Approximately 35 percent of Wii consoles and 20 percent of Nintendo DS consoles in Japan are connected to the internet, according to Nintendo president Satoru Iwata, who says those figures will drop unless the company takes ongoing aggressive action.
Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, the online service for Wii and Nintendo DS, sees connectivity spikes when new online functionality is announced and when games with online multiplayer support are released, Iwata said in comments following Nintendo's recent financials
But the company has still perceived a certain ceiling. The DS ratio, for example, has reached higher figures than its current 20 percent, but it has never managed to break 30 percent connectivity in Japan.
The manufacturer has also found that consumers have responded positively to public internet hotspots co-marketed with the Nintendo brand.
System owners seem more willing to go online when they don't need to configure the system's wi-fi settings themselves, Iwata said. In one high-profile deal, Nintendo partnered with McDonalds to offer free wi-fi and other perks to Nintendo DS owners.
Iwata revealed the connectivity figures during a recent analyst and investor meeting, and added that he has fairly conservative expectations for how quickly digital distribution will take over retail. He sees the online arena as more important for providing additional internet-driven software features, rather than serving as a game delivery method.
"In 20 years or so, I might say it will have probably changed," Iwata said with respect to a potential shift to digital distribution. "But in 5 years or so, I do not totally agree. ...Habits of life do not change [so] radically and quickly."
That is particularly true of Nintendo's vaunted "expanded audience," whose buying habits Iwata predicts "will change more slowly" than those of savvier hardcore gamers.