WiiU to use near-field communications for easy online purchases

Nintendo logoThe rise of purely digital online game sales has changed the industry in a number of ways, but the most important change might be the introduction of games as impulse buys. Anyone with a credit card tied to their Steam account knows how scarily easy it is to, with just a few clicks, dump more money than you intended on a whole passel of games that seem vaguely intriguing. You might not have read any reviews, or even heard anything about the game outside of the Steam description, but when it's so cheap and the purchase process is so seamless, your consumptive id can often act before your conscious brain even has a chance to question whether you really want the game you're buying.

Digital stores on platforms from Sony, Microsoft, Apple, and Google have similar setups to encourage this kind of impulse purchase—enter your credit card once, then buy with a few clicks forevermore. Nintendo is the lone holdout, as it often is with online features, refusing to store credit card information for users with a Wii or 3DS. But that might change in the next console generation, with Nintendo President Satoru Iwata announcing today that the Wii U will use near-field communication technology "as a means of making micropayments."

In retrospect, Nintendo's decision not to store credit card information seems like a pretty smart security decision, given the massive PlayStation Network hacking scandal and widespread reports of Xbox 360 points-transfer scams that have dogged both Sony and Microsoft over the past twelve months. But it's a decision that has also come with costs in the form of player convenience and publisher revenue.

Say you're trying to buy an intriguing-sounding game from the Nintendo eShop. Assuming you don't have any of those wacky "Nintendo Points" left over in your account ("It works just like regular money, but it's, er...'fun'"), you have to break out a credit card (or a prepaid Nintendo Points card) and painstakingly enter the card type, card number, expiration date, security code, and billing address, all using a Wii Remote pointer that's ill-suited to the purpose (hope you haven't had too much caffeine recently).

It's hard to say how much this onerous process, which can easily take upwards of five minutes, is harming sales of game downloads on the Wii, because Nintendo famously doesn't allow its digital publishers to publicize sales numbers. But it can't be helping. If you're thinking about throwing down $5 to purchase a copy of Super Mario Bros. 3 for what amounts to the sixth time in your life (I HAVE A PROBLEM, OK?!), the last thing Nintendo should want to provide you with is a five-minute, hassle-filled payment process that gives you a chance to reconsider what you're doing with your money (and, possibly, your life).

NFC to the rescue

Enter near-field communication cards. These are the kinds of cards that can transfer information simply by coming into close proximity with a powered contact point—you might have seen them in swipe-free office key cards or in MasterCard's "PayPass" credit cards. In Japan, the technology is widely built into cell phones to let users make purchases from vending machines with a quick tap, and Iwata says it's "expected to be widely used around the world in the near future."

This could be a best of both worlds solution for Nintendo, providing the relative security of having your payment information stored on a physical card with the convenience of being able to process your payment on a whim. Such convenience could be even more important for Nintendo in the near future, because the company says it's planning new online initiatives including personal (as opposed to system-based) purchase accounts, downloadable versions of full retail games, and in-game DLC (which is, amazingly, still a new thing on Nintendo systems over five years after Oblivion's Horse Armor became a running joke).

Given Nintendo's slipshod history of under-delivering on its potential for online game experiences, we'll have to see if the implementation matches the promise. That said, it's nice to see Nintendo potentially, finally, and belatedly cottoning on to the opportunity presented by making games into impulse buys.

Source: Ars Technica

Tags: game consoles, NFC, Nintendo, Wii

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