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Nintendo's Marko Hein on Wi-Fi

Nintendo's head of European developer business on Wi-Fi, weird games and what's to come

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It should be as easy as playing with the people beside you though, that was the idea of wi-fi. It means that local network playing is relatively easy, you switch on the console and select multiplayer then let's go. Wi-fi works in exactly the same way - you open the DS, select wi-fi and start playing with somebody straight away.

When would you say that Nintendo's plans for online gaming properly fell into place?

MH: Online gaming is a huge thing and we knew that it's a huge thing but there were too many hurdles up to that point. As we announced the DS, we were very clear that Nintendo was heavily considering this option, it was just the matter of time before all the infrastructure was set up. I think that we wanted to do our first test with the Nintendo GameCube but it never really kicked off because of the hurdles I was mentioning. We didn't want to do exactly what Xbox Live was doing with subscriptions and so on, we wanted to make it free and easy for consumers. Especially, with a handheld system, we wanted gamers to be out on the street or in Starbucks etc and be able to open their DS and play wi-fi. We thought that would be a stimulating and appealing option for consumers.

Was there some intention then to introduce this kind of wi-fi service earlier on, some time during the GameCube's lifespan?

MH: Not seriously. We were providing the technical capabilities but Nintendo decided that we were not making a huge commitment at that point - if a publisher wanted to take a game online, the infrastructure was there but we were looking further into the possibilities, which we finally considered most suitable for the DS.

Why do you think Mario Kart DS and Animal Crossing - big traditionally offline franchise titles - have been most suitable for the launch of Nintendo's wi-fi service?

MH: It's not just the issue that they're big franchise titles, but also it's the type of game. I mean, racing games are perfect because you can take on anyone around the world in your kart. Animal Crossing however, from the gameplay perspective, it's perfectly suited for wi-fi too. Obviously, we've got Metroid Prime Hunters coming out and that wasn't actually designed to be online, but it was always intended to be multiplayer. During the lifecycle though, when the wi-fi plan was finally established, we realized we had to implement it.

In terms of encouraging third-party support, what is it about the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection Service that you consider to be its best facet?

MH: Well, it's not just about encouraging developers to adopt wi-fi, but we're also very keen to ensure that developers embrace the many unique features of the DS. Of course, one of those features now is wi-fi so that means if a publisher has a great game, with strong multiplayer components for example, then the wi-fi is the logical next step.

As you've said, Nintendo has implemented a deal to make 7,500 hotspots available to UK consumers for its wi-fi service. What was the thinking behind the selection of these specific areas, what were you trying to achieve?

MH: The most important thing for us is that the service is accessible to everyone so we were really trying to maximize our penetration with the hotspots we chose. We've secured around seventy-five percent of available hotspots around the UK and I think that's very good in terms of accessibility for the consumer.

We've seen today that Animal Crossing has an obscenity filter to prevent gamers from using bad language online. How much of a focus was put into the design of the wi-fi service to ensure it was suitable and safe for access by audiences of all ages?

MH: Well, of course, with Mario Kart, it's also the case - you cannot share personal information, you cannot talk to people, you can only log on with other DS's and play with them. I think security is a big issue for Nintendo because our major target group is still very young and parents naturally are very concerned about the security and the protection of their kids. Nintendo has a certain reputation and that means we have to be secure and safe and that was kept in mind throughout the development.

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