online


Nintendo is slowly phasing the original Wii out of its hardware lineup, announcing today that many of the system's online services will be permanently shut down on June 28.

Don't worry, the Wii Shop Channel will still be available for you to purchase downloadable games and redownload previous purchases. The shutdown applies to the following free online channels, which most users probably aren't using regularly in any case:

  • Nintendo Channel
  • News Channel
  • Forecast Channel
  • Everybody Votes Channel
  • Mii Contest Channel

You'll no longer be able to send messages or Miis to other Wii owners over the Internet, either. Nintendo also said that "message/data exchange within some games will be disabled" but didn't clarify which games this applies to, or whether online gameplay in popular titles like Mario Kart Wii or Super Smash Bros. Brawl would be affected (Nintendo refused to comment on this matter in response to an Ars request).

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The new Nintendo Network ID system that debuted on the Wii U is a sign of progress for a company that has, historically, not shown a lot of savvy in setting up its online systems. The Wii U lets users connect up to 12 separate Nintendo Network IDs to a single system and use those IDs to easily connect with online friends and strangers. The new Wii U eShop includes many retail games for download on the same day they reach stores, and does away with the "Wii Points" virtual currency that characterized Nintendo's previous console. The company has even promised to roll out a cloud save feature sometime next year.

Given all of these improvements, it's a bit baffling that Nintendo is still caught in the past when it comes to the extremely limiting digital rights management system that ties downloaded game and content purchases to a single console.

As Nintendo's Wii U FAQ makes clear, "a Nintendo Network Account can only be used on the console where it was created." Thus, any games tied to that unique online ID will only work on the first system they're purchased and downloaded to. This is in essence the same setup that Nintendo used to protect downloaded Virtual Console and WiiWare games on the first Wii, a setup that not only utterly failed to stop piracy on the system but also caused headaches for many early Wii owners with faulty systems.

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My Wii U is full of people! And I can talk to them!

When we reviewed the Wii U earlier this week, we were forced to give it an “Incomplete” verdict, as we were waiting on a day-one system update that would unlock a large number of the system’s promised features. We spent a little over an hour downloading that update and a few more days tinkering with the new features it unlocked, so we can now report on how the Wii U handles some important functions aside from playing games.

The Nintendo Network experience

The Wii U represents Nintendo’s biggest push into the online space yet, and part of that push is replacing the inconvenient, frustrating, and game-specific Wii Friend Codes with a unified online infrastructure called the Nintendo Network ID. Signing up for an ID takes a few minutes and requires some very basic personal information (like an e-mail address). You can protect your ID with a password that’s required each time you use it, or set it up to log you in automatically every time you turn on the system.

Once you’re connected to the Nintendo Network, your Wii U home screen will fill up with Miis from around the world, gathering around large icons representing games and apps they’ve played. At first, this screen (known officially as WaraWara Plaza) was filled with preloaded robots from Nintendo talking excitedly about features like “System Settings.” By the next day, though, my plaza filled up with real people gathering around icons for games I owned and a few I didn’t. I can’t help but feel that Nintendo is using its plaza not just for expanded social networking, but also as a form of ad space for retail games.

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My Wii U is full of people! And I can talk to them!

When we reviewed the Wii U earlier this week, we were forced to give it an “Incomplete” verdict, as we were waiting on a day-one system update that would unlock a large number of the system’s promised features. We spent a little over an hour downloading that update and a few more days tinkering with the new features it unlocked, so we can now report on how the Wii U handles some important functions aside from playing games.

The Nintendo Network experience

The Wii U represents Nintendo’s biggest push into the online space yet, and part of that push is replacing the inconvenient, frustrating, and game-specific Wii Friend Codes with a unified online infrastructure called the Nintendo Network ID. Signing up for an ID takes a few minutes and requires some very basic personal information (like an e-mail address). You can protect your ID with a password that’s required each time you use it, or set it up to log you in automatically every time you turn on the system.

