I have a lot of grudging respect for the Nintendo Wii, and for Nintendo itself. As an avid gamer all my life, I feel it’s turned out to be the most disappointing console it’s ever released, but there’s no doubting it changed the conversation with its radical motion controls, and helped move gaming further into the mainstream.
The third party mini game tat it’s inspired I can forgive, when the company itself continues to set new standards with its own games. But in light of the recent PS3 4oD and ITV Player update, and the launch of a slew of new, high profile media streamers, what I’ve become most disappointed with is the gaming giant’s refusal to take advantage of its own technology. The Nintendo Wii could be an Apple TV for the masses. Instead, it’s going to waste.
First, let’s set the perspective here. Nintendo has sold a staggering amount of Wiis in Britain: more than 6million, in fact. Now granted, one in ten people doesn’t sound like a huge number, but break it down by household and it’s astonishing: there are 24.7million households in the UK at the last count (2004), which means the Nintendo Wii could be in a quarter of British homes. In fact, by that count, it’s the single most accessible gadget for the largest number of people in the UK.
That popularity is reflected in the one video streaming service, YouTube aside, available through the Wii, BBC iPlayer. More than one million users have installed the BBC iPlayer channel on the Wii, and at the latest count (November 2010) makes somewhere in the region of 3 percent of the 139million episode requests per month – approximately four million shows are watched through the Wii per month.
Lots of people, right? So you’d think it’d make sense to add to that, especially since Nintendo makes a profit on hardware sales of the Wii, and doesn’t have to rely on game sales to subsidise that. And yet, since that early, savvy introduction in 2008 by Auntie, Nintendo has entirely failed to make use of its video streaming abilities by adding any other services.
Now we could sit around complaining about the Wii’s lack of HD visuals, the lack of DVD playback, and the inability to play video files from an SD card, but the fact is that its Opera powered web browser is capable of playing Flash video. It can be done. Netflix rolled out movie streaming in the US this year through the Nintendo Wii. In the UK, Lovefilm appears to be experimenting with it (And declined to comment for this article). And that should be enough for the likes of Channel 4, ITV and Five to be gagging to get on it, since none offer HD visuals through their desktop on demand services either.
But that’s only half the battle. Making it readily available with as few clicks as possible is just as important. Sony took a browser based approach so it could push the services straight to the XMB, no firmware upgrade or app download required. Nintendo’s dashboard of channels ought to make adding shortcuts to new services easy. Not in the slightest – in fact, Nintendo doesn’t even want you to apply.
I spoke to Joe Costello, CEO and co-founder of Orb Networks, a company that allows you to stream your media from your PC to a web browser with Flash support. Right now, it’s the best option for watching download video on your TV through the Wii. it’s been available on the console since just a few weeks after the launch of the Nintendo Wii in late 2006.
Currently, you have to access it through the Nintendo Wii’s Internet channel, as a six figure number of users do, but back then, Costello had ambitious plans to allow for personalised channels for Orb users to install on their Wii dashboards. However, even after three years of trying, Nintendo still doesn’t want to know.
Costello even flew out to meet with a Japanese Nintendo executive to explain the pitch, and while he personally liked the idea, Costello got a frank answer. “He met with us, he listened to our story. He nods and says it’s really a great idea and I love what you’re doing, but it will never happen,” Costello told me this week.
“He was very even handed, and said the problem is, we’re a games company, it’s in our DNA. You’re talking about things that are entertainment oriented, and they just don’t have their head around that. I just don’t think its useful trying to have conversations with us, you’ll waste your time”.
The problem is, with Nintendo’s huge install base, slowing sales and the rise and rise and rise of IPTV, the company doesn’t have the luxury of just being a games company anymore. Especially when it’s nigh on the only company making enjoyable games for the platform, too. It needs to make better use of that browser and that WiFi connection connected to millions of TVs, and start delivering everything that people want, not just the games.
Costello agrees that the Wii’s potential is going to waste. “Oh yeah, you could so so much more,” he says. “Their install base is equal to the PlayStation and Xbox combined….if they decided to really get their act together, or even open it up in an easy way, they could turn things around quickly and easily.”
Now a lot of this is obviously to do with Nintendo’s Japan-centric outlook. Nintendo in Japan does the heavylifting, while Nintendo of America and the like have little to say. But Sony and Microsoft have both shown they’re willing to localise and get the services that matter most to their customers, country by country, be it Hulu in the US or Sky Player or 4oD over here. There’s a new frontier, one where do it all set top boxes are taking over, but in the UK at least, it feels like Nintendo can’t be bothered.
My ideal solution? An a la carte movie streaming service to match Zune and the PlayStation Network for quality and convenience, and an approval system for new Channels on the Wii dashboard. Not just those from game developers, but entertainment services too.
There’s so much you can do with just an internet connection and a browser. It’s time Nintendo realised this.
What do you think? Could the Nintendo Wii be the media streamer to go mainstream? Should Nintendo just stick to what it’s good at? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!