How do you know when a gaming peripheral isn't expected to have a long and healthy life? When the company behind the latest gizmo goes out of its way to make it inoperable right out of the box. Consider Nintendo's new WiiSpeak microphone that comes packed in with Animal Crossing: City Folk for the Wii. Nintendo seems to be trying to discourage sales of secondhand WiiSpeak units as MTV's Stephen Totilo surmises.
The Wii Speak peripheral is a microphone that is made to be placed above or below your TV, enabling group Internet-connected voice chat with other people who also own the peripheral. I can’t tell how useful that’s going to be until Multiplayer’s own Tracey John and I try some “Animal Crossing” chat.
The peripheral can also be used without “Animal Crossing,” just for game-free voice chat, but that requires used of the Wii Speak Channel, which will be released in December.
But there’s a catch, a fine print surprise. There is a pamphlet packaged with the peripheral that includes a 16-character code, a “Wii Download Ticket Number,” to be used for downloading the Wii Speak Channel. According to the pamphlet, this code “cannot be replaced by Nintendo or your retailer if it is lost or stolen.”
A Nintendo rep further clarified to me that the channel won’t be able to be downloaded through any other means. You won’t be able to get it off the Wii Shopping Channel manually, nor would you be able to buy it. Essentially, the Wii Speak Channel will be available to new purchasers of the Wii Speak mic and that’s it.
I’d imagine that anyone who gets a Wii Speak in anything other than its original packaging — buys it used on eBay, for example — isn’t going to get a fresh code. And without the code, they won’t be able to get the channel. So if you’re shopping for Wii Speak, you’d best buy it new.
Game publishers have been getting antsy lately regarding sales of used games and associated hardware, but this goes too far. Sure, WiiSpeak may be the latest sparkly Wii add-on of the month, but what happens a year or three down the road when the WiiSpeak joins the likes of the DK bongo drums, the GameCube Microphone*, and the Nintendo DS Rumble Pak as peripherals that were neat but ultimately forgotten? If the Wii Speak Channel is only available with new units and Nintendo banishes it to the memory hole, what's to become of all of those microphones as the years pass?
This is an example of the kind of thing I've been dreading ever since companies started tying gaming hardware to online services. The DK bongos are a dead product, but they still work for the few Nintendo GameCube games I own that make use of them. WiiSpeak, on the other hand, might as well have an expiration date on it already. As soon as Nintendo no longer has an interest in supporting it, WiiSpeak will become one of those odd functional-yet-dead add-ons along with the likes of Satellaview, RandNet, and the GameCube Modem Adapter.
So, how about a compromise? Nintendo can keep the Wii Speak Channel under lock and key now, but when the company decides to move on to the next gimmick and leave WiiSpeak behind, all that has to be done to ensure a happy afterlife for the microphone is to make the channel software available via the Wii Shopping Channel. They can even charge a few dollars for it to wring every last penny out of the WiiSpeak project. After all, why restrict access to something that the company no longer has an interest in promoting or producing?
* I have two GameCube Microphones and two GameCube Action Pads thanks to my years of reviewing GameCube games. If anyone ever wants to challenge me to the only game that uses them all — Karaoke Revolution Party — I'm ready.