that incentive to connect social media accounts, and we can see that Nintendo is embracing (at last) the idea of engaging with the broader world to be found on the internet. Having previously operated in a walled garden while competitors loosened up, Nintendo is offering more gateways to its platform, albeit not bulldozing the walls in full.
The service is far more dynamic than its predecessors too - some rewards and discounts will be catered to an individual's buying habits or to celebrate their birthday, and future plans include 'sign-in' bonuses for those visiting or participating in specific events in the real world. There's the potential for concepts like StreetPass, SpotPass and general connectivity to be greatly enhanced, crossing the boundaries of dedicated Nintendo systems to reach our phones, tablets, PCs and Macs.
On top of that we have the long-promised overhaul in Nintendo's eShop selling via web browsers. It's not a new idea, and Nintendo of America has offered the service on major releases for some time, but the global roll-out of improved online stores is more than welcome. The scale of it is the most pleasing aspect, as over 2000 games will be available to buy online via the web store, and using the NNID and Nintendo Account purchases will download automatically to hardware. By including the full libraries (or so it seems) of the 3DS and Wii U stores Nintendo is stepping up its offerings of download content.
All of this helps brings platforms together, and importantly offers greater convenience for all of us. Whether picking up My Nintendo coins through regular activity or browsing the eShop while out and about, it all points to a far more integrated future. Last year we reported how Nintendo had dropped out of Interbrand's "Best Global Brands" Top 100. Interbrand spoke about the importance of "mecosystems", saying the focus for companies is to "create customized experiences around a single individual, where every brand in consideration slots in seamlessly". Nintendo isn't there yet, but its updated account system is a strong step in the right direction.
All of this will continue to improve in months to come, of course, not just through Nintendo's NX generation but also with the arrival of more Mobile apps. The fact that Wii U and 3DS are included at this stage is a bonus, however - it points to the ongoing importance of the eShop as a brand, and gives a little hope that the Wii U and particularly 3DS have a role to play for a while yet. This applies to a future as budget hardware, but hopefully some backward compatibility on hardware to come - only time and facts will determine that outcome.
In any case, we're rather excited about the Western arrival of the My Nintendo loyalty programme and, yes, Miitomo. We don't expect either to be perfect on day one, but both represent another small but steady step forward into a fully integrated and connected Nintendo future.