Once you’re connected to the Nintendo Network, your Wii U home screen will fill up with Miis from around the world, gathering around large icons representing games and apps they’ve played. At first, this screen (known officially as WaraWara Plaza) was filled with preloaded robots from Nintendo talking excitedly about features like “System Settings.” By the next day, though, my plaza filled up with real people gathering around icons for games I owned and a few I didn’t. I can’t help but feel that Nintendo is using its plaza not just for expanded social networking, but also as a form of ad space for retail games.

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For months now, Nintendo has been positioning the Wii U not just as a game-playing machine, but as a living room video hub. It offers support for Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, and YouTube all integrated with your TiVo and live TV through a service called Nintendo TVii. Now, just two days before the system is set to launch in North America, Nintendo has revealed that not all of those services will be available when the Wii U hits store shelves.

In a press release listing the Wii U's features that hit the wires early Friday, Nintendo buried the little nugget that Nintendo TVii will launch sometime in December, with the integrated video-on-demand apps being rolled out "in the coming weeks." While it looks like Nintendo never previously said that these features would be available on launch day, Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime said during a September news conference that these features would be "included in every Wii U purchase" at no additional cost.

Frankly, today's announcement just adds to our worries about the Wii U's online features. The prelaunch hardware provided to the press is currently not capable of doing much more than playing games. Functions like the online game store, Miiverse social networking, video chat, a web browser and even the ability to transfer content from an old Wii to a new Wii U won't be available until Nintendo rolls out a downloadable software update. The company has promised this update will be available for Sunday's North American launch, but at T-minus 36 hours, it has yet to be released.

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For months now, Nintendo has been positioning the Wii U not just as a game-playing machine, but as a living room video hub. It offers support for Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, and YouTube, all integrated with your TiVo and live TV through a service called Nintendo TVii. Now, just two days before the system is set to launch in North America, Nintendo has revealed that not all of those services will be available when the Wii U hits store shelves.

(UPDATE: A Netflix representative clarified to Engadget that the service would be ready for the Wii U's Sunday launch but won't be integrated into Nintendo TVii until early next year)

In a press release listing the Wii U's features that hit the wires early Friday, Nintendo buried the little nugget that Nintendo TVii will launch sometime in December, with the integrated video-on-demand apps being rolled out "in the coming weeks." While it looks like Nintendo never previously said that these features would be available on launch day, Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime said during a September news conference that the features would be "included in every Wii U purchase" at no additional cost.

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While overall impressions of the Nintendo systems are mixed among gamers, one feature has been almost universally reviled: the company's use of "Friend Codes" to represent players. By requiring users to exchange 12-digit numeric codes just to send messages to friends—and often register game-specific codes to play certain games online together—Nintendo made online features a frustrating afterthought on its systems for years.

Nintendo is changing that around for the impending launch of the Wii U, replacing the system-assigned Friend Codes with a player-selected Nintendo Network ID. The company is also making it easier to connect with people you run in to while using the system online, opening up what was once a frustratingly closed system.

In a Nintendo Direct video message posted this morning, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata introduced the concept of the Nintendo Network ID. It will eventually serve as your online identifier across Nintendo systems and also on browser-based and smartphone apps. Users have to provide a date of birth, gender, general location, and e-mail address to get an account. While the video didn't go into detail about how usernames would be chosen, it appears that users will be able to use an alphanumeric Mii nickname to represent themselves online, along with a custom-made Mii character.

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Be ready to invest in something like this if you want to chat with other gamers on the Wii U.

With exactly one month to go until the Wii U launches in North America, there's still a good deal we don't know about how the system's online gameplay and other services will function. Official information on this score has been hard to come by, being released in drips and drabs that usually have to be pried out of Nintendo with a crowbar. The latest bit of news in this area surrounds voice chat on the system. And Nintendo's response does not inspire confidence that the company has finally created a strong set of integrated online gaming features for the Wii U (or figured out how to support online gaming right in general).

