Having pondered over the recent revelation as to Nintendo's "Wii U Chat" feature -- which we can only assume includes in-game chat and perhaps even Skype-like video chat -- I'm starting to see just how committed Nintendo is to building a strong online presence with its newest console.
Having asked MMGN's resident Nintendo lover boy, Ben Salter, about the company's past experiences with in-game chat, getting only "Animal Crossing" as an answer makes it clear to me that, maybe, just maybe, Nintendo is actually, genuinely making an attempt at online gaming; after what was an admirable, but grossly inadequate attempt at online interaction with the non-event that was the launch of Wii Speak, the sight of something a little more usable (and widely available) makes me far more optimistic about Nintendo's online goals.
Wii U Chat seems to be more than just a messaging system, though. Its obvious infusion with Miiverse, Nintendo's online social network, means you'll be able to create and share content easily via the GamePad, but the controller's video features, which were on display in that post-E3 demonstration video, showcase a level of interaction that goes beyond the gaming sphere, making the Wii U as much a gaming device as it is a social platform.
Is that Nintendo's goal? Ideally, in creating an online platform that doesn't just offer functioning online gaming but also enhanced social features, there is the potential for a strong online community to form, something Nintendo hasn't really had outside of a few first-party exclusives.
Most interesting about the most recent revelation was the use of the words "real time", which would suggest video chat, but the extent of this feature is what much of the conjecture is focused on.
Will video chat be available in-game? Will users be able to create parties, similar to what is possible on Xbox Live, and have real-time party chat on the GamePad, akin to Google hangouts? The possibilities are fascinating, but also seemingly integral, unless Nintendo just wants to offer a video chat feature that has minimal in-game use, and so therefore becomes an afterthought, much like Microsoft's Kinect.
The difference here is that every single Wii U owner is going to have a GamePad, so in-game video and party chat is something that seems likely to be included, which could make certain games even more engaging. Just thinking about it, and I can already imagine a group video chat in Black Ops 2, where players can directly hold their mates accountable for noobish acts or selfish, individualistic gameplay.
Considering the potential, and factoring in confirmation of Applications, the social aspect is something that goes well beyond simply being able to wear a headset or send messages to online friends. With services like Netflix and Hulu coming, at least for North American Wii U owners, it may be possible to stream a movie with a friend while video chatting at the same time, sharing thoughts and rhetorical movie queries like, "What if he doesn't make it?" or "She doesn't die, does she?"
The Wii struggled to build much of an online presence, despite a respectable online store and solid operating system. With Wii U's OS using a whopping 1GB of RAM to run (in comparison to the Xbox 360's 32MB allocation), it's quite clear that Nintendo's focus with Miiverse and Wii U Chat, among other things, is driven by a need to make up for the Wii's missed online opportunity.
By Gaetano Prestia
What are your thoughts on Wii U Chat? To what extent do you think it will be used, and is it something that appeals to you?