December 16 2013 by Nathanial Rumphol-Janc
I want Nintendo to have a universal account system. I see the benefits every other platform has because of it, and it feels odd to not have this benefit on my Nintendo hardware. However, it feels like a light bulb went off in my head a few days ago that made me understand exactly why Nintendo hasn't done it, and why they may never do it. They are protecting us.
Now, in most cases many of us would feel like we can protect ourselves. I mean, can't we? Well, it recently came to light that there are 34,000+ hacking attempts on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One every single day. These hacking attempts are to steal usernames that contain credit card data, high ranking multiplayer profiles, and all that jazz. These sorts of hacking attempts wouldn't work on Nintendo's current platforms.
Without your physical hardware, having any of your account information is pointless unless they want to pose as you posting on Miiverse through an internet browser. I could hand out my NNID publicly with the given password and no one could do anything with it without having access to my hardware to deactivate the account for use elsewhere. Universal accounts create universal problems, and it's something I never considered before.
If there is one thing Nintendo is, they are very protective of the people that use their systems. They shut down the entirety of a 3DS app and its online functionality due to someone sending inappropriate images to an underage person. They went out of their way to tell fans not to post friend codes on Miiverse to avoid strangers contacting you. This is Nintendo—they want us to all have fun, but not at the expense of our personal wellbeing. The 3DS and Wii U both even ask you to take periodic breaks if you play for too long.
All of this falls in line with why Nintendo has been avoiding universal accounts. You can transfer all your 3DS content to a new 3DS, but you still physically need the old 3DS hardware to do it. It seems archaic, but it's also nearly impossible then for anyone else to steal your account digitally because of it. Nintendo likely sees the PSN hacking. This goes far beyond the massive hacking years ago—there is an entire black market based around selling off hacked accounts, specifically targeted at video game consoles. Yes, that means Microsoft's slightly more secure Xbox Live account system is still part of that hacking account exchange.
Given this, I completely understand why Nintendo is avoiding a universal account system. Maybe doing an account system like everyone else really isn't the best thing for the consumers – since we're trading our own security for minor convenience. All Nintendo really needs to do is make it slightly easier to move content from one Wii U to another, or possibly make a sub account attached to a main account accessible on another console as a main account (i.e., my roommate's account on my Wii U, which uses my NNID, could conversely be usable as a main account on another system (with its own brand new NNID), but still accessible on mine). Of course, that may create an entirely new set of problems, but it's got to be easier to manage than the way accounts work almost everywhere else.
In fact, if I look at universal accounts, the only things I like about them are really things I don't use all that often. Take moving one Steam account to another platform, or moving my Xbox Live account to a new console. It's pretty rare I actually do this, and when I do I don't think putting up a small barrier to that would deter me so long as it was possible for me to do it. As soon as Nintendo allows me to move my digital content from one Wii U to another without their aid, I won't have that much to complain about on the account front. The 3DS route seems cumbersome, but it's also safe. Something similar for the Wii U wouldn't be all that bad.
Hell, I trust Nintendo's online account system to protect me more than Facebook. That's telling. While it's not perfect and needs improving, could Nintendo possibly be in the right to avoid a totally digital and unified account system that allows for that behavior for minor user convenience?