Nintendo is famous for iconic characters like Mario and Donkey Kong. It's famous for making creative games, even when its hardware isn't the most powerful around. And it's famous for being really, really bad at online gaming. Nintendo's DS handheld and Wii console both use Friend Codes, a long sequence of digits gamers have to trade to be able to play games together. Even worse, since individual games can have friend codes, keeping track of friends is much more difficult than it is on the unified Xbox Live or PlayStation Network platforms. Nintendo also struggled to find success selling downloadable games through its WiiWare service. They've set out to fix those problems with the Wii U.
Nintendo launched the free Nintendo Network with its new console, doing away with Friend Codes in favor of a single username for an account that works with all Wii U games. The username is locked to a single Wii U console, and every Wii U supports up to 12 accounts. Accounts are tied to the Mii avatars and are used for everything online on the Wii U console: Connecting to friends with a friends list, playing online games, checking leaderboards, and downloading games from the eShop.
The eShop is Nintendo's successor to WiiWare and the Virtual Console and is the same service the company uses for downloadable games on the handheld 3DS. Full retail games and small independent games are available on the eShop, and Nintendo plans to sell classic games through the service as well. Gamers who buy the Deluxe Wii U also get two years of Nintendo Network Premium, which gives players 10 percent of any eShop purchase back in Nintendo Points, the eShop currency.
And then there's MiiVerse, Nintendo's big social networking initiative. MiiVerse is a bit like an Internet message board. Wii U owners can post messages about games they've played in communities dedicated to individual games, give comments "Yeah" votes (essentially Facebook-style "likes"), and send messages directly to their friends. Gamers can also post screenshots taken from games, either to show off a cool feature or get help from other gamers. The Wii U supports video chatting (handy when your controller has a built-in camera and screen!), and Nintendo aims to take Miiverse beyond its own video game console. The company plans to release apps for mobile devices, like iOS and Android smartphones, which will allow users to instant message with their Nintendo Network friends and participate in Miiverse.
Nintendo's obviously looking beyond games with the Wii U, and Miiverse is a big part of that plan. But there's one feature left that's even bigger. It's called Nintendo TVii.