Forward-Thinking Nintendo Channel Launches On Wii -- Examines Your TV And Sticks It To GameStop At The Same Time

Nintendo Racetrack LogoLong promised and finally delivered, the Nintendo Channel was made available for North American Wii owners some time after I went to bed last night.

I downloaded it this morning and tried it out.

As expected, the channel features promotional videos and a deep index of Wii and DS games to better inform purchasing decisions. It can also zap demos of DS games to my handheld.

But it can do other stuff I did not expect, and it shows that Nintendo may be craftier about online networking than many people gave them credit for:

The channel lets you buy games and anger GameStop at the same time: You'd think some other company than Nintendo would be the first to let consumers buy a new disc-based game via their console without taking their hands off a controller. Nope. It's Nintendo.

I loaded a promotional video for "Wii Fit and clicked an option to buy the game. The Wii Internet Channel loaded and offered me a selection of stores to choose from: Sears, Wal-Mart, Circuit City, Toys R Us, Target, Amazon, Best Buy and K-Mart.

Who wants to be the person to tell GameStop that they didn't make the list?

It tracks and recommends games: There are hundreds of pieces of content available for purchase on the online stores of the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii. As far as I know, none of the consoles have offered a service that recommends content to users based on individual taste. This is a service that retail websites such as Amazon provide.

Some find recommendation services like this to be an invasion of privacy; others find them to be more reliable shopping guides than word of mouth.

The Nintendo Channel adds that feature to the Wii. If you opt in, the channel will track the games you play, the time you play them and tabulate rankings you can manually apply to games in the channel's menu -- all supposedly to your shopping and gaming benefit. (You get to say whether you think any given Nintendo game or channel is for the casual or hardcore fan. Surely the Forecast Channel is hardcore!)

Here's how the company explains this info-swapping in the fine print that appears within the channel's menus:

We would like to offer you the opportunity to receive game recommendations based on your actual game play.

To receive this service, you must agree to allow Nintendo to collect nonidentifiable info from your console, such as the games you play and the time you play them. Nintendo will hen use this information to recommend games to you and develop new games and services.

*Sent information may include the following:

-The information posted daily to the Wii Message Board regarding the number of times and duration software titles have been played.

-Information on your picture, Sensor Bar, Internet usage, etc., from the Wii System Settings.

To thank you for sharing your anonymous data with Nintendo, we would like to make available to you the DS Download Service. No information that personally identifies ou o your console will be shared with Nintendo by agreeing to share your game-play data.

It takes note of the TV you're using: See that fine print I just quoted above? Nintendo will track "your picture." And your sensor bar, which is weird (what could they learn other than whether I've set it above or below my set, and how would that info help them?).

Seems to me that, if they track the TVs we use, Nintendo will have a better idea if or when to release a high-def-enabled console.

Things ain't perfect: The many streaming videos on the Nintendo Channel can be paused but you can't rewind them. The downloadable demos for DS games mostly consist of already-released titles. No demos for Wii games are available.

Information on games indexed in the channel is limited to the point of not being very useful. If you go to the listing for any of the hundreds of games listed in the Nintendo Channel title index, you can find out the publisher info, the genre, number of players, see the box art and even click links to official websites, but the one-line text summaries don't reveal much. For example, upcoming Wii game "Castle of Shikigami III" features this description: "Welcome to the castle of nightmares!" That tells you everything, huh? A must-buy!

Third parties sort of get the spotlight: EA's "Boom Blox" enjoyed prominent placement in the list of games I saw information about on the channel. An opening promotional video advertised games such as "Ghost Squad," "Wii Ski" and "Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword."

But I couldn't help but notice that the nine-page list of videos on the channel began with all the Nintendo-made content and only ended with the third-party clips. Nintendo takes the lead, again.


Not a bad start for the Nintendo Channel, but there is plenty of room for improvement.

Got a comment you can't bring yourself to share below this post? Need to tell me why the Nintendo Channel is better than HBO or the English Channel? Drop me an e-mail.