Nintendo’s upcoming Wii game console has generated lots of positive press in the past year due to its motion sensing controller and how Wii games are taking advantage of it. Not everything is certain to work out for this new venture. There’s still some question as to whether or not the controller will be a hit among consumers, or yet another gimmick that will turn off both hardcore gamers and the new audience that Nintendo is trying to provide.
However, an even bigger issue about the Wii is still a question mark, even inside Nintendo itself. That is the question of online play for the console. It’s something that Sony and Microsoft put into the PS2 and Xbox (although they activated it well after those console’s releases). Microsoft’s Xbox 360 had online multiplayer and other online features out of the box when it launched in 2005 and Sony’s PS3 is expected to do the same when it launches in this country on Nov. 17 (although Sony has remained tight lipped about specifics concerning its PS3 online network).
Nintendo’s online plans have remained even more vague for the Wii and our attempts to get info from Nintendo raised more questions than they answered for us (more on that later). First, let’s take a look at the previous console generation for the company. Will the PS2 and Xbox set up their online plans, Nintendo freely admitted that they didn’t feel they were ready to fully enter the online console world. While the company offered a dial-up adapter and a broadband adapter for the GameCube, they were limited in their support and availability. Only a handful of games made for the GameCube had online multiplayer support during the lifetime of the console.
Satoru Iwata, now the president of Nintendo, was the company’s director of corporate planning when he made remarks about online games for consoles just before E3 in May 2002. “The profitable part of the online business is very likely several years away. Entering the business because it's the hot topic of the day doesn't make a profitable business nor satisfied customers. That's why it will be a part of Nintendo's strategy, not the mainstay, as other companies are attempting to do. There still are too many barriers for any company to greatly depend on it."
As recently as 2004, in another interview, Iwata was quoted as saying “Many people believe that online games are the next big thing. But I wonder how much revenues Microsoft and Sony have made from online games. I don't think the current online games have adopted the right business model, and people will not pay money for them."