The real point behind the Wii Mini

I was thinking about the Wii Mini this week (no, really) and to be honest, it got me all existential for a moment. As in, why in the name of all that's good does this thing exist? I get that it's a cheap way for people to enjoy Wii titles. At the low end price of $99, it captures that bargain basement market. I understand that.

But to reach that price point, Nintendo felt that it had to remove some features. Most notably, the Wii Mini has no online functionality at all. There is no way for you to play any Wii games that have multiplayer, no way to access the Wii Virtual Console or Wii Ware, no Netflix. You get to play what's on the disc, and that's all.

So let's contrast that with Sony's big announcement last week. The PlayStation 4. Among the biggest enhancements that the PS4 will bring is the idea of video streaming, both to share gameplay videos with your friends, and also to offer back catalog PlayStation games through streaming. Being online is a fundamental requirement for Sony's vision of the PS4.

It's all well and good that Sony is planning to offer its older games through streaming, leveraging the technologies of Gaikai, the company that it bought last year. But let's think about long term for a moment. How is Sony going to transition from the current PlayStation Network to the PS4? How long will they support the network infrastructure for their legacy device? The honest answer is, we don't know. And frankly, I think it's just a matter of time before it eventually gets shut down.

And that's what troubles me about cloud gaming. If all your games reside on the cloud, and you never install them or download them or get a disc, what happens when that company or service shuts down? Poof, your games, gone.

So back to Nintendo. The real agenda behind the Wii Mini, I believe, is to signal the eventual and imminent shut down of all Wii online services, and a complete focus on Wii U moving forward. Nintendo is cutting loose the Wii, and eventually there will no longer be any online services for any Wii, Mini or otherwise. We are already seeing third parties signalling this move. Capcom is shutting down their Monster Hunter Tri servers on April 30, now that there's a new game for the Wii U.

Nintendo has long been the company that is philosophically opposed to charging for online. They don't have a subscription based network, they don't hide Netflix behind a paywall, and for their own first party games at least, online has been free of charge. Is that about to change? How long can we reasonably expect companies to operate and maintain servers for free?

On this point, it's less clear what Nintendo will do. Nintendo used to be opposed to paid DLC as well, but are now moving slowly in that direction. It recently announced that 80 new levels for New Super Mario Bros. U would be paid DLC. So perhaps eventually they will reconsider charging some kind of monthly fee for their online services. I hope not. It's refreshing and decidedly user-friendly to offer everything for free.

As the Wii Mini branches out to more markets (it heads to the UK next month), one thing is clear.

The Wii as we know it, is dead. Long live the Wii U.

Posted on February 26, 2013 and filed under Article.