Kotaku got Nintendo to admit in-game chatting on the Wii U would only work on "select games" including Assassin's Creed III, Call of Duty Black Ops 2, and Mass Effect. This gels with previous statements in which Nintendo hinted it would allow third-party publishers to implement their own online gameplay solutions, rather than locking them into a system-wide online solution. It's still a little disappointing that the company has removed any possibility of Xbox Live-style, cross-game party chat, or even casual voice conversations during single-player games.

Oddly enough, even games that support voice chat won't be able to take advantage of the speakers and microphone already built in to every Wii U GamePad (along with a crappy, front-facing video camera). Instead, Nintendo says you should plug a licensed stereo headset from a third-party manufacturer like Turtle Beach or Mad Catz into the GamePad to get in-game chat working. Things get even weirder if you want to chat while using the Xbox 360-styled Pro Controller—it doesn't have a headphone jack. In that case, you'll have to keep the bulky GamePad nearby as a kind of wireless docking station for your headset (we're reminded a bit of the way the Wii Remote always had to dangle uselessly off the bottom of the Wii's Classic Controller to leech off its wireless signal).

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Be ready to invest in something like this if you want to chat with other gamers on the Wii U.

With exactly a month to go until the Wii U launches in North America, there's still a good deal we don't know about how the system's online gameplay and other services will function. Official information on this score has been hard to come by, being released in drips and drabs that usually have to be pried out of Nintendo with a crowbar. The latest bit of news in this area surrounds voice chat on the system. And Nintendo's response does not inspire confidence that the company has finally created a strong set of integrated online gaming features for the Wii U (or figured out how to support online gaming right in general).

Kotaku got Nintendo to admit in-game chatting on the Wii U would only work on "select games" including Assassin's Creed III, Call of Duty Black Ops 2 and Mass Effect. This gels with previous statements where Nintendo hinted it would allow third-party publishers to implement their own online gameplay solutions, rather than locking them into a system-wide online solution. It's still a little disappointing that the company has removed any possibility of Xbox Live-style, cross-game Party chat, or even casual voice conversations during single player games.

Oddly enough, even games that support voice chat won't be able to take advantage of the speakers and microphone already built in to every Wii U GamePad (along with a crappy, front-facing video camera). Instead, Nintendo says you should plug a licensed stereo headset from a third-party manufacturer like Turtle Beach or Mad Catz into the GamePad to get in-game chat working. Things get even weirder if you want to chat while using the Xbox 360-styled Pro Controller—it doesn't have a headphone jack. In that case, you'll have to keep the bulky GamePad nearby as a kind of wireless docking station for your headset (we're reminded a bit of the way the Wii Remote always had to dangle uselessly off the bottom of the Wii's Classic Controller to leech off it's Wireless signal).

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When addressing the Wii U's online features, Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime has responded with a functional shrug.

In a series of international press events last week, Nintendo filled in a lot of the gaps in the public's knowledge of the upcoming Wii U, including launch date and pricing information. But among all the announcements, there was one major omission: how will the system handle online multiplayer games?

It has been more than a year since the Wii U was first unveiled, and Nintendo has devoted precious little of that time to detailing how the Nintendo Network (the company's umbrella brand for online services on the Wii U and 3DS) will let Wii U users connect and play with each other online. Given the company's history with the much-reviled friend code system, gamers are rightly curious to see how Nintendo will be upgrading the online experience this time around.

My assumption up to this point has been that third-party developers and other insiders have been up to speed on the workings of the Nintendo Network for a while now. I believed that Nintendo was simply waiting until closer to the Wii U's actual release to unveil that functionality more fully (and get another easy hit of press attention). But in a recent roundtable discussion reported by Destructoid, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 Director Katsuhiro Harada said that he's just as much in the dark as the rest of us. Answering a question about the game's online infrastructure on the Wii U, Harada said, "Not quite sure at this point. I don't fully understand it. We’re still working with Nintendo to find out about their network."

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