In an interview with Forbes, Nintendo of America president and CEO Reggie Fils-Aime addressed questions about the newly announced Wii U, including the future for online play on the console. When asked whether it would be reasonable to expect an upgraded online system to launch with the Wii U he said:
We've said that the Wii U will have an extremely robust online experience. There will be other publishers talking about that as well, and from our perspective, we think it's much more compelling for that information to come from the publishers than to come from us.
But why would that strategy be more "compelling" to come from external partners? It appears Nintendo may be taking a hands-off approach to their online service. "Instead of a situation where a publisher has their own network and wants that to be the predominant platform, and having arguments with platform holders, we’re going to welcome that. We’re going to welcome that from the best and the brightest of the third party publishers," he added.
Though that approach may seem funny when compared to the emphasis Sony and Microsoft place on their respective PlayStation Network and Live services, Nintendo has shown itself to be shy about entering the online gaming space. Despite the landslide success of the Wii, its online capabilities remain hamstrung by awkward friend codes and the largely ignored Wii Speak voice chat peripheral. Relying on publishers to furnish the online services for Wii U games effectively keeps the whole issue of how gamers behave online at arms length for Nintendo, or so perhaps it expects.
Sony took a somewhat similar approach in the early days of its online presence, leading to labyrinthine registration systems such as the Konami ID system. Its multi-step process proved to be a hassle and potentially contributed to the tepid reception of Metal Gear Online.
Fils-Aime told Forbes that for the Wii U, Nintendo plans to create a flexible online system that allows publishers to whatever approach they consider best. While on the one hand that approach offers the opportunities of an open system, it also raises concerns that the online experience for Wii U could be fragmented. If that plan for the Wii U is to compete with the 360 and PS3 for core gamers, anything short of the amenities offered by their online services will put Nintendo's new machine at a competitive disadvantage.