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Opinion: How NFC tech could be Wii U's saving grace
Opinion: How NFC tech could be Wii U's saving grace Exclusive
January 27, 2012 | By Chris Morris

January 27, 2012 | By Chris Morris
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    21 comments
More: Console/PC, Exclusive, Business/Marketing



Things haven't been looking especially rosy for the Wii U over the past few months.

E3 crowds were interested in getting their hands on the company's next generation console last June, but that's fairly common for new gaming tech. For the rest of the world, the system didn't seem to have a real hook they could sink their teeth into.

HD was nice, mind you, but it was hardly revolutionary. But the announcement today that Near Field Communication (NFC) technology would be part of the system's mechanics could help turn things around.

While the mass market may not be familiar with the term NFC, it really doesn't have to be. The NFC standard has been around for years in smartphones and smart cards, but it's an inherently transparent technology that most people don't attach a name to. So, this newly-revealed Wii U feature can be spun as innovative by the company. (And, let's face it, the spin is often more important than the reality when it comes to gaming.)

What's really interesting to consider, though, is not just how NFC might remedy some of the apathy directed towards the Wii U, but how retailers and publishers can use it to their advantage to boost profits.

Nintendo, naturally, stands to benefit the most. Activision opened the floodgates on NFC figurines late last year with Skylanders -- and is still unable to keep up with demand for the toys. To think that Nintendo will ignore that sort of opportunity with the Wii U and Pokemon is simply unfathomable.

Pokemon is one of the company's power franchises and a consistent top-seller. The thought of a title that combines the video game aspects with dozens (perhaps hundreds) of real world figurines you can buy at the local Toys R Us is a gimme.

That's not going to make everyone happy, of course. Pokemon game fans are hardly limited to kids. (You should hear certain members of the Gamasutra staff sing songs of praise about the games.) And those adults may not be happy with having to pay not only for the game, but an extra few bucks a pop for figurines.

Kids will go nuts, though. And will ride their parents like Seabiscuit until they catch 'em all. Timed right, that could be Nintendo's new money-making machine.

Third-party publishers won't be left out in the cold, though. Some may follow the Pokemon/Skylanders model, but others may try a different tack – possibly including demos (perhaps even longer ones) for other titles in their retail packaging or including pre-order exclusives in those tchotchkes that gamers gobble up so voraciously.

NFC is, in some ways, an evolution of the digital distribution model – and one that can bring it closer to the mainstream spotlight.

Even retail partners could see advantages from this tech. Nintendo president Satoru Iwata, in announcing the tech, also brought up the idea of "micropayments" through NFC. While he didn't get into specifics, there are a number of ways this could work – including one that could benefit retail partners.

Right now, adding Wii Points (or, for that matter, Xbox Live points) to your account from a gift card is something of a pain. You have to manually enter a code and pray to Xenu that you didn't juxtapose any of the letters or numbers. It's hardly brain surgery, but neither is it seamless. If those cards had NFC chips embedded in them, it would improve the process tremendously.

Take it a step further, though, and it gets even more interesting. Imagine a fob that could be attached to a keychain. You head into your local GameStop or Best Buy, and using NFC in that store, you add points to it, then simply swipe the card on your Wii U console when you get home to transfer them.

By including the retailers in the after-sale process, Nintendo could leverage extra promotional space for the Wii U, since it stands as a potential recurring source of revenue for that retailer. And should those fobs be specific to the store they were bought at (i.e. GameStop fobs can't be used at Best Buy, etc.), it creates an even deeper customer loyalty.

NFC won't solve all of Nintendo's problems, of course, but it is nice to see the company begin to ramp up its marketing machine for the system. It's even more of a relief to learn what we saw at E3 last year wasn't the full extent of what the company has in mind for its next generation.


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Comments


A W
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I think it would serve the Wii U better to talk about how third parties will or can use this type of tech to make their games more attractive. It would help to settle the core argument of why its not good or easy to compete with Nintendo on a Nintendo made system.

Jeferson Soler
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I can think of two 3rd party companies that could benefit from NFC tech: Konami and Square Enix. In case of Konami, they could use the NFC technology for the Yu-Gi-Oh! games. Konami created a card scanner for a Yu-Gi-Oh! game for the Wii, but with the Wii U tablet having the NFC technology, Konami wouldn't need to produce their own hardware for the Yu-Gi-Oh! games created for Wii U. Not only that saves them some time and money, but they could also earn money from fans that want to input their cards into the videogame and even more. As for Square Enix (or to be more specific, the Enix side of Square Enix), the NFC technology could be used for future Dragonquest games that rely on cards to play it.

Brad Borne
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I don't know if it would really be a game changer. I could see McDonald's toys containing chips that could unlock small things in the game. But, once something's unlocked, there's not really a need for the item anymore. It's not like cards, that are disposable and tiny. I think the best use of it, really, will be to sync controllers to the system instantly.

Tom Newsom
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How about this:



Every Wii U game comes in an NFC-chipped box. First play requires authenticating the game by touching the box to the controller. After optional installation from disc to internal storage, the game can be played without the disc, relying on authentication via NFC only. Of course, this also allows for locking that game box to that Wii U console. Goodbye 2nd hand game market!

warren blyth
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I think Nintendo has made it clear for some time: that they view video games as just the latest evolution of the toy industry. So this makes All Kinds of Sense!



* Steam has converted me to digital downloads. I groan everytime I have to get up and change discs in my xbox (so I can stop my single player game and join a friend in multiplayer. I find the new "beacons" feature just draws attention to this annoyance) or my PS3 (because i left a bluray in there, but now I want to start a game). Discs just aren't convenient. (they're a security blanket for old people who are afraid of the network going down).



