Miitomo is a new free-to-download social networking app, and the first videogame for mobile devices from Nintendo. Here are our thoughts…
Ever since the advent of smartphones and the casual gaming boom of the mid-00s, many media outlets and users alike assumed an inevitable progression from dedicated handhelds to the app store for Nintendo. This was especially true around the time of the Nintendo 3DS Launch in 2011. Poor sales and an early price-drop resulted in a lot of speculation that the company ought to cut their losses and turn to software development for iPhones – “Release Mario on the app store, it’ll sell millions!” remains a common statement from water cooler game theorists. Though the company is still strong, arguably it’s the disappointment of the Wii U and its own ‘not-a-tablet’ device that sent shares low enough to spark a change in direction towards mobile gaming. Fortunately however, it appears Nintendo have taken the time to thoroughly analyse their market potential and applicable IP. Working in part with Japanese developer DeNA, Nintendo have announced their plans to release several mobile titles for iOS and Android by March 2017. In July 2015, the late Saturo Iwata said the company wouldn’t “do anything that may hurt Nintendo’s brand image,” and that’s a wise notion to take. It would be overly simplistic to just port Mario over to iPhone or clone an existing app store hit with added Nintendo characters and expect to bank millions… Miitomo actually takes what Nintendo does best and cultivates it for a new market, thankfully the results are really fun!
Miitomo allows you to create a Mii avatar of yourself (familiar to most thanks to Wii Sports). You can clothe, customise and interact with your Mii to answer questions about your own daily life. These questions range from anything as simple as ‘What is your favourite food?’ to ‘What do you wish to achieve most this year?…’ The answers you give are then shared with your friends, which you add to an in-game list via Facebook and Twitter, or by using a ‘face-to-face’ tool with other players who are nearby. You can exchange comments and responses, the goal being to get to know each other better. At first glance this concept appears quite shallow, and you may wonder what value the experience really has, but what Miitomo brings to the table is a strong sense of humour and a sort of coy playfulness. The game is based loosely on a series for Nintendo DS and 3DS, Tomodachi Life, in which you govern an island of Miis. Your role there is to keep everyone as happy as possible and breed further Miis, setting up more and more Mii families to entertain and exploit as you see fit. The whole experience is very bizarre and while I enjoyed it and had a few Mii babies, I’d had my fill after 20 hours played during the summer. Miitomo uses many of the same controls and game mechanics as Tomodachi, but rather than creating ‘Tamagotchis’ of all your Miis, it focuses mainly on yourself and the idea of a happiness level is removed entirely. Your Mii is always content to ask you questions and listen to answers, and that’s about the size of your interaction with it. As a social network however, Miitomo differs from Facebook and Twitter in one big way, you’re not purely commenting on your own experiences with a thinly veiled gloat or aloofness, there is a fair certainty that the people you’re playing with will see your Mii, or their own, pop up and repeat whatever it is you’ve said. You quickly find yourself answering question upon question with almost giddy anticipation of your friends responses to what you’ve said. Each answer you give can be commented on, which is read back to you by the Miis in their highly robotic, yet friendly way. Add the photo studio (Miifoto) into the mix and things start getting really weird! There you can take your Miis and reposition them in a multitude of ways, placing them in settings which can even be created using your own device’s camera or photo gallery. From there things can become a lot more hyperactive and creative than regular social network interactions and overall it’s this which makes Miitomo charming and fun. The lines between social network and videogame are quickly removed, but of course, only if you’re able to find friends to interact with…
