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GDC: Nintendo Reveals Wii Pay-For-Online Play, WiiWare Compression

In a key Nintendo session at Game Developers Conference 2008, Takashi Aoyama revealed that some forthcoming Wii games will charge for network access, and that WiiWare games will use a new compression scheme - to be expanded at runtime - to help alleviate

eric-jon waugh, Blogger

February 22, 2008

4 Min Read

In a curiously 'confidential' session, in which photographs were explicitly and forcefully disallowed, Nintendo Network Administration Group Group Manager Takashi Aoyama spoke at length on the thought process behind the Wii's online offerings. Amongst his anecdotes were a story of how WiiConnect24 came out of early dial-up concerns, during planning stages around 2000 for a GameCube network. (Maybe if users could download content overnight, that would alleviate some of the cost and delay -- except, wait! This is dialup! D'oh!) Later, Aoyama discussed the troubles the Wii online team faced in presenting the Wii as something other than invasive force in the household, that would threaten, frustrate, or mystify parents. Aoyama's solution was the weather and news channels. The goal was to make the system seem sufficiently useful that parents would remind their children to turn the system on in the morning, rather than off. Likewise, the Wii is meant as a companion to the TV rather than a competitor. Following both these threads, in Japan Nintendo recently launched a TV listings channel. Owing to different and more complex TV situations outside Japan, the question is still open as to whether they intend to debut it abroad. As part of the ongoing "New Every Day" campaign, an effort to make the Wii seem continually fresh, the Wii menu icons are facing an update, animating the way the Everybody Votes and Check Mii Out icons currently do. The user will soon be able to customize the photo channel icon, and set wallpaper for the channel's splash screen. Commercial games like Wii Fit can birth new, permanent icons on the Wii menu, to remain even when the drive is empty. The message board is being expanded, to allow the sending of timed messages or automatic responses and to automatically bring up the browser when the user clicks a URL. And last but not least, the Wii's strobing blue light is to be adjusted, to flash in time with the Japanese throat warbler. (At last!) Another recent Japanese introduction, which will more certainly appear in the wider world is the Nintendo Channel, an online guide to all things Nintendo where users can rate any game they have played for more than an hour and see statistics of how long any game has been played and how often. In return, there is an Amazon-esque scheme that analyzes a user's preferences and (optionally) play history to determine what Nintendo games that user might best like and recommend them -- offering trailers, screenshots, and further information. People can also download DS demos here. On to WiiWare. Aoyama said that the Virtual Console was, in effect, a dry run for the WiiWare program. The idea behind WiiWare is essentially that Nintendo President Satoru Iwata is irritated with the current model of commercial software, with set price ranges and set content expectations; online distribution is a less stifling system, both as regards scale and pricing schemes. Thus, WiiWare is an attempt to emphasize ideas over traditional commercial concerns. Aoyama insists that, what with the huge install base of the Wii, the broad usage with any given family, and the high Internet connection rate, WiiWare is a splendid opportunity for profit. As a sort of a follow-up to the Virtual Console, WiiWare will continue to use the familiar Wii Points for purchase. All WiiWare games will have manuals, available to view online before ordering. They will also have full access to the Wii's network features, from the message board to weather channel. The first WiiWare game is a nifty little platformer by Frontier Developments, called LostWinds. It has a mechanism where the player draws wind on the screen, rather like Kirby Canvas Curse for the DS. Further upcoming uses for Wii points will be add-on game content and special services, with the cost of maintenance offset by the modest user charges. Incidentally, internal storage concerns will soon be addressed by a new compression scheme, whereby software will be compressed when not being used, then blown up just before execution. Aoyama expects this to eliminate any further space issues. Nintendo will begin to charge for network access in some future Wi-Fi Network games; those games will carry a new, "alert"-red Wi-Fi logo, meant to ensure there is no mistake in the consumer's mind that there will be additional charges here. Aoyama assured the audience that Nintendo means to do all it can to prevent the charges from taking users by surprise. Amongst his closing thoughts, Aoyama said he hoped that developers would make interesting use of the balance board, as he expected it to pretty well saturate the Wii install base. Then he suggested that anyone who wants to develop a WiiWare game sent him an email at [email protected].

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