3DS StreetPass to meet people through WiFi hotspots

How often do you take your Nintendo 3DS out StreetPassing with you? Less than Nintendo would hope, evidently. It's adding a new way to meet people on StreetPass in North America and Europe, simply by visiting a Nintendo Zone WiFi hotspot that someone else has been near at some point.

The 28,000 North America Nintendo Zone hotspots--found at places including Starbucks, Best Buy and McDonald's--will become relays, logging the data of StreetPass users who wander by with a 3DS in Sleep Mode. Their data will be passed to the next StreetPasser who connects, whose data will be logged and sent to the next StreetPasser and so on in a big long one-way chain.

Nintendo plans to launch a system update supporting this by fall.

StreetPass may not be a major feature, but some games are using it for cute little things and fewer people enjoy that than Nintendo would hope. Revealing the change in an analyst briefing yesterday, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata cited Animal Crossing: New Leaf as one such game where it brings "new ways to play." New Leaf uses StreetPass for the Happy Home Showcase, where you can visit the houses of people you meet.

"StreetPass is very common in crowded Japan. In contrast, our American and European users seem to meet each other via StreetPass less frequently, and as a result, we have not seen a significant rise in the number of people who carry their Nintendo 3DS systems in Sleep Mode," Iwata said. "When compared with our Japanese users, it seems that fewer people are experiencing the StreetPass feature on a daily basis."

As Nintendo Zone hotspots connect automatically, just walking past a Starbucks should be enough for you to make a new virtual friend. Don't worry: Iwata said that the "surprising and magical feeling" of sharing data with strangers "is as real as before."