* But I also love to buy collector's editions of games, for the statues and art books and knick knacks. I think it'd be super cool to just buy the statues (or art books, etc.) directly, and not worry about a disc.



Imagine just buying the batman statue, instead of the Arkham City collector's edition box. I think there's some very strong psychology behind replacing the discs with somthing more personal. I'd rather have shelves of statues and art, than tacky plastic boxes (which were designed purely to get my attention in a store. bleh.).



* Plus, there's a strong possibility of using certain toys directly on the tablet controller. Imagine buying a zelda figurine, and placing it on top of the inventory item you want to use. Imagine buying a single chess piece, and using it to take part in a multiplayer (networked) board game - literally moving the physical object onto the displayed square you'd like to move to within the game. That will be magic.



I think this whole announcement is THRILLING.

Jeferson Soler
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Now that you mentioned, the strategy that you talked about would also be a great way to revive the two NES games that required R.O.B.: Gyromite and Stack-up. Nintendo wouldn't need to create a statue/figurine of R.O.B. (although, there may be fans that would love that), but Nintendo could create figurines of the game components to be used for those games in place of R.O.B.. Also, NFC tech could be used for figurines and/or cards that serve as boosts for fighting games, like the Street Fighter series and Super Smash Bros. series. Of course, that's up to the companies and only the fans can send a message to the companies.

Leon T
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This doesn't seem like a great selling point to me. I can see why collectors will like it but many people are not going to buy the console because of this. The only saving grace will be how good the software is.



I just think people are more excited about Nintendo making HD games than Nintendo trying to sell them cards or toys that are required to play their games.

Bob Johnson
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Not excited about NFC especially post Skylanders. We have an NFC portal already. I do see that having it built in means a greater install base and see how Pokemon fans could fork over lots of cash for toys. And see the McDonalds toy angle and easier payment angle. As a recent stock owner I am excited though.

Daniel Bratsberg
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While I see the possible positive effect this can have on developers' revenue, I for one would prefer not having to purchase multiple figurines simply to be able to get the full experience from a game. If the choice was to purchase the figurine or purchase some downloadable content, then that'd be brilliant. I prefer to store as little physical items as possible when it comes to my consoles and gaming equipment, and having a whole bunch of figurines hardly facilitates that.



That said, I would possibly buy figurines of franchises I'm already a huge fan of.

Carl Chavez
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It's not like Nintendo hasn't already done that kind of thing with Pokémon... ever heard of the Pokémon Battrio arcade strategy game?



http://bulbapedia.bulbagarden.net/wiki/Pok%C3%A9mon_Battrio



Nintendo could easily make something similar, but with figures and NFC tech instead of discs and infrared microdots.

Benjamin Quintero
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So now it will officially "print money" when they incorporate the credit card scanner on the side of the controller. =)

kevin williams
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The Wii broke real ground borrowing from the MoCap from Konami in the 90's.



The 'Wii U' underlines the toy (virtual product) element of Nintendo's strategy.



This however is a make or break strategy after the issues that lead to the Wii+ controller debacle.



The question is if the strategy is not able to generate revenue first time (with no issues and redesigns) then could Nintendo go the way of Atari?

Jeferson Soler
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I'll admit that what Nintendo is trying to do now with the NFC tech is not entirely a new territory to them. Nintendo did create the e-card reader for GBA years ago, which allowed players to scan cards that were either boosts/enhancements for games, videogame cards (used in place of cartridges for smaller games), or Pokemon cards. However, the NFC tech is built inside the Wii U tablet and not created as an add-on for any system, so that makes the tech more accessible to the public, and if done right, a lot of great things can be done with the NFC tech that would appeal to any audience (even fans of different franchises).

Adam Bishop
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Is Nintendo not on the record as stating that they're not interested in pursuing a microtransaction based model with Pokemon because they don't think it's fair to target children in that way?

Jeferson Soler
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Even if the company is on the record about that (and I believe that you are correct as there's an article that talks about Iwata's point-of-view on microtransactions), there's still the Pokemon card game, which people (especially kids) already buy, and Nintendo could do a WiiWare game for the Pokemon card game players that would want to take advantage of the NFC tech and scan the cards into the game. That's just one idea, but it is not the only one! Pretty much, Nintendo could do stuff without resorting to microtransactions by using what already exists along with the NFC tech. As I said before, this is not entirely a new territory to Nintendo as they did use the e-card reader for the Pokemon cards, but the difference between then and now is that you had to buy an add-on for GBA before, but now, a similar technology is already available on the Wii U tablet and you won't need to buy an add-on to get the tech.

Robert Hewson
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I'm still thinking (hoping) they might reveal a rear-facing camera on that controller at E3, enabling AR with your TV screen as the reference point instead of a marker card. I want Mario jumping out on my TV into the living room!

Joe McGinn
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It's a nice-to-have gimmick but surely not the saving grace. Something like Skylanders - but better, Nintendo-level quality - will look nice in commercials though and its appealing to kids.

A W
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1) Gimmick Post. Check

2) Nintendo is for kids Post. Check



Sorry I only point it out because I never see these kinds of accusations thrown at Sony or Microsoft who are going for the same demographic. Boys and men ages 12 to 45.

Sean Kiley
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It looks like this WiiU tablet will do everything, which give developers lots of options (always good). But this whole system will hinge on online. PLEASE get this right N!

Eric Ruck
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The whole card strategy worked so well for Hyperscan, what could possibly go wrong?

Jeferson Soler
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Nothing can go wrong if done right!


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