They Just Don't Care

On March 19, 2007, in Games, by psu

This weekend a story with horrifying implications came over the airwaves of the Internet Gaming Forums. This story is of such gravity and importance that I decided to delay my usual Monday morning semi-philosophical wanky gaming article for a day and inform you, our dear reader, of its existence so you can gird yourself for the impending doom to come.

So, without further delay, here is the terrible news: Nintendo’s online service will continue to require separate friend codes for every different game. That’s right. There will be no unified friends list. Ok. You can sit down and catch your breath now.

This story about Nintendo game over one of the two forums I read. Let’s see, one of the first replies was something along the lines of

… fuck you for this, Nintendo. Fuck you very hard.

This took me a bit by surprise. On the one hand, it makes sense that people reading an online forum about video games would would think that online gaming is important. Therefore it would make sense that the people on the forum would be disappointed that Nintendo has stuck with their tedious friend code system.

On the other hand, it is astounding to me that anyone would make a unified online profile and matchmaking system the single feature from which their entire view of a particular system is drawn. It’s just not that important. Yes, Microsoft makes a lot of revenue off of Xbox Live. Yes, Blizzard prints money. But those are just two companies with online customer bases numbered in the tens of millions. There are something like *200* million active console gaming devices, and who knows how many hundreds of millions of units of offline games sold for that hardware. Even the bathtubs of money that Blizzard has with World of Warcraft pale in comparison to the total amount of money in the whole industry.

On the third hand, it’s also safe to say that it is an area of future growth. More people are connected every day. If you want to survive through the next few product cycles, you have to figure out how you are going to exploit this for money.

Microsoft has decided that a good long term strategy is to aggressively pursue the online gamer. They have spent the last five years building a unified hardware and software infrastructure for Xbox Live. In addition, they have required that games on the system use this infrastructure for all of their online needs. They even make the publishers make up those stupid achievements so we can all get our pavlovian online treats. This strategy make a lot of sense for Microsoft.

I can’t really tell what Sony is thinking. They are sort of out to lunch lately.

Nintendo has taken a cautious approach. Basically, to play games with your friends online, you have to spend a few minutes tediously writing down some numbers and entering them into your machine. You can then try to jump into a game with them. Apparently, this is an unforgivable sin for a few different reasons.

First, there is the claim that the system is somewhere between tedious and clunky and completely crippled and unusable. I would agree that the system is inconvenient. I don’t know that I’d call it crippled or retarded.

Second, there is the claim that since Nintendo was building an online gaming system anyway, they surely could have built something equivalent to Xbox Live “while they were at it.” This ignores a very important fact: no one has been able to build an online matchmaking system as good as Xbox Live at its best. Even on the Xbox 360 itself, only Halo 2 gets this completely right. Most of the others, even big titles like Gears of War, don’t come close. I don’t know what the current state of the art on PCs is, but the last time I tried to play online using Steam I wanted to put an ice pick through my aorta because it would hurt less.

So, yes, it is true that what Nintendo has built for online gaming is not as nice as Xbox Live. But, the claim they could just roll out an Xbox Live killer from their back pocket is one that only someone with a very loose connection to actual reality could make. In reality, building such a service would cost Nintendo a lot of extra time and money. This is not time and money that Nintendo wants to spend. I don’t really know anything, but I think Nintendo has analyzed the situation and decided that people who buy the Wii may want to use an online service to do things like download virtual console games or read the world news, but that online gameplay is not a high priority. Given this, they have decided to build something more limited and cheaper than what Microsoft built.

All of this makes sense to me. But then, I am not much for online gaming, so I guess it makes sense that it makes sense to me. Nintendo is basically doing what I want them to do. They are providing some interesting online services, but they are not wasting a lot of money trying to ape Xbox Live. This meets my needs and expectations perfectly. Since my needs are obviously exactly what the mainstream wants, Nintendo is obviously doing the right thing.

