GamesBeat

The Wii U’s online service is an ‘empathy network’ — what the heck is that?

In less than two weeks, gamers finally get their hands on the Wii U. Nintendo’s new console may have a cool new tablet-style controller, but a lot of gamers just want to know about the standard features, like the online service.

It turns out that the Miiverse, the Wii U’s official Internet service, is an “empathy network.” At least that’s what Nintendo president Satoru Iwata called it in one of his Iwata Asks features on Nintendo.com.

The empathy-network moniker came from Iwata himself. He uses it to describe the feeling that players should have when they interact with one another on Miiverse. This service takes a different approach to online than Microsoft’s Xbox Live or Sony’s PlayStation Network. Rather than a single central hub, each Wii U game operates as its own community.

“We needed to figure out how we could design the service so that people would empathize with each other as much as possible, so I labeled it an empathy network,” said Iwata.

“At that time, the core of Miiverse was people with a certain play history interacting in an online community,” said Kiyoshi Mizuki, Nintendo Network’s lead designer.

The system can cross reference your game history against other players and populate your WaraWara Plaza with people who are similar to you. The WaraWara Plaza is a home screen filled with dozens of other people’s Miis all commenting on the games that they are playing. It’s like a visual trending-topics list from Twitter. Of course, this is just one level of player interaction. A separate layer will only include gamers who exchange friend requests.

“[These gamers] have the same experiences, so it’s easier to interact,” said Junya Kondo, founder of Kyoto-based Hatena Corporation which helped build the Nintendo Network.

By providing players with a game-focused approach to online, Wii U users can share their feelings about a certain title and others can agree or disagree based on a mutual experience. This concept is even embedded into the games. Gamers can leave notes in the stages of something like New Super Mario Bros. U and others can see them as they’re playing.

For example, you can see where a friend commented that they died 10 times in one spot. Then if the same thing happens to you, you can commiserate with your friend. When you know that others are experiencing the same difficulties as you, it may create empathy. At least that’s what Nintendo is hoping.

It’ll come down to the execution, and Nintendo’s past network solutions don’t suggest that they’ll pull this one off, but at least they’re trying.

We’ll have a full review of the Wii U, its games, and its Miiverse network in the coming days.


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