Miiverse

Nintendo has largely avoided discussing the subject of online when it comes to Wii U; we’re still in the dark on details regarding the presence of friend codes and other things that have hampered the online experience for owners of Nintendo’s previous consoles. The one exception to this has been Miiverse, which has the potential to connect Wii U owners with each other in a new, interesting way. There is, however, at least one issue that stands in the way of it being a major success (aside from Wii U itself selling well), and that is Nintendo’s desire to provide a safe environment for younger gamers.

Miiverse allows Wii U owners to share messages with others both inside and outside of games; New Super Mario Bros. U demonstrated this week how players’ messages can be shown on the level select screen or following Mario’s death. Messages can be either typed out or hand-drawn. Either way, the potential for spoilers or inappropriate messages to be shared through these channels is great, and Nintendo has several ways of ensuring those undesirable messages are seen by as few people as possible.

As explained to Hero Complex by Nintendo president Satoru Iwata, there are three ways of dealing with these messages. The first is an automated filter which will search out words Nintendo doesn’t want being used. This is only so effective, though, because it can’t recognize hand-drawn notes, and because for as many words that are added to the filter list, there are a dozen more ways to spell out what sort of terrible things some anonymous gamer would allegedly (read: not) do to you and your mother if you were to meet in real life.

Another method will be to allow users to flag content they feel should not be on Miiverse, a solution which would require the questionable content to make it into the wild in the first place.

That’s where the third, and most dubious comes into play: human moderation. Iwata said Nintendo will hire a team to monitor the content being published to Miiverse, and only after it’s approved by one of these individuals will it make it onto the screen of other Wii U users (Wii Users?).

It’s undoubtedly the most effective way of preventing children from seeing phallic drawings and adult language, but the downside is it dramatically slows the process of getting Miiverse posts distributed. Nintendo is creating a bottleneck that ensures you’ll never be able to get a message posted as quickly as you’d like.

Iwata admitted, “The attraction of a social network is the immediacy of the feedback,” while also making it clear that parents need to be able to rest assured Miiverse won’t turn into Second Life, the (at times) notoriously raunchy free-to-play MMO. He went on to say the matter of how long it will take for messages to make their way through moderation will depend on feedback once Miiverse has launched, adding, “But personally, I think 30 minutes should be acceptable.”

30 minutes to post feedback on a level in New Super Mario Bros. U seems plenty fair, but will Nintendo have the capacity to reach that goal without letting some undesirable messages making their way through the cracks? Even if they do, I suspect the moderation process will negatively impact the aspects of Miiverse which lend themselves to more immediate conversations. Will anyone really want to carry out a message board-style discussion if it requires a 30-minute wait for each message to go through?

Nintendo has always been about providing a safe online experience, so none of this comes as a surprise. However, if it wants to be able to better compete with Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, at some point it will need to rely on optional parental controls dictating whom players can connect and socialize with online rather than resorting to blanket policies like this which will drag down the experience for adults who are willing to be exposed to the occasional swear word or naughty illustration.

By Chris Pereira