Free for now

Satoru Iwata has recently chaired the latest Nintendo Shareholder's AGM, and as expected faced some tough questions about the future of the company and its plans. One subject that came up was online services, primarily whether the enhanced functionality on Wii U and the developing role of Nintendo Network on 3DS would lead to subscription rates, similar to the monthly and annual costs of Xbox Live and PlayStation Plus.

Iwata has said that the aim is to connect as many users as possible and that those accessing basic services on a casual basis won't have to pay, but that extra charges for some online features may become a reality in the future.

We plan to expand various network services for the Wii U. The first thing to do is connect the Wii U to a common large network platform called the Nintendo Network. Next, the Nintendo 3DS, which is now partially linked with the Nintendo Network, will be more deeply connected. Also, when we create a new platform in the future, we will have it connected to the Nintendo Network.

We have a wide variety of consumers, from the ones who enthusiastically play video games to those playing more casually, who are not always interested in them but try to play a game only when it has become a public topic or play it just during certain periods, like a year-end season and summer vacation. We therefore believe that services which ask our consumers to obtain paid memberships are not always the best. We cannot promise here that Nintendo will always provide you with online services free of charge no matter how deep the experiences are that it may provide, but at least we are not thinking of asking our consumers to pay money to just casually get access to our ordinary online services.

However, our aim is that network services will eventually contribute to our overall profits even if they are available for free. More specifically, network services will let you communicate with other people, visualize what they are interested in and tell you something you did not know. Haven’t you ever had an experience that one of your friends introduced you to a song or a movie and that you regret not watching the movies by a certain director or listening to the songs by a certain artist in your life until then? If we are not aware of them, they are virtually nonexistent to us. Exactly the same thing can be said about video games. In developing a network service called “Miiverse” available for the Wii U, we are pursuing how to amplify and transmit consumers’ empathy about a game.

... Therefore, our answer to your question is that, while we are not considering asking our consumers to pay periodic subscription fees, we are going to make it so that more software can be sold through the services and that we are making preparations with the belief that results worthy of our investments can be achieved eventually.

It's unsurprising that Nintendo will aim to keep certain services free, and although it wasn't clearly mentioned we'd expect some games to carry their own subscriptions or one-off fees, in a similar way to monthly charges in Japan for Monster Hunter Tri online multiplayer, or the recent expansion of the Call of Duty and Battlefield online services on HD consoles to include additional fees and costs. As for titles in series such as Mario Kart, we'd expect Nintendo to work hard to keep those free of charge because they are, by nature, targeted at the so-called 'casual' audience.

What do you think? What kind of online play or content will you be happy to pay for? Special servers, DLC extras, enhanced Miiverse networking in specific titles? Let us know in the comments below.