Social Space: Wii U Miiverse blurs lines between social, console games

New Super Mario Bros U MiiverseYou may have heard that the Wii U is finally here. Nintendo's latest and (debatably) greatest console is available in the U.S., complete with a controller housing a 6.2-inch touchscreen, HD graphics and a social network. "Wait, what," you ask? Yes, the Wii U, after an enormous patch, comes with Miiverse, a full blown social network built around and integrated into games on the console.

That is, of course, should the developer choose to include it. And you better believe that they'll want to. If Facebook has taught us anything, it's that social play is a fine way to keep players coming back for more. But what exactly does Miiverse do? Well, it seems that nearly every game released on Wii U will have a Miiverse community established around it, a Twitter-like feed of doodles and messages from the game's player base. The more popular messages will bubble up to Wara Wara Plaza, or the home screen for Wii U, around the floating icons for each game.
Wii U MiiverseFrom the Miiverse app, players can follow others, "Like"--err, "Yeah!"--posts, send messages directly to players on their friends list and request friends from within the app. So, this is a Facebook-meets-Twitter around each game. So what. It's when the network becomes integrated into games that things get really interesting, that's what.

Take New Super Mario Bros. U, for instance. If players so choose, they can enable Miiverse integration after conquering the first castle. What this does is give players the opportunity to share their thoughts on a level after they've cleared it or after they've failed. (It also has built-in spoiler protection for purists.) Already, this editor has seen players' thoughts bubble up in the overworld around several levels, as well as near the NSMBU icon in Wara Wara Plaza.
Miiverse screensThis ability to share your thoughts on a game asynchronously is nothing new to Facebook games, but pretty fresh as far as console gaming is concerned. However, there are some limitations to the system. For example, there isn't much incentive to share from within a game in Miiverse like there is in social games (i.e. the prospect of free items). Also, players can't comment on Miiverse messages from within a game--only post.

That said, Miiverse is a few patches away from moving from the first console-based social network to the best (for now). The question is, where does that leave social games? If Nintendo, the company that repeatedly criticized social games for their lack of depth or value just created its first social games, then is it now a social game maker? This is just another point at which the lines between social and traditional games blur, perhaps to the point that we need to redefine what "social game" means. And frankly, kudos to Nintendo for, of all the players, to bring about that fundamental redefinition.

[Image Credit: Kotaku]

What do you think of Miiverse so far? Does it have the potential to innovate in console gaming? Sound off in the comments. Add Comment.
Joe Osborne is associate editor at News. Weekly in Social Space, Joe shares opinions and observations on the intersection of social gaming and traditional games. Follow him on Twitter here.
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