Nintendo plans digital item transactions, but still says no way to free-to-play

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nintendo 3dsLast week, Nintendo announced drastic price cut to its still-new Nintendo 3DS gaming device, with the company's president Satoru Iwata taking the blame (and, purportedly, a paycut) for the system's disappointing sales. So today's news that Nintendo will soon be launching digital item transactions for both the 3DS and the upcoming WiiU almost seems positively enlightened. Almost.

Iwata says this new initiative is designed for game makers to release new features and levels for their games -- something that competing gaming systems have benefited from for years. But, he says, that doesn't mean Nintendo is changing its tune on free-to-play games. He says Nintendo will still be very selective on how it uses these digital transactions for its own games, i.e. Mario, Zelda , and that the company still doesn't plan on releasing any free-to-play games (free games powered by microtransactions) anytime soon.

nintendo iwata miiAs a side note, the prez also mentioned Nintendo's StreetPass Mii Plaza, the 3DS' social networking system, and admits that not much has been done with that yet. He also says more retail games will make use of the cartoony avatars in the future well.

In the past year, Nintendo has been fairly vocal about how it plans to approach (or not approach, as the case may be) social, mobile and free-to-play games -- all of which happen to be three of the hottest areas in gaming. As an industry observer, it's downright bizarre to watch Nintendo execs continually blow off the same thing that companies that Electronic Arts and Disney are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on to make sure they stay relevant in the current state of gaming.

It'll be curious to see if Nintendo's refusal to explore these emerging game types will be a help or hindrance in the second half of 2011 (I vote for the latter). The company got lucky with the Nintendo Wii several years ago, but with lagging sales of both the 3DS and Wii, plus a larger video game software slump at retail, it will be interesting to see if the House that Created Mario will be able to make lightening strike twice with these digital downloads and new WiiU console expected in 2012.

[via Gamasutra]
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