Of course, the angry forum-boys are angry precisely because their needs are the most important and Nintendo is ignoring them. This is what I call the “I am the most important customer in the whole world” fallacy. We all like to think that we are the only market that matters, and that our tastes drive the desires of the whole nation. I think this fallacy is what drives the anger of the forum wrathboys. They simply cannot understand why Nintendo would so blatently ignore their needs and desires when their needs and desires are so clearly the most important. They don’t understand why Nintendo does not care.

And here we hit an impasse. I can try to calmy explain why Nintendo doesn’t care, or at least why they have higher priority products to build. Nintendo doesn’t think that this part of the online service is that important to their users. Nintendo might be right or they might be wrong. I don’t really know, although I suspect they are right. This leaves the angry people in the forum without satisfaction. To them, Nintendo is obviously doing the wrong thing. They can only conclude that Nintendo doesn’t give a shit about what they want. This is a harsh reality to live with, but sometimes it’s true. Sometimes they just don’t care. Sometimes what you want just is not that important.


21 Responses to “They Just Don't Care”

  1. Chris says:

    Speaking as somone who has only barely begun to experiment with online play on consoles, my first experience with the Friend Code system was this Sunday when I hooked up with my friends back in Manchester (UK) for our first transcontinental Mario Kart match. It was awkward to get it running, but we got there in the end. It was inconvenient, but not intolerable. I imagine going through that process for every game you wanted to play would be a bind, but then, if online play is your draw, Microsoft is your puppy, as they have made this a priority. It’s certainly not mine.

    At Koji Igarashi’s (Castlevania series) talk at GDC, one of the questions was about Friends code. Basically, the person didn’t seem to have a question for the speaker, he just wanted to bitch about the awkwardness of the Friend Code system. It felt very out of place, and Igarashi-san had to get him to repeat the question because it clearly blew his Japanese sensibilities. Eventually, he responded that on the one hand there is convenience, but on the other there was the issue of politeness, which the Friend Code system addresses. I suspect that many online-fans fail to appreciate just how unfriendly the open online community is to the person-on-the-street (and to the Japanese in particular).

    To quote from Antonio, a test subject in a live player observation session in my tutorial on Monday: “I’m not 8-years old and – sorry Xbox – I don’t want to play with 8 year olds.”

    Basically, I agree with your case here – Nintendo have by necessity chosen to target the broader market. They have provided sufficient functionality to allow for online play, but they have not made it a priority because there really is nothing for them to gain by trying to go toe-to-toe with Microsoft on this issue.

    I know the “wrathboys” (great term!) feel that Nintendo owe them something for their support over the years, but the transaction in this regard has already taken place – money changed hands for games – and great games too. One cannot blame Nintendo for not choosing to haemorrhage money competing with Sony and Microsoft in market areas they cannot afford to contest.

    It’s just another example of how spoiled we in the West have become that we can get so angry over such a trivial issue, and yet stand idly by in the face of… Well, I don’t want to get political. But there are surely better battles to be faught in the world.

    Well, I wasn’t planning to ramble that much, but not to worry! :)

    Take care!

  2. Nat says:

    I know the “wrathboys” (great term!) feel that Nintendo owe them something for their support over the years, but the transaction in this regard has already taken place – money changed hands for games – and great games too.

    Chris is exactly right about this — the nerd-rage set already bought a Wii. They’ll still keep buying a Wii and keep buying games, complaining loudly all the way about how Nintendo hates them.

    Somehow it doesn’t really occur to them that “complain but pay anyway” is not really the most effective way to bend a corporation to your will.

  3. Dude says:

    But you miss the basic point, this cripples people’s ability to play with friends. No one is asking for a live killer, they are just asking for basic functionality. But way to make a strawman argument because you fail to understand the basic issue.

  4. peterb says:

    Yeah, I agree with dude! You totally can’t play with friends if before playing with friends you have to, like, talk to them and stuff. And write down a number. That makes playing with them completely impossible.

    You just are a gay Nintendo fanboy who doesn’t know how to play online games because you are gay.

  5. Nat says:

    People keep using words like “cripples” here.

    Either they don’t actually know what these words mean, or I don’t. I’m not sure which is true.

    I have a DS, which is where this worse-than-death friend code system originated. Somehow I’ve still been able to play multiplayer games on it with my friends.

