Having just read the Kotaku article written by Yannick LeJacq based on voice chat limitations in Mario Kart 8, I felt like I had to contribute my own part to the argument.
I absolutely agree, Mario Kart 8 online can be an absolute hassle to communicate with others. Playing with friends is the only way you can officially communicate via voice chat in Mario Kart 8, but then again that’s limited to only in the lobby. I remember my first day playing the game online, me and my friend would have these conversations while setting up the game, whilst the game processes the game rules we’ve set up, we’d still be mid-way through a conversation and my friend would ask “Why the hell are you picking this le-” and then cut out completely. We were both aware that voice chat was limited in the game, but it was ridiculous that it wouldn’t even allow us to continue talking until the ‘3, 2, 1…” countdown took place; that’d be a much clearer indicator that the voice chat would cut off and at least that way we’d know exactly when to conclude our conversations so we wouldn’t have these awkward pauses between conversations until the match finished.
Then again, it’s clear why Nintendo went for this ‘lobby only’ direction. Nintendo’s brand image will always be associated as ‘child-like’ by mainstream audiences, which is why their target is to appeal to families and younger audiences. Now, I’d imagine during their market research, Nintendo developers would’ve tried out a vast variety of online games to see which ideas need to be implemented in their own product; something which would’ve inevitably lead to a dreadful amount of curse words heard, more than there is with general words in the dictionary! The only plausible option for Nintendo was to limit online voice chat as much as they could in order to suit their ‘E for everyone’ status.
But were their limitations too much? Surely to appeal to older audiences who’d enjoy communicating with others, Nintendo could’ve implemented a warning message with an easy opt-out method which would allow in-game voice chats, especially for those who aren’t restricted via parental controls. Well yeah – it could. The issue is that people forget Nintendo is still learning. It’s definitely not unknown in the gaming community that Nintendo have been behind in dealing with modern multiplayer capabilities, being restricted by the Wii’s power caused this alienated feeling with true online gaming. People call the Wii U as Nintendo’s ‘catch-up’ to last generation gaming, which can be considered true in terms of online gaming. Playing Mario Kart 8 online is swift, you connect to servers and prepare to play in a matter of seconds; this is something that other development teams, even now, fail to do. Therefore it’s clear that Nintendo is near catching up with online capabilities, but of course it’s understandable that a few necessary features were left out from a development team whom are so unfamiliar with gaming online.
Nintendo’s next big prime IPs that’ll feature online (Splatoon and Smash Bros for example) needs to learn from Mario Kart 8. Connections, gameplay and frame-rates all work perfectly in online matches; but as Yannick LeJacq wrote in his article, arguing is “a big part of what makes Mario Kart so much fun”, just as much as it’d make particularly Smash Bros (and assumingly Splatoon) more fun. Voice chat is a necessity and Nintendo is on the road in making the perfect online game starting with Mario Kart 8 as it’s foundation and building on-top of its small faults such as lacking full in-game voice chats. I’ll be truly upset if I have to result in using FaceTime to communicate in the latter games I’ve mentioned!