At an investor's meeting Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata announced
a unified online service for the 3DS and Wii U, dubbed the Nintendo Network
. The new service will do away with Nintendo's previous console-specific structure and instead allow for multiple user profiles per console, like Xbox Live and PSN. The service will also streamline DLC and make it easier for developers to deliver digital content packages. What's more, Iwata stated that they're exploring the possibility of full retail releases also having a purely digital counterpart through the Network, although he notes that relationships with retailers and storage space are both important factors to consider.
I'm personally happy to hear this news but I also must say it's about time. To put it politely Nintendo's online services--the Wifi Connection, DSiWare, Wii Shop Channel and 3DS Eshop--were pretty fragmented and didn't provide a seamless, unified service to customers. Often it was a hassle to arrange online matches or keep track of your downloaded content, especially if your Wii died and you needed to transfer all your Virtual Console games to a new system.
Nintendo has thankfully realized that going forward they'll need something unilateral across both their home and handheld platforms, something user friendly, fast and straightforward. Hopefully the service will gain the advantages of Live and PSN, but stay free, which would be a huge selling point for the Wii U. I've been waiting for one of the Big Three to do something awesome like Steam on a console without making me pay out the nose for it, and for a while I thought it would be PSN with its Steamworks integration. Maybe Nintendo will beat them to it.
After a generation of messy online services and confusing digital stores, maybe Nintendo has learned from its own mistakes as well as its competitors' and is ready to offer a strong competitor in the online space. I have a healthy skepticism when it comes to Nintendo, but one thing I've learned is that it takes them a while to take stock of their mistakes, and when they fix those mistakes they do it in a big way.