    Sure, I had to swap codes once per game beforehand, but it turns out that I’m able to call, email, and IM my friends, so it wasn’t exactly impossible to do that.

    Less convenient than Live? Sure. That doesn’t automatically mean impossible, though.

    Help me out, wrathboys. What am I missing?

    Bonus points for not using the words “strawman”, “Nintendo fanboy”, or “you just don’t get it” in your response.

  6. rmitz says:

    I am not a user of this system, and I understand the politeness need for friend codes, but…I don’t know what the reasoning was for not simply using the same friends code across all games. This would seem to solve the problem and be reasonably convenient at the same time, for people who do lots of different games.

    Personally, if I got into it, there’d probably be only one or two games I’d play anyway, but I am not a gamer anymore.

  7. Andy P says:

    It’s true that there are no other online services as good as Xbox Live. It’s also true that many Live games fail to get it completely right. Setting up games in something like Lost Planet, for example, is indeed a royal PITA compared to Halo 2.

    But there are subsets of the Live service that are very easy to implement. A unified friends list is one – it’s really not difficult. Neither is it going to be that risky and expensive: the hard work has already been done, copying is much easier than innovation. (As, for example, Nintendo have innovated with their controller, and within like three days Sony copied it, and don’t be surprised if you see further copying in the future). Admittedly copying the whole of Live would still be tricky as it’s a large, feature-rich service. But copying the ability to have a single list of friends? Not hard.

    What it shows is that Nintendo are actively dismissive of those who care about these things. It’s not even as though Nintendo are mostly going for the mainstream, generally trying to expand the userbase, and basically attempting to capture a whole new segment of the market, while still happy to carry along the so-called “hardcore” as they go: the response to decisions like this comes about because the decisions show they actively do not care about the fanboys. (Hmm… can you actively not care? Seems like a contradiction in terms). In any case, not only do Nintendo not prioritise online gameplay that highly – which is fine – but they have taken the conscious and deliberate decision not to do any more than make token gestures towards supporting it, which effectively means there is no support at all. The implication is (or is begin interpreted as being), not only are they mostly trying to bring in new segments of the market, but they don’t care whether they keep those in the existing segments.

    Doesn’t bother me that much. When I want to play online, I’ll use Xbox Live, and when I want to play Wii games I’ll (buy and) play with a Wii. Indeed, Nintendo’s strategy has been both sensible and successful up to now, and I doubt that the lack of a unified friends list will do their sales figures any harm at all. (Lack of non-first-party games that actually use the console’s unique features in any interesting way is more likely to do harm in the long run).

    There are some people though, who bought a Wii in the belief that it would do something for them that they are now beginning to learn it will never do. This is more probably their own fault for baselessly formulating that belief than it is Nintendo’s fault for not fulfilling it, but once people have spent several hundred units of currency on something, they’ll often get quite upset when they find it doesn’t do what they expected it to.

    In other words, this is basic human nature, except just as fanboys represent only 1% of the games playing public, those same fanboys also tend to be the 1% angriest of the angry internet forum ranting population. As with so many things in computer gaming, my advice is this: ignore the fanboys, and don’t bother with the forums. (Should that be fora?)

  8. psu says:

    Yeah. This post originally started out as missive about how I try to stay out of the forums. But since the rant was born in the forums, that seemed silly.

  9. Damien Neil says:

    There is a difference between not doing something, and doing it in an insultingly shoddy fashion. If Nintendo had no online strategy at all, or if they had no support for friends lists, the negative reaction wouldn’t be anywhere as strong.

    That’s not what happened, however. Instead, Nintendo decided to create a system whereby friends lists are meaninglessly painful to use. You casually dismiss the inconvenience of spending “a few minutes tediously writing down some numbers”–fair enough, perhaps, if you have one or two friends. What if you have dozens of people you you occasionally play with, however? Go take a gander at the thread holding a list of wii friends codes on the forum you’re talking about–there’s 54 people in there. Multiply that by half a dozen games. Is entering over three hundred sixteen-digit numbers something to complain about? I think so.

