news\ Jun 29, 2012 at 11:29 am

Wii U online services will be free for users

The Wii U's online service will be free of charge for users, Nintendo confirmed at a recent shareholders meeting. Unlike Xbox LIVE for the Xbox 360, which charges its users a monthly fee to access certain features like online play or even some entertainment apps, gamers will have unlimited access to all of the Wii U's online features.

Speaking at the investors meeting, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata said he had no issue with subscription-based online services, but acknowledged that it would not be the best option for Wii U.

According to Iwata, the free online services of the Wii U will directly result in better hardware and software sales for the upcoming console in the long run.

I think this is a smart move for Nintendo who is finally branching into the world of online gaming. I think for a company attempting to build an online presence, after lagging behind for so long, it's important to establish a system with low a low barrier-to-entry. By offering their online services for free, it should help more gamers flock to the console and use the new online features which Nintendo has spent a lot of time focusing on.

At E3, Nintendo placed heavy emphasis on Miiverse, Nintendo's attempt at revolutionizing the social networking aspect of gaming. Miiverse, which will be available on the Wii U at first, will serve as a gathering place for all Wii U players. When booting up the system, you will see your Mii, your friends' Miis, Miis on your Wii U system, and Miis on the Wii U that are from your country or speak your language that are playing the same games as you.

Miiverse will offer general chat in the form of speech bubbles that allow for text chat or handwritten notes along with facial expressions and images. You will also be able to share screenshots from your own gameplay experience and transmit content from gameplay you created yourself. In addition, Miiverse will offer a way for gamers to seek help from others playing the same game. If you are stuck on a certain level, you can ask the gaming community for help. Players can work together to find a solution and can respond in either text or video through the Wii U GamePad's webcam feature. This service, while launching on the Wii U, will eventually be accessible from mobile devices like the 3DS, your cell phone, and even PC.

Nintendo is taking the jump into online gaming seriously, recently hiring former Disney Interactive veteran Duncan Orrell-Jones to fill the newly created position of SVP of network business. Orrell-Jones will be tasked with overseeing the development and evolution of Nintendo's digital strategies, particularly with the new Nintendo Network. This new service will offer competitions and communication among users, as well as the sales of digital content.

Will Nintendo's subscription-free approach to Wii U's online services be the right approach? It hasn't hurt Microsoft or the Xbox 360 to charge customers for online. Sony, meanwhile, offers users the choice. They can still play games for free online with the PS3, but they can choose to become a PlayStation Plus member and pay to get extra content and early access to certain features. I could see Nintendo taking a similar approach with their online services. Iwata did suggest the possibility of introducing subscription plans in the future - likely in the same way Sony does it.

Whatever the case, this is a smart initial move for Nintendo. Get people to start using the online features first. All that remains a mystery now is how much the darn thing will cost. Nintendo still hasn't announced an official release date or a price for the Wii U, but today we learned that an announcement could happen in the fall.

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