The MoeGamer Awards are a series of made-up prizes that give me an excuse to celebrate games, concepts and communities I’ve particularly appreciated over the course of 2017. Find out more here, but you’re out of time to leave me suggestions, I’m afraid!
One interesting thing about modern gaming — and, to be honest, something I’m not all that thrilled with as an aspiring gaming archivist and historian — is the fact that we’re increasingly starting to see aspects of the hobby with in-built “expiry dates”.
Whether it’s games with multiplayer servers that shut down after it’s no longer viable for the publisher to keep them running, games that are patched beyond recognition from their physical releases via online storefronts or games that are straight-up no longer available to buy anywhere due to the closure of their digital distributors, it’s going to be a strange and difficult period to accurately preserve for the future. Today’s award celebrates one deeply fascinating aspect of modern gaming that we’ve already lost, only five years after it appeared.
And the “winner” is…
I must confess that I never really actually posted anything on Nintendo’s Miiverse service, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t get any value from it. Quite the opposite, in fact; Miiverse, as we’ll explore further in a moment, brought a real feeling of “life” to a lot of games, even those that weren’t explicitly multiplayer games.
For the unfamiliar, Miiverse was a social network that launched alongside the Wii U in 2012, and worked with the console’s Nintendo Network ID functionality. It provided the facility for any game on the platform to have its own discussion boards, and in many cases for these discussions and comments to be integrated into the game experience itself.
Perhaps most notably, the service took full advantage of the Wii U’s touchscreen GamePad (and later, the 3DS’ touchscreen) to allow users to not only post text comments, but also hand-drawn line-art images. Surprisingly for those of us who have frequented the Internet for a while, this facility did not rapidly descend into people drawing pornography and/or crude approximations of male genitalia at any opportunity, though whether this was due to Nintendo’s rigorous moderation standards, a community that wanted to create a positive space, or some combination thereof is not quite clear; rather, it often played host to some surprisingly impressive artwork that people had done in their own time for no other reason than to share with fellow Nintendo players.
Miiverse tended to be most apparent in Nintendo’s own games, not coincidentally the games which made up the bulk of the Wii U’s library of titles everyone should (and probably did) own. Each game used it in different ways; Splatoon used Miiverse posts as things for the random NPCs wandering around the main plaza to “say”, for example, while Super Mario Maker allowed players to leave text or pictorial comments at specific points on a user-created level that they found interesting, challenging or a point where they frequently died.
The great thing about this sort of implementation of Miiverse is that it gave even single player-centric titles a feeling that you were taking on their challenges alongside the rest of the world — and with the typically positive tone of Miiverse posts (or those that found themselves upvoted/moderated to be featured within the games, at least) it made for a pleasingly supportive-feeling atmosphere, much like playing games with a group of friends or family members. This was especially apparent in games like Super Mario 3D World, where Miiverse posters would often leave helpful tips for players who came after them — a godsend when tracking down that game’s many hidden items!
Crucially, though, this kind of implementation of Miiverse never felt intrusive or that it was getting in the way of the game experience, nor were you ever made to feel like you were obliged to participate if you didn’t want to; it was just something that easily faded into the background if you wanted it to, or something you could engage with further if you enjoyed doing so.
Nintendo even expanded the basic functionality of Miiverse while adding an additional layer of metagame to some titles through the use of unlockable “stamps”. Titles such as the aforementioned Super Mario 3D World and NES Remix awarded you with these pre-drawn graphics for accomplishing various goals, similarly to how the modern PlayStation and Xbox platforms use Trophies and Achievements. Super Mario 3D World even went so far as to have its stamps as collectable items within its various stages.
These stamps had two uses; firstly, to allow the artistically challenged to produce creative works using delightful little line-art representations of Nintendo characters and sprites, and secondly, for bragging rights — if you’d played the game for any length of time, you’d know that someone with a specific stamp had accomplished a particular goal.
One of my favourite things about Miiverse was the fact that if your Wii U was connected to the Internet, as soon as you’d turn it on you’d see posts from a selection of different sources, including games you’d played recently and other things available on the platform. It gave a lovely feeling of “community” to the console from the very moment you switched it on.
In effect, it was actually quite an effective means of advertising, too, though considerably less intrusive than Sony and Microsoft’s takes on “featured content” on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One/360 respectively due to the fact that it was implemented through user comments and artwork rather than dry, corporate banners and “calls to action”. Leave it to Nintendo to put a friendly face on advertising.
Miiverse closed down on November 7 of 2017, and I hadn’t realised what a profound feeling of emptiness it would leave behind until I switched my Wii U on for the first time after that date had passed.
While the “plaza” the Wii U OS boots to was still filled with Miis, it was abundantly clear that they were no longer the weird and wonderful creations from all over the world; now, they were uniformly coloured, Nintendo-approved creations that were divided into neat areas corresponding to the default icons on the system’s menu.
And while there were still “messages” coming from them in little speech bubbles, all of these were now from Nintendo, and instead of a variety of interesting comments and artwork, now they were just generic tips, tricks and suggestions. Still a friendly face to the console, for sure, but no longer one with a feeling of community to it.
Miiverse will be missed, then. It was an interesting experiment for Nintendo — and a largely successful one, I think. It’s just unfortunate that it happened to coincide with one of their least successful generations of hardware (in terms of sales, at least; the Wii U was home to some of Nintendo’s best ever games), and thus probably didn’t get the appreciation it really deserved while it was up and about.
Pour one out and give a hearty “Yeah!” for Miiverse this New Year, then; one of many fascinating aspects of gaming culture that will become lost in time and space as we continue inexorably on into the future.
All images on this page are details from the collage of drawings from Nintendo’s “Thank You” page, dedicated to the users of Miiverse.
If you enjoyed this article and want to see more like it, please consider showing your social support with likes, shares and comments, or become a Patron. You can also buy me a coffee if you want to show some one-time support. Thank you!