Compared to video game rivals Microsoft and Sony, Nintendo has lagged in the online department.
But in a briefing this week, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata explained how his company will be expanding its efforts in the realm of networking and digital distribution with its new-generation game hardware, the 3DS and upcoming Wii U.
Iwata said the company's fledging "Nintendo Network," introduced in December with Mario Kart 7 for 3DS, will serve as a platform for communication, competition and digital sales on the handheld 3DS and upcoming tablet-equipped Wii U.
With that infrastructure in place, Iwata said Nintendo is poised to make a bigger commitment to digital distribution. The first 3DS title to host downloadable add-on content is Nintendo's Japanese downloadable photo booth app, "Tobidasu Pricla Kiradeco Revolution." The app is already available for download, and additional digital content will be available soon.
Nintendo will also soon offer downloadable add-on content for packaged games, with the February 16 Japanese release of Square Enix's Theatrhythm Final Fantasy. Players will be able to buy add-on music for the game.
Downloadable retail games?
The business possibilities of the Nintendo Network also extend to full download versions of retail games, said Iwata. "For the digital sales of the content, we are also considering the future possibility of digital distribution of packaged software, which is often referred to as 'software download sales.'"
"This concept was built into the design of the Nintendo 3DS, and we already have the necessary infrastructure," he added. "We will prepare the same infrastructure for the Wii U."
Iwata would not commit to a start date for such a strategy. Full retail game downloads mean that Nintendo would be circumventing retail partners, and the company needs to iron out the details of those relationships.
"The decision [of when to offer full downloads] must be made by taking into consideration such factors as the relationship with the wholesalers and retailers, and the best way to be embraced by consumers, as well as the environment surrounding the market and consumers, such as the required memory capacity on consumers' SD memory cards," he said. "However, as an option for the future, the significance of this business field will increase."
Iwata also mentioned the introduction of a "personal account system" for the Wii U that will be used with the Nintendo Network. The system, he said, will help the user experience for a console that's used by multiple players.
Stance on microtransactions
The president also distanced Nintendo from the business models employed by some social games in which players (sometimes children who don't know better) can unwittingly rack up huge bills from microtransactions.
"As a software maker, Nintendo believes that its packaged software should be sold to our consumers in a form so that the consumers will know in advance that they can enjoy playing the software they purchased just as it is," Iwata said.
"We believe that our consumers will be able to feel more secure if we offer our add-on content as an additional structure in which those who love the game will be able to enjoy it in a deeper way for a prolonged play time."