Real-world body image concerns are bad enough, but what happens when the rest of the planet starts dissing how your Nintendo avatar looks? According to senior Nintendo game designer Shigeru Miyamoto, users of the popular Wii console soon will be able to find just what others think of their online appearance.
Built into the Wii system is an avatar module in which players choose from several prebuilt designs or use the game's controls to create their own, known as a "Mii" (pronounced "me"). The Miis are used to represent the player in several Wii games.
In a keynote speech delivered this week at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Miyamoto pointed out that the Mii concept had been around for a long time.
"We've been working on this idea of 20 years and never been able to turn it into much of anything," he said. "The view was it would be very popular with creative artists. But the view was it was too complicated and would make most players frustrated."
There is already a large number of Web sites that allow Nintendo users to compare screen shots of their Mii creations, including some that run celebrity look-alike contests. And now, Nintendo is joining the fun. Like the spin-off from a popular TV show, Miis are so popular that they're getting their own Wii channel.
Miyamoto announced that the gaming company is planning to launch a Mii channel this year that will allow Wii users not only to share their avatars but also to vote for them in virtual popularity contests. Miyamoto's speech did not contain any specific about when the channel will launch or what other features it might have.
Gaming industry analyst Richard Doherty, research director for Envisioneering Group, said that it is a smart move by Nintendo. "Absolutely. Within a year, the Wii may be the most successful and valuable social-networking community on the Web," Doherty said.
"Nintendo is creating a framework for an open environment that will allow other developers to add value," he explained. "Interesting third-party solutions could link fans of TV shows, gamers sharing tips, even home-schoolers."
Search for Stickiness
Nintendo's decision to launch a Mii-centric channel is part of the company's ongoing drive to make its Wii system not only a gaming platform, but also a compelling content-delivery tool.
Already, the Wii features channels that provide users with real-time news and weather reports. A photo channel allows users to do some basic editing and sharing of photos, and an Internet channel (based on the Opera Web browser) is scheduled for release later this spring.
"Nintendo will certainly try to monetize its channel offerings in some fashion, including the Mii channel," Doherty said. "We don't think that Nintendo has all the answers yet as to how they'll do that, but Miyamoto's presentation was the start of a very optimistic dialogue about the future of the Wii."