Opinion: Social Life

Opinion: Social Life
Jem Alexander

By Jem Alexander

September 8th 2017 at 12:00PM

Nintendo is closing down another of its social experiments, Miiverse. It’s the latest in a long history of abandoned social functions in both home console and handhelds. Jem Alexander ponders whether any social gimmicks can cross console generations and, if so, which

Nintendo is closing down Miiverse. In November, the social service on Wii U and 3DS will implode and life for many millions of Miis will end. It’s nice to picture a spectacular cosmic event for something like this. ‘Nintendo is destroying your Miis’ universe’. Paints a different picture to when Sony closed down PlayStation Home, doesn’t it?

It does highlight an industry trend, though. Platform specific social networks come and go with relative ease, rarely transitioning across console generations. PlayStation Home itself is an interesting example. A virtual space that lived on every PS3 owner’s console. An in-built audience of millions to whom brands like Diesel and Warner Bros could market their clothes and films.

Think of all the inappropriate drawings you could send to strangers, but in 3D!


Every game was to have its own special zone, with playable mini- games. Some would include concept art and in-game assets. Like a mini museum. Had Home survived, it could have been a fantastic way of conserving game history in an interactive format. When the service was announced, there was even promise of every player having a trophy room with 3D representations of all of your in-game accomplishments. This was before PS3 trophies even existed. Such grand promises, made at a time when games like LittleBigPlanet were just being announced. The future felt so exciting. So social.

But, as ever, dreams come crashing to the ground once reality kicks in. The PS3 was a pain to develop for – this is widely documented – on top of which, the Home engine was even more annoying to work with. The work required to make a Home space, and the investment needed, was huge. The trophy room never materialised (creating a unique 3D asset for every trophy was a nice idea, but costly in practice) and launching into/out of games from a party in Home was clunky at best.

Remember all this? It’s possible you don’t, because PlayStation Home never made the jump across to the PS4, despite actually being pretty profitable. Just as Nintendo’s Miiverse dies, abandoned, on the Wii U. It’s a different story for Nintendo, obviously. There were no grand promises of complicated explorable game spaces. Instead we were delivered a fairly basic forum on which you could draw. Though it did integrate with some of the Wii U’s more high profile games, drawings and all.

Which reminds me of another Nintendo ‘social platform’ abandoned between console generations. PictoChat was a pretty strange thing for a company as kid-friendly and paranoid as Nintendo to have created. It allowed for text chat and the swapping of drawings with anyone else with a DS within local wifi range. Great for random strangers to send the odd “A/S/L?” or inappropriately shaped picture drawn on their tiny
DS touchscreen.

There’s no reason PictoChat couldn’t have made the transition over to the 3DS. The device format was identical. Think of all the inappropriate drawings you could send to strangers, but in 3D! Another social experiment lost to console history.

As Nintendo moved on to the 3DS, PictoChat was scrapped in favour of the greatest social featureset the games industry has yet produced. StreetPass still remains utter genius. Even after attempts by Nintendo to monetise the platform by selling new StreetPass ‘games’, sentiment around the passive social connection tool has stayed very high.

By simply carrying around your 3DS, you’ll ‘interact’ with other 3DS players you pass by. By walking with your 3DS you earn coins to spend in StreetPass games. The message is clear: keep your 3DS on you. It promotes social play, healthy living and gives the player a shot of endorphins whenever we see that flashing green light. The same chemical hit we get when we receive a text message. Nintendo had basically invented location-based dating apps, years before Tinder.

So why, oh, why was StreetPass, like its younger sibling Miiverse, left to die on old hardware? The latter is understandable, considering the low userbase of the Wii U and Nintendo’s change in direction with the Switch, but the 3DS enjoyed huge success and fits much more squarely with the Switch’s overall philosophy. The best of home console meets the best of portables. And StreetPass truly was the best of portables.

Did you know that the Nintendo Switch has a notification light built in? Behind the home button. Weird right? Would be just the thing to alert us to a new StreetPass hit... The Switch is lacking in social features and if anything deserves continued support beyond the death of the 3DS, it’s StreetPass. And that so-far unused notification light would be just the thing to keep those endorphin hits coming.