Nintendo Europe: Not evil, just irredeemably stupid?

There are several things which annoy me about Nintendo right now… amongst them the shameless price-gouging for Virtual Console games, the DRM which prevents you from backing up your saved games from your console to your SD card (what was the thinking behind this one??), the hopelessly slow SD write-speed when you do actually find something that you can copy, the inability to run copied data from the SD card, the lack of any form of online mass-storage support – I could go on.

However, right now, it is Nintendo Europe who are in my cross-hairs – and I’m left wondering exactly what they think they’re playing at.

We’ll skip straight past the fact that they seem to have just discovered flash for the first time and have, like an overexcited toddler, proceeded to plaster it all over their site completely unnecessarily – making their pages slow to load and a pain to scroll across on the Wii’s own browser (which, due to the flash content, is unable to reformat the page into a format which doesn’t require horizontal scrolling).

I’ve just bought a new game (Zack & Wiki: The Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure, which is fanatastic) and so have a new product code to register in exchange for the now-ever-so-slightly-less-useless Star Points.

… so I fire up the Wii browser, wrestle with the horizontal scrolling needed to sign-in, and get to the stage where I’m asked to enter the product code – which I do. Next is a simple captcha which would be trivially OCR-able, but which becomes a memory test on the Wii due to the input screen totally obscuring the page.

(This is perhaps insignificant, but it still seems like hassle for no good reason: anyone who’s clued-up enough to script random product codes in order to falsely obtain Star Points will not have a moment’s trouble overcoming the captcha too. Why anyone would bother is probably the much more pertinent question)

So I click “Submit”, and I’m told that my product code was invalid! Luckily, all of the data entered into the page is still present – including the captcha, the source for which has now been updated, making it incorrect. If we have to jump through hoops like this, the entry box could at least have been cleared. In any case, I check the product code and it is definitely right (although the question remains as to whether “0” and “O”, or “Z” and “2” are treated as equivalent… given the next discovery, I sadly suspect not – and this is something that Datel got right years ago with their Action Replay products). Just to be save, I erase and re-enter the data, and I’m again told it’s wrong. Just in case, I re-enter the exact same code a third time – but this time ALL IN CAPITALS. And what do you know? It works. Yes – to the confusion and inconvenience of all of their customers, Nintendo’s product code are case-sensitive despite this small but crucial fact never being mentioned anywhere.

Given that the Wii is a console sold on the basis of ease of use to a wide range of non-computer users, this is totally unacceptable and unforgivable.

Once the code has finally been accepted, that used to be the end of the process – stars were awarded, and everyone was presumably slightly happier than when they started. But no – this would be too easy on Nintendo’s customers: what people now have to do is complete a survey before being handed stars like so many doggie treats.

What bugs me about this is that there’s no opt-out (and, indeed, no obvious link to any form of privacy policy). True enough that Nintendo doesn’t have to give stars and I don’t have to take them, but this additional hassle for demographic data which must be unreliable at best (I’d imagine that there must be a surprising number of 1 years olds and 99 years olds using buying Wii software…) to the detriment of Nintendo’s image. Worse, in my opinion: how many kids are going to blindly follow the instructions without any concept of what personal data they are revealing. Nintendo appears to be trawling for personal details from vulnerable younger members of their fan-base (to be clear, I wouldn’t mind Nintendo offering a drop-down with a series of age ranges – but I feel that asking for something as specific as an exact age simply for registering a game is unwarranted. As per the title of this article, though, I attribute this more to sheer thoughtlessness from Nintendo rather than an attempt to actively gather sensitive data). Even this aside, what really gets to me is the inanity of it:

For every game you purchase, you’re asked whether you’ve played a game in the last 12 months, despite knowing that I’ve registered about five since Christmas. Next, you’re asked whether you bought a Wii with the game (and not the other way around, which is interesting semantics) – despite a (single) Wii already being registered on the account. The next question is “Have you played other titles in the series?” – which is nonsense for stand-alone titles such as Zack & Wiki. Finally, there’s a mandatory text-box for consumers (and I use this word advisedly, because after this rigmarole I certainly don’t feel like a customer) to enter free-form text describing why they bought the title… all patience for Nintendo evaporated by this stage, I’d imagine that they’ll find complaints about the invasiveness of the survey a more frequent response than anything they intended.

… and woe betide you if you admit that more than one person will play the game – you have to reenter some of this information for every declared player.

I feel as if Nintendo are gleefully wasting my time by making me jump through hoops, simply because they couldn’t be bothered expending any time to test and use their own website – because I certainly hope that this isn’t the outcome after it has been tested. If this were the case I’d hate to see the mechanisms they rejected…