Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Public to Nintendo: Fix Mario Maker's Online System

Nintendo has a huge problem brewing with Mario Maker. The company's questionable practices for deleting levels is coming to light, particularly after a story posted on Kotaku by one speed-run streamer, who makes a living off of Mario Maker levels, GrandPOOBear.

I've played this game and I like it a lot. Though I don't have a Wii-U, I still crash at friend's places to play on occasion. It's Little Big Planet but for Mario. It's something fans have been wanting for years and to feel a connection to the plumber in the red suit. You can re-create classics or making something brand new and really warp people's minds. RPG stories have been created through the game, as well as crazy, over the top difficult that you have to wonder if Satan himself made the level. It's fandom in a way that has yet to be reached where Nintendo promotes creativity of their customers.

Sometime late 2015/early January 2016, Nintendo began deleting levels without providing any reason to their customers. Note: Nintendo's policy on Mario Maker has stated since the beginning that they can delete a level that is "unpopular" after a set period of time. The problem is they never outlined what "unpopular" is. Even levels that have been up for just a few days, not enough time to earn Stars, are taken down in accordance to Nintendo's unexplained policy.

Instead of likes a level can be ranked by Stars. The more Stars, the more popular your level is. Unlike Little Big Planet, however, once your stage is pulled by Nintendo you can't re-upload it. It's gone. If you want to put it back up, you have to make it from scratch. They also have a very easy reporting system so someone can flag your level and Nintendo will pull it. Trolling has since been a big problem, and the only resolution Nintendo can provide is that you call them and make a case on why your level should be reinstated.

First question that comes to mind is why Nintendo is deleting the levels at all? Yeah some of them are not going to be popular or the best of the best, but part of the game is that you can upload and share your level with friends and family. It's in the experience - says so on the box. By taking away that feature you're limiting your content to just the user and their system and that seems very anti-Nintendo (which harps on the group gaming experience). My logic on this is simple: if Little Big Planet and the tens of millions of levels can exist for years, so can all of the levels on Mario Maker. It's through the mistakes that we learn, improve, and create better levels. By taking them down as we experiment is a slap in the face to the designer; why bother making another level if Nintendo is just going to remove it?

The story has really taken off since GrandPOOBear was featured on Kotaku and his struggles with Nintendo. He initially had a level pulled from the game several months ago, one that had a high amount of Stars, without a reason (like so many others). He contacted Nintendo and recorded the conversation - the rep had no idea why his level was pulled either. There were no infractions for cheating or harassment. Rather it had to do with the name of the level where the word Poo was used, to tie it back into his gamer tag. And with Nintendo's policies, he couldn't change the name and re-upload the level. Once it's pulled, it's pulled. He asked to have the level reviewed, which means all of his levels would be checked for infractions - a gamble to be certain. A week later he received a call from Nintendo that his level would be reinstated. Huzzah! A win for the little guy!

Not so much. Turns out the rep misspoke and his level stayed offline permanently. A month later, all of his levels were removed. Obviously GrandPOOBear feels that he's being targeted since he's one of the few streamers that has publicly called out Nintendo on their poor practices with pulling levels. And since he makes a living off of streaming levels he's created and played, his score going back to 0 hurts his reputation. Another nugget of info to add: if your levels are removed so are all of the Stars that you've earned. So you can have an account with 500 Stars and they'll be gone. Just like that. Wow...thanks Nintendo.

The second point, and part of the argument that I've heard, is that this is how Nintendo has always been. You play their way or not at all. Which is all fine and good but it doesn't work when you add an online element to a game that requires a community for it to thrive. At that point, you have to loosen up the rules a bit or you'll face backlash for being too restrictive on creative freedom. Someone decides to spell Mario as Maria? Don't delete the level. You're creating bad juju with your community that they'll stop playing and the game will die. Nintendo needs to figure out a way to balance their rules with an online system that works. And provide their Customer Service Reps the tools needed to help resolve issues instead of placing blame on an automated system they have no control over.

The third issue I've seen arise is that GrandPOOBear didn't approach the situation tactfully by uploading videos of the phone calls. True. But in doing this he's shedding light on a big issue going on with Nintendo right now that has been happening to tens of thousands of users weekly. You can argue about GrandPOO's method, but he's showcasing an issue that people should be aware of.

Nintendo is within their right to police Mario Maker how they see fit. But clear, transparent guidelines would be in their best interest right now given how commonplace the problems are. aka Nintendo needs to get their shiz together on online gaming.

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