Nintendo Network to be free for 'casual' access

While Nintendo has dabbled with online connectivity for a while, it's taking a much more serious approach with the launch of the Nintendo Network. Both Wii U and 3DS will connect to Nintendo's new online service--but will gamers have to pay for access? The answer, so far, is no.

"We have a wide variety of consumers, from the ones who enthusiastically play video games to those playing more casually, who are not always interested in them but try to play a game only when it has become a public topic or play it just during certain periods, like a year-end season and summer vacation," Nintendo president Satoru Iwata explained to investors. "We therefore believe that services which ask our consumers to obtain paid memberships are not always the best."

But Nintendo is a publicly traded company, one that has to make money. So, how does the company intend to monetize its online service? "Our aim is that network services will eventually contribute to our overall profits even if they are available for free," Iwata said. He explained that the increase in sales of digital content will help Nintendo's bottom line. "We expect that online services will contribute to our profits in the form of increasing the number of games to be sold for one platform."

While Nintendo Network will be free at launch, Iwata does note that there may be reason to charge for more dedicated players. "We cannot promise here that Nintendo will always provide you with online services free of charge no matter how deep the experiences are that it may provide," he warned. "But at least we are not thinking of asking our consumers to pay money to just casually get access to our ordinary online services."

Sony faces similar problems with the PlayStation Network--a service that offers online gaming for free across a variety of platforms. It launched PlayStation Plus in 2010, a $50 annual subscription targeted towards more hardcore users of the Network.