    It’s like bread at a restaurant. Good bread? Excellent. No bread? Disappointing, perhaps, but not a problem. Stale, moldy bread, covered in rat feces? That’s an insult.

    Complaining that it’s hard to implement a decent shared friends list holds no water. For one thing, it isn’t hard–I can trivially think of ways to implement a good enough system that would obviate the need for a different friend code for each game. (Here’s a simple one: Give Wii developers a URL from which they can fetch the friends list for a given Wii as a simple XML file– Let them worry about the rest. As good as XBL? No. Better than what they’re doing now? Yes.)

  10. Verzechuan says:

    Damien hits the point spot on. By claiming the Wii supports online play, Nintendo raises expectations in people buying their system. Sure, some of the expectations are unreasonable, but having a unified friends list seems like a basic feature, and not having it is an inconvenience to many (most?) online users. I think it’s fair to be frustrated with the decision.

    And, not to defend the sensible dialog found on internet forums, but given that I’ve already purchased a wii, posting that I want to fuck nintendo long and hard seems about as productive as any way I can think of to express this displeasure… what were you expecting on a message forum anyway? :)

  11. Ben says:

    I think a lot of the anger comes from the apparent bizarreness of Nintendo’s decision. Every Wii already has a unique code, we all exchanged them back in Nov/Dec and had fun sending Miis to each other.

    Now Nintendo is going to add another layer of codes? Why is that necessary – it just seems like more effort for a worse system.

  12. peterb says:

    Nintendo has already deployed the DS key-exchange system.

    This suggests to me that they already have the following pieces in place: an infrastructure that supports the per-game key exchange and developer APIs that are mature and tested to support same. If we believe that Nintendo has arrived at the decision that people aren’t buying their games for the richness of their online experience, then this decision makes perfect sense. It’s the least-cost path to fulfilling the marketing checkbox that the Wii “support online play.”

    That this isn’t convenient for you (or for me) is, really, quite beside the point. I think anyone arguing that rolling out any service like this is easy or low cost is deluding themselves. Therefore, it doesn’t surprise me in the least to see a company rolling out a software API and infrastructure that is, by amazing coincidence, exactly the same as the API and infrastructure they have already released once, successfully, just on a different platform.

    The other issue that psu didn’t raise that I think is important is that Nintendo’s most valuable asset is their brand name, and I would expect them to guard that brand name jealously. We’ve already seen ridiculous stories on Fox News about Pictochat, for example. One decent (sorry, I guess I mean indecent) child molester story does exponentially more damage to Nintendo than it does to Microsoft. I presume with no proof that Nintendo’s online scheme is the way it is at least in part to try to head off the PR disaster issue.

    One canard I’ve seen brought up is “Well, that doesn’t make sense, because the Wii has a web browser, and kids could use that to get in trouble!” This argument ignores two simple facts: First, PR is about perception, not reality, and secondly, everyone knows that the web is for everyone, but videogames are only for young children.

  13. Dude says:

    Again with the strawmen and misundertstanding Peter.

    The Nintendo system encourages children to play with adults, it does not limit them or protect them.

    What if you play Animal crossing, and your son plays animal crossing? You have to expose your friends list to him since the only qualifier is the game, not the person.

    Compare that to live which allows you to segment friends by the person, so each can have a seperate list – a list that can be locked down based by game rating and controlled by the parent.

    When you make ignorant statements like Nintendo is doing this for the children, you only highlight your not understanding of the issues or systems. You might want to read up on the issue before you post anymore and just make yourself look even more foolish.

  14. Doug says:

    So… you don’t trust your friends with your kid? That sounds like there is a more fundamental problem…

  15. Dude says:

    Yeah, that’s exactly what I am saying….

    Peter is trying to claim Nintendo is doing this to stop some behavior that Live leaves in place, this is simply not true. Live better protects the children, not that neither is in much danger on either system.

    Thanks for the heads up.

    This site’s visitors share the author’s penchant for creating strawmen and spouting off ignorantly on a subject, so no sense sticking around.