This is where Miitomo’s greatest strength becomes it’s biggest weakness. It only works if others around you are willing to engage with the game as much as you are, and although the humour and zaniness may be entertaining for some, it’s sure to alienate and annoy others… Fortunately for me, I have a handful of friends excited by Miitomo and the interactions we’ve had have been genuinely hilarious at times. However, I have an equal number of other friends who tried the game for a few minutes, but after answering some questions there wasn’t a hook for them. If the humour doesn’t resonate with you, you’re not likely to come back… and if you’re someone who enjoys Miitomo but isn’t with anyone else who does, just like any social network the experience stops there. It goes without saying that you need to apply your own sensibilities to what’s presented before you can extrapolate more fun from it, but if you just don’t enjoy it then that’s that. This isn’t like a platforming game you can master, or a Puzzle RPG that you just need to think over a bit more. Despite the blurred lines, Miitomo remains more social-app than game, and as such it requires multiple users to work. With that, a disconnect between audience expectation and brand intent could occur… It’s clear to see from Miitomo’s presentation that Nintendo would like to rekindle forgotten interest in its products with people who perhaps experienced Nintendo from childhood or tried it out during the Wii-madness of 2007 and didn’t take it any further. It could work too, as it’s shot to the number one spot in both Japan and the USA in just a few days of launch! In respect of that, you couldn’t blame people for downloading the app expecting something more interactive than just a conversation generator, and should people’s first experience of Miitomo be underwhelming it could leave their overall brand perception of Nintendo at a low point, rather than sparking new interest. There is a smattering of game-like elements in Miitomo, but the only mini game besides the question/answering and photobooth is ‘MiiDrop’, a pachinko-like game where you drop your Miis into a chute of bumpers and prizes. Where they land determines what kind of prize you get which is usually a piece of clothing for them to wear. It’s fun but most results are left to chance. Something more interactive for the Miis to do might help hook in people who aren’t as interested in sharing opinions and experiences in Mii-form.
So what else is there after the initial buzz dies down? Well, Miitomo has launched alongside Nintendo’s new loyalty programme which means checking in with the Miis as often as daily can earn you points which go on to discount purchases made from Nintendo’s eShop on Wii U and 3DS. It’s here that the overall goal of Miitomo is more apparent as a way of getting old and new fans to take further interest in Nintendo. As an ardent gaming and Nintendo fan, I can tell you this incentive is good enough to keep me coming back for a while and the early discount offers on MyNintendo are certainly tempting. Yet, this incentive creates a secondary flaw that could turn off users even more. MyNintendo uses a currency of three different coins, Gold, Platinum and Miitomo coins, which are actually the same as Platinum coins except earned through Miitomo. On top of that, you can also earn coins (which are gold) in Miitomo to be spent on playing MiiDrop or buying clothes from an in-game shop. Additionally you can earn game-tickets which are used to play MiiDrop without spending coins. After getting my head around MyNintendo, I didn’t have much energy left to process the in-game currency of Miitomo. Liking, Commenting, and Answering all appear to give coins in any or all of the previously listed currencies. Overall, being introduced to all of this at once is overwhelming to say the least and it’s easy to simply skip over some of the instructional messages without taking all the information in. It’s easiest just to play for a few minutes each day and hope for the best. There are also some microtransactions within Miitomo that give you the option to spend real-world money on in-game content, but after playing for a few hours I haven’t come across them at all. It’s nice to not be hounded to spend money on what is a fairly robust free experience, although it might hurt Nintendo’s efforts if they don’t make the transactions a bit easier to find.
In late 2013, around the time the PlayStation 4 was launched, Charlie Brooker appeared on Channel 4 news to discuss video games with John Snow. At the time he commented that Twitter is a game, stating “It’s a Massively-Multiplayer-Online-RPG, choose an avatar and act out a persona loosely based on your own”… At the time I thought this was totally facetious nonsense, but funnily enough that’s exactly what Miitomo is. Instead of taking Mario or Zelda and forcing it into a phone, Nintendo has attempted to package what makes it unique. It’s taken the well-known concept of social networking and added a weird, cute, fun twist. Criticism aside, I have really been enjoying Miitomo! It’s fun to subvert your friend’s expectations through the randomly generated questions and seeing how each other dresses their Miis is always a laugh. It reminds me how exciting social media was in its early days! I’d recommend it to almost anyone, especially given the extra incentives of earning MyNintendo points. Confusing as they are, a discount is still a discount. When I first heard about the game I was quite apprehensive and thought the concept lacked depth, but after playing it I was pleasantly surprised and can see myself checking in quite frequently over the next few weeks.