Satoru Iwata announced in a Q3 financial presentation that the upcoming Nintendo Wii U is going to have Near Field Communication (NFC) built into the system. He is quoted as saying:
“By installing this functionality, it will become possible to create cards and figurines that can electronically read and write data via noncontact NFC and to expand the new play format in the video game world. Adoption of this functionality will enable various other possibilities such as using it as a means of making micropayments.” nintendolife.com
What could this all mean for owners of the Wii U and the future of gaming involving other systems? That is the question I asked myself when I read this news and it turned into a deep rooted research project to find out everything I could about the technology, and what the uses are going to be and what they could become in the future. What I found was eye opening and intriguing.
What is Near Field Communication? (NFC)
Near Field Communication allows two devices that are embedded with a chip to transfer data between them at a very close range. This data could be credit card information, coupons, tickets, or any information that is written on the chip of the parent object.
Right now NFC is being used in public transportation as a prepaid card that a rider swipes over a reader and the cost is deducted from the amount on the prepaid card.
NFC is very close to the well known Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology, but NFC needs to be in very close proximity to the reader, where RFID uses radio frequency to transfer date at a longer range. The fear of RFID was that anyone with a RFID reader could detect a RFID chip, and scan it’s information if they could get the signal. With NFC, the reader needs to be very close to the embedded chip. By close I mean one or two centimeters in proximity.
Google also has an application that uses NFC with the android phones called the Google Wallet. The Google Wallet application, on your android phone, contacts the NFC reader in stores at the check out, and deducts the funds from your virtual wallet through your android phone. Unfortunately there have been some security issues with the Google Wallet feature. If you wish to read more about Google Wallet, here is a link
It all Started with Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure
In the gaming world, NFC started with Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, which is a game that requires the player to buy different figures in order to use them in the game.
Each toy figure is a detailed creature with an embedded NFC chip located in its base. When the toy is placed on the “Portal of Power”, a green base that is plugged into your console via USB cord, the NFC chip in the base of the figure is read, and the creature is playable in the game. Also, the chip is capable of saving data from the game so that all experience points, current level, statistic changes and in game money are stored back into the embedded chip and saved for later use. These figures are also able to be used on any “Portal of Power” at any location in the exact condition the character was in when you last played the game using that figure.
I can see this technique coming over to the Pokemon world with it’s thousands of characters that could be made into figures. If not with figures, then why not with playing cards? Each card could have an embedded NFC chip that could be read as you place the card on the Wii U, and then use that character, or an enhancement to a character, in the game. The possibilities are endless, and that could be a problem for gamers in the long run.
With the trailer for Rayman Legends, it showed how NFC technology would be implemented in a game on the Nintendo Wii U. This trailer was shown at E3 this past June in Los Angeles, CA. youtube video
Other Uses for NFC with the Nintendo Wii U
With Skylanders” Spyro’s Adventure, and then a possible Pokemon game using NFC, what other uses could be expect from this technology?
How about buying a Wii Points card for the Wii store, and instead of plugging in that huge code that is on the back of the card, we just place the card on the Wii U, it’s scanned and the points are awarded to your account.
How about we have in store coupons that are awarded to people that take the coupon home, place it on the Wii U and the in game exclusive is placed in their game instantly?
How about taking your credit card, placing it on the Wii U, and whatever items you buy in the Wii Store, are instantly credited to your card without having to insert the long credit card number, and PIN? No more information is stored on a database on some server in some building that can have a security problem, like Playstation had a few months ago. The embedded NFC chip is scanned, verified, and accepted without a single number being entered, similar to the Google Wallet for the Android phone. Would people feel more comfortable making online transactions under those circumstances?
These are just some of the uses I could think of, but the uses for this type of technology are almost limitless.
Is it Really Something We Want?
With all new technology, there is a potential bad side. In this case companies could saturate the market with figures and cards that gamers would have to buy to use with already purchased games. Is this something we are willing to live with?
We are already dealing with purchasable DLC, but with NFC we could be dealing with it on a larger scale. Instead of buying content to expand our current games with map packs or expansions, gamers could be expected to buy figures, and cards to go along with the games they already own, making the current game with its $50-$60 dollar price tag double or even triple in the long run. This could get out of hand really fast. Along with us dropping a couple of dollars on DLC here and there, those “micro” transactions could add up to a substantial amount of money.
I personally have nothing against expansions or DLC that extends the life of a game, but to be required to purchase items that are going to clutter up my home in order to enjoy a certain game to its full potential feels a bit disconcerting. There is a strong chance this is what is going to happen when this technology goes mainstream in gaming, but the consumer has the last word. If we as a community do not like the way things are going, we should let companies know by not purchasing what they are selling. As long as people are buying, the companies will keep producing this type of content and things could get out of control.
Is Nintendo Ahead of the Curve?
The release of the Nintendo Wii back in 2006 brought with it motion gaming technology for the first time. Now with the Nintendo implementing NFC technology in their new Wii U, can we say that Nintendo is working ahead of the curve in gaming?
After the release of the Wii, Sony and Microsoft started working on their own motion gaming peripherals, Microsoft with Kinect, and Sony with Move. Now with Nintendo announcing Near Field Communication with their soon to be released Wii U, can we say that Nintendo is laying a kind of foundation in gaming for new technology that is keeping Nintendo slightly ahead of the curve?
It seems that when Nintendo releases something new, Sony or Microsoft follows behind them, creating something very similar. This has also crossed over to the handheld market with Nintendo’s huge success with their Nintendo DS, and Sony following behind with their PSP, and now PS Vita hand held. It would appear that Nintendo also paved the way for portable gaming starting way back with the Gameboy.
Now with Iawata announcing the integration of Near Field Communication, is Nintendo paving a new road yet again, opening a huge door into a new era of gaming?
Are We Ready for it?
After doing the research and over loading my brain with far too much information I have to ask myself if this is technology we really want infesting the gaming world? It’s a tough question.
Is the gaming community willing to spend more money on figures and cards to get more out of their currently purchased games? Are these figures collectable enough to warrant a person spending $7-$10 dollars on added content through figure? Does exclusive content through figures or cards worth the cost? And is this a way for companies to squeeze out more money without really giving us something substantial to add to our gaming experience? These are all questions that are being asked, and hopefully will be answered in the coming year, or as soon as a few months when the Nintendo Wii U is released on the market.
I am personally excited about new technology, but not at the cost of my gaming experience. I want to enjoy my games as long as I feel I want to, and if I enjoy a game enough to want to extend that experience through downloaded content using micro payments, figures, or cards, then that is my prerogative. But I do not wish to be forced into doing so by the companies. This is my, and your experience, and you should be allowed to enjoy it the way you see fit, and if paying $50-$60 to purchase a game is your limit, then you should be allowed to get a full gaming experience regardless of DLC or anything else. Like I said before, the only way the community can let the companies know how we feel about this type of direction NFC could take is to speak with our wallets. I’m keeping an open mind. I realize that Nintendo is out to make money, but I hope that Nintendo, or any other company, can look past the all mighty dollar and see the gaming community when developers begin to take advantage of Near Field Communication.