As you probably already know, the Nintendo is offering a new Friend Code system on the 3DS. Instead of having to enter unique Friend Codes for every game, each system has just one Friend Code which is used across all games. A handy improvement, to be sure.
It begs the question, though, why even have Friend Codes at all? We've already learned that the 3DS has built-in parental controls to limit what kids see and do. So couldn't those parental controls extend to your buddy list? For example, couldn't you just prevent kids from adding random friends online? That way, older players would be able to use a more recognizable ID, an equivalent to an Xbox Live Gamertag or a PSN user name.
I posed the question to Reggie Fils-Aime, the President and COO of Nintendo of America. He gave the following reason for why Friend Codes still exist:
"The thing that we've learned is that there are some games that you want to battle head to head, but you don't want to necessarily want that other player to have full access to the space. Probably the best example is something like 'Animal Crossing.' We may want to trade items in 'Animal Crossing,' but do I really want the potential for you to come into my town and maybe disrupt it in some way? That's what Friend Codes are all about. There are certain games where Friend Codes are important. There are other games where, because of the head to head nature of the gameplay, it really isn't necessary."
Basically Nintendo uses Friend Codes so that there's an extra layer between you and potential strangers online, thereby limiting their access.
Unfortunately this makes adding actual, real-life friends a little more cumbersome. If you're next to the person, piece of cake, as your Friend Codes can be swapped wirelessly in seconds. For long distance friends, though, you have to both input the other's unique Friend Code, which is likely to be a long series of random numbers. On the bright side, you only have to do it once. Or do you?
I followed up my question about Friend Codes with the question, what happens if you lose your 3DS? Here's what Fils-Aime had to say:
"In terms of what happens if you lose your system, in terms of digital content, as we've announced, there's the ability to transfer digital content on to a new system, because we'll have the ability to go back and see what your account was and what you had purchased. In terms of what else you might have lost, that's really tough to answer in a hypothetical."
At present, your Nintendo account only tracks which digital purchases you've made and how many Nintendo points you have to spend. Because Friend Codes are tied to the system itself, losing your system means you'll have to go back and add all of your friends again.
But let's say you're extremely careful with your 3DS and you don't believe you'll lose it. Instead, let's say Nintendo updates the 3DS hardware in a few years, releasing the smaller, sleeker 3DS Lite. Yep, if you want to make the switch, you'll have to re-enter all of your Friend Codes and get your friends to re-add you, as well.
The reason for all of this is because of the limited nature of Nintendo's account system. The system currently only tracks your purchases and your balance, whereas competitors like Xbox Live and PSN track both of those, plus your friends list, plus your list of games played, plus your achievements, all independent of the individual hardware. Even those who had their 360s break a half-dozen times still didn't end up losing any crucial data.
Unfortunately, it appears that the launch of the 3DS hasn't spurred Nintendo to update its account system to bring it up to the level of its competitors. I asked Fils-Aime if there were any plans to implement that sort of system in the future.
"Essentially if you want to communicate to others what you're playing, what you've done for a particular game, that's now going to be possible through things like Street Pass."
Unless you lose your system, in which case, all of that data is gone forever.