As you may have noticed, we've seen a flurry of news stories coming out of Nintendo HQ in the past few days. We started with bad news, that Nintendo expects to make a loss in the current financial year, though the news that Wii U will launch in time for Christmas 2012 helped ease the pain. Of course, soon we might have to stop calling it Wii U, due to rumours that Nintendo is considering alternative names. More news has followed in relation to upcoming features and releases, as Nintendo aims to demonstrate that the latest financial losses are a mere blip. The confirmation of a new 2D Super Mario title for 3DS this fiscal year was perhaps surprising, while announcements such as the planned Nintendo Network and user communication, online user accounts for Wii U and consideration of retail downloads on 3DS and Wii U are arguably low-key, as these are functions and features already essential to modern gaming: no particular innovation in these proposals.

Among this overload of announcements and promises, one particular story grabbed our attention: Satoru Iwata’s statement that the Wii U controller will feature Near Field Communication (NFC) technology. This technology is by no means new, and basically enables cards or other objects with the relevant technology to be automatically scanned or swiped without any contact with the reader: travel cards are common examples. It may sound dull, but Nintendo has a track record of taking well-established — and most importantly cheap — technology and implementing it in innovative ways. Mr Iwata had this to say about potential uses for the technology:

By installing this functionality, it will become possible to create cards and figurines that can electronically read and write data via noncontact NFC and to expand the new play format in the video game world. Adoption of this functionality will enable various other possibilities such as using it as a means of making micropayments.

We appreciate that this may not blow your socks off at the moment, but let’s look at some practical applications that could make NFC into an exciting new feature. This article is speculative, however, and doesn't necessarily represent actual software in the works at Nintendo.

Smash Bros. Battles Any Time, Any Place

The next entry in the Super Smash Bros. series is ages away, but we won’t let that spoil our fun and speculation. At its most basic level, the NFC technology could allow Nintendo to sell cards or figurines with extra characters: a tactile form of downloadable content (DLC). Let’s look beyond that, though. When Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS was announced at E3, Iwata touched briefly on compatibility between the two games, though no more details were given. Whether direct play between the two consoles will be possible is unclear, mainly due to the fact that Wii U will be significantly more powerful than the handheld, making Playstation 3/Vita-style game interactions a challenging goal. There are other ways, however, for the devices to share the game experience.

Imagine a Smash Bros. app with a similar set up to Pokédex 3D, but rather than being just a simple reference tool it could also initiate AR card battles. The Wii U title, meanwhile, could include NFC cards with bonus content and new items for character customisation; a character creation mode, either using Miis or more ambitious tools, would be displayed on the Wii U controller. Swipe a card and your custom character is saved to the card, with a QR code on-screen for the 3DS to scan, transporting your new fighter into the portable. Though sharing data with friends can be done through online functionality, the cards could be used for fan events and competitions, where a simple swipe of the card at a venue gives you full use of your own customised fighter. There’s also potential for the 3DS app to enhance your brawler through StreetPass or Play Coins, and then generate a new QR code to scan with the Wii U controller’s camera, updating the main game.

These ideas could be used in any number of game styles or franchises. The potential to store data on a card for ready availability on other consoles, interaction with a 3DS app and updates from 3DS back onto the Wii U through continually updated QR codes is ambitious, but certainly possible. This can all be done without using NFC, of course, but it adds an extra option for those with inconsistent internet connections. It could also encourage a new era of local offline events and competitions, bringing gamers back into the same room rather than talking over a headset.

Wii U As a Definitive eReader?

If you take the concept of Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure and apply it to an eBook, you can combine reading and playing with toys to create something new.

There are already rumours of the Wii U including smartphone-style apps, with one of these potentially being e-reading software: this could be used for books, magazines, newspapers and comics, with the controller screen being more than suitable for the job. Once again for people with limited or unreliable internet connections, there’s potential for a swipe card to replace online shopping. With enough retailers on board, you could drop into a shop, buy a magazine or book with your card and access it immediately when you get home.

Looking beyond that, NFC figurines could add a new dynamic to children’s eBooks, as an example. If you take the concept of Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure and apply it to an eBook, it’s possible for the act of reading and playing with toys to be combined. Using a figurine or play card with a programmed story on an eReader could provide a fun experience for young children, with events or alternate storylines determined by actions. The same principles could apply to big kids as well, with eReader games that incorporate text, video and audio that react to external NFC items.

eShop Cards, Be Gone!

Finally, the problem of eShop card availability could be banished once and for all. If you don’t want to pay online using a credit card, but don’t fancy trekking around shops in the hope that some will actually stock eShop cards, an NFC swipe card could be the answer. If deals are struck with retailers, it could be as easy as going into a store, handing over the card with cold, hard cash and having the amount credited to your account. It’s as simple as that, and surely a must if Nintendo is serious about boosting its online services.

So while the announcement of Near Field Communication in the Wii U controller may have seemed relatively minor, it could potentially change the way we interact and use the console. What do you think? How can it enhance gameplay possibilities? Could it be used in apps such as an eReader, or simply as an easy and quick way to pay for digital content? Feel free to speculate wildly — as we have — in the comments below.