  16. Alex says:

    Damien: “meaninglessly painful” is one of the most creatively meaningless uses of the language I’ve seen in awhile. Besides, it appears from your post that what Nintendo has done is actually quite meaningfully painful to you.

    Which leads to….

    Dude: Peter’s central point is that Nintendo simply doesn’t care what the hardcore gamers think and has implemented the lowest cost online solution. Something in their own best interest as a for-profit corporation.

    As to the security thing- the unintended consequences, and hence, risk to Nintendo, of Nintendo’s system are much easier to anticipate than MSFTs.

  17. Damien Neil says:

    A root canal or donating blood is meaningfully painful. There’s a cost/benefit tradeoff, and you can’t get at the benefit without the pain. Nintendo’s friend code system is meaninglessly painful: There’s no benefit derived from their approach, either to Nintendo or the customer.

    The cost of a substantially better solution is not an issue, assuming they have even a single competent developer available to them. A system which allows the existing system friend code to be reused for any games played on the system would be trivial. (I described an easy means of doing this in my first comment.)

    Security is not a consideration here. The Wii has a WEB BROWSER on it which throws the doors open to an entire internet of porn, right now. The horse has not merely left the barn, he’s burned it to the ground, turned state’s evidence, and joined the witness protection program.

  18. peterb says:

    Damien, I respect you as a commentator, but as a software developer I have learned a few things. Perhaps the most important thing is that the widespread belief that the cost of implementing software is “not an issue,” or that a given bug fix is “trivial” is always wrong. Always.

    Let me put it bluntly: implementing any piece of software is trivial, as long as you are just coming up with brilliant ideas and not actually shipping anything. The moment your software is something that real people will actually use every day, then it’s a whole different ball game.

    psu has written about this in some detail. I won’t bother to reiterate his points here. I don’t want to be condescending or mocking, but you need to understand that, in all seriousness, saying “First, assume that changing the spec is free” to a software engineer is sort of like saying “First, assume that there is no gravity and no friction” to a physicist. That’s what you’re doing.

  19. Nat says:

    Security is not a consideration here. The Wii has a WEB BROWSER on it which throws the doors open to an entire internet of porn, right now.

    Well, it throws those doors open unless Parental Controls are on, I guess. I just checked on my Wii, and there’s a whole set of options controlling access to the Internet Channel, Wii email, the News Channel, the Shop Channel, etc., etc. in there.

    This whole “well, the Wii has a web browser, so Nintendo might as well just put a ‘Talk to Live Child Molesters NOW!’ button on the Wii startup screen!” argument is weird.

    It’s a tricky little contradiction for people to be simultaneously arguing that Nintendo should be implementing a complicated nuanced system full of options parents can set to restrict children’s access to the outside world AND that no security is possible because there’s a software component that lets children access the internet unless parental controls are turned on.

  20. Damien Neil says:

    peterb, I write software for a living. On a daily basis, I make changes to code which real people (italicized ones, even!) use every day. Some changes are hard. Some changes are easy. Sometimes it takes months to provide a feature. Sometimes it takes a day.

    I received a request for a feature today. It’s going to take me about an hour to implement, and the rest of a day to test. Allow for interruptions and other overhead, and I’ll say that it’s going to take me about 2-3 days to satisfy this customer.

    Now, it’s true that I don’t know the internal details of Nintendo’s network support infrastructure. But: How hard can it be to take the existing Wii friends lists, export it to some simple format? If this is a task that requires more than a trivial amount of developer time, there are fundamental architectural issues that urgently need addressing.

  21. Andy P says:


    Also, it’s all very well saying spec changes are risky and non-trivial, and this is true: but one might then ask why a shared friends list was not in the spec in the first place. Not only is it obvious and (fundamental architecture issues notwithstanding) fairly simple, it had already been done. There was no innovation to do – just copy what already exists.

    Not that I’m necessarily saying it matters much. Just that I’m saying, if this is the kind of thing that needs a spec change and/or changes to the underlying software structure, then (from an engineering point of view) someone really dropped the ball while the system was being engineered in the first place. From the point of view of Johnny Public… it might not make much difference.