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Monday, May 11, 2015

[Splatoon] Let things be different

Over the past few weeks Nintendo's newest IP Splatoon has been in the news because it's been hosting what are basically Open Betas. Splatoon is an FPS in which squid-people shoot ink at each other in team fortress-esque objective based team game. Now if having "Nintendo" and "FPS" in the same thought confuses you...well you're probably reacting the right way. That said Splatoon has all the hallmarks of a Nintendo game; a cute, cartoon aesthetic with minimal if any sexualization, approachable gameplay, a less-violent approach (ink and squirt guns instead of bullets), and an overall goal of being friendlier, less toxic.

To achieve this goal Nintendo has chosen to entirely omit voice chat.

The future...decided by squid-people with supersoakers.
 Given the reaction of some outlets, you'd think Nintendo had emailed them images of Mario giving them the finger. Nintendo has always had the reputation as the family-friendly, safe option. They clearly want to be the console developer where you can let your kid play without worrying that they are going to be exposed to online toxicity. These days you see plenty of warnings for parents to spend some time listening in on your kid's Call of Duty match before letting them use voice. Nintendo wants to get rid of that concern and tossing voice chat is the first step to that.

"It's 2015. A voice chat option is standard in most online team-based games" - Fran Mirabella III
I see where Fran is coming from; these days there are features in games that become so necessary that they are basically required. But there is a time for following the conventional wisdom and a time to question how necessary a feature is. As much as Nintendo likes to stick it's head in the sand with regards to new developments, it looks like they are keenly aware of the prevalence of online toxicity in games. Thus far no developer has found a good way to make players behave. Blizzard tossed direct chat aside in Hearthstone, and advocates aggressive muting as a means of avoiding toxicity in Heroes of the Storm. Bear in mind that Heroes of the Storm is a MOBA, a genre where team communication is mandatory and Blizzard seems to feel confident that the communication can be handled with pings and context. Having played plenty of FPS games in recent history I never found myself sitting there thinking, "Wow, I wish I had voice chat enabled so I could be told how much I suck." Yes, in competitive play it is absolutely necessary but that is competitive play. Gaming as a whole is finding itself stuck between players who want everything they do in game to be a scrimmage for MLG and players who just want to boot up their favorite game and screw off. Voice chat might seem mandatory to one of those groups, but not the other.

"This opt-in approach solves for Amano's concerns." - Fran Mirabella III
Yes and no, yes an opt-in option for voice chat solves the concern of people being unwittingly subjected to toxicity. However, merely by having the option to go into team chat creates a pressure for people to use it and puts those that don't at a disadvantage. So Nintendo is choosing not to allow it at all. Yes, we can argue that perhaps that is a less ideal option and how people will find ways around it, but we live in a world where games are looking more and more alike. Nintendo is trying something aggressive to fix a problem. So stop trying to turn it into Call of Duty by arbitrarily insisting that a feature is mandatory.

Let games be different, let them try different things, and if they fail, they fail.You're always welcome to give feedback to developers, but couching that in "It HAS to be this way," is essentially building the walls of the box back up around innovation.


  1. Anything less than an opt-in is Nintendo refusing to be modern while arguing they are "doing it for the kids." I agree that mandatory voice chat needs to go away until we have better ways to clean up online communities, but a team-restricted, opt-in option should be there. Multiplayer games are significantly less fun to me when I can't chat in any way with my team of friends I have recruited/brought along for the experience. It has zero to do with strategy and a lot to do with the whole idea of MULTIplayer.

    Without ways to communicate, I might as well just play bots.

    1. Nintendo has kind of a long history of sticking its head in the sand. Don't get me wrong I think a multiplayer game is a hell of a lot more fun with voice chat too but it seems Nintendo is weighing it's options and deciding that ensuring a safe space for kids in game is worth ditching that. They're targeting a specific market and I think people insisting on voice-chat are intentionally or not trying to drag them towards a different one.

      That said, integrating skype or some sort of side service to the WiiU would be nice; solves the problem for ALL games.

      And are "players that might as well be (better) bots" all that bad? Sometimes I'd prefer that. :p

    2. All I am asking for is a cross-game system to meet and chat with friends in or out of game. I feel like that SHOULD be standard.

    3. For the WiiU as a whole that'd be good but I am concerned that Nintendo does not see that as ideal for it's audience (see toxicity mention in post). I think Nintendo, whether it's right or wrong, thinks it's audience is still mainly the under 18 crowd and has decided that it's safe to omit communication altogether. It's one of those situations where we aren't seen as it's market.

      Though whether that's intentional or Nintendo sticking it's head in the sand (look how long it took them to figure out that they should cater to Smash's pro scene too) is anyone's guess.