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‘Miitomo’ – Social Media Addiction or Temporary Distraction?

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Miitomo

Social networks are massively addictive and those of you who use Twitter and Facebook most likely spend more time communicating with people using these social media sites than by interacting with others in person. The addictive aspect of social networking is associated with the fear of missing out on something. Everyone is on Facebook and/or Twitter posting, sharing and talking with each other day in, day out. We do it to stay in the loop and we do it because most of our friends and family also participate. Social validation is also something important to consider, even if it comes in the form of a Facebook like or a new follower on Twitter. It affirms our existence the same way that someone speaking to you in real life does. Nobody wants to feel left out and for millions of people around the world, social media has become a daily routine because it keeps them connected and in the conversation. In 2015, Greg Hochmuth and computer scientist Jonathan Harris conducted a study called Network Effect, using a website that simulates the experience of browsing through social media by giving you a feed of people engaging in various activities. Then, after a few minutes, the site would block your feed for 24 hours proving that the people who participated actually did experience withdrawal symptoms when removed from these social circles. Well if you’re a social media addict, your addiction might just get worse.

Major social network companies, as well as social content creators, are working around the clock every day to ensure their networks are so addictive that you’ll have trouble resisting them. Nintendo is now among this elite group and with their first mobile app, they hope to get millions of users hooked online. The app was originally unveiled last October, as the first of a multi-game collaboration between Nintendo and DeNA — and when it finally released in Japan earlier last month, it was downloaded more than one million times in its first three days of availability, causing Nintendo’s stock to jump more than eight percent. Now it has launched across North America, Australia, New Zealand and various European countries as a free download for iOS and Android devices and in less than 24 hours, Miitomo is the number 1 downloaded product on the iOS store for iPhone and iPad. Yes, folks, Nintendo has finally entered the age of smartphones and tablets, and its first app has a lot of interesting features but the real question on everyone’s mind, is it any good? Or more importantly, does it have lasting power?

The first thing to note about Miitomo is that it isn’t a game nor does it star any of the Nintendo’s biggest characters. In fact you don’t have to be a fan of Nintendo to enjoy Miitomo. And that’s the catch. There’s no need for Mario, Luigi, Zelda or Link — you’re the star of the game and your friends are the supporting cast. Miitomo is best described as a cross between Miiverse and the 3DS game Tomodachi Life and to use it, the app requires you to create a Mii character entirely from scratch or import an existing Mii using a QR code. You can easily customize all of the Mii’s attributes including how it moves and speaks (yes it talks), and you can even use your smartphone’s front facing camera if you want it to have facial characteristics that match yours. The results aren’t perfect, but they aren’t bad either and it even includes a photo-editing tool where you can insert Miis into photographs, adding in text and backgrounds. Personalizing your Mii can be a lot of fun and visually, Miitomo is excellent. It runs at 60 frames per second, which makes everything look smooth and the voice controls are surprisingly robust. Mii characters have never looked so good, and the animators really went out of their way to ensure the everyone can easily customize their avatars to their liking. It’s a lot of fun, and you can expect to see plenty of Miifotos appearing on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram in the coming weeks. Just check out my hot selfie below!

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The obvious connection to Tomodachi Life is the Mii characters, but just like Tomodachi Life, you don’t have direct control over your Mii. They tend to do whatever they please including visiting your friends while you are away. The connection to Twitter is that Miitomo allows you to share your thoughts with whoever it is that follows you and like Facebook, you can interact with friends by asking them questions, and commenting on their status. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, the app poses questions to you and your answers are relayed to your friends as they come to visit your Mii or your Mii goes to visit them. The idea is to get you to express yourself, and then Miitomo will share these thoughts with your social circle in hopes that your friends will learn more about you without needing to directly ask personal questions. More importantly, unlike Twitter, Miitomo doesn’t feel so self-involved. Whereas with Twitter and Facebook you decide what it is you want to write about, Miitomo starts the conversation, encouraging users to share details on topics such as your favourite food, television show, movie, song or celebrity – with rewards such as in-game currency – awarded for answering questions and more importantly, for actually reading the replies written by your friends. Miitomo also looks for certain words that are written and makes your character perform little animations to go along with your message. It’s really cute actually. You can even upload photos and images as replies, and some of the more complex questions can actually kickstart an interesting conversation. In fact, the way that the information is selectively filtered through the app itself, is perfect for shy individuals or people who generally have trouble socializing or expressing themselves. If anything, Miitomo is the perfect social media app for young kids who generally don’t know have anything interesting to say. Speaking of which, not everyone can use Miitomo since Nintendo has placed a minimum age limit of 13 on the app, therefore directly cutting out who I believe the target demographic should be. Not only is Miitomo perfect for a young Nintendo fan but it seems pretty safe in comparison to every other form of social media. Miitomo currently doesn’t allow you to interact with people randomly and befriend them via the app itself, and the only way to add a friend is if you are both in the same room or you are already friends with them on Facebook and/or Twitter. By linking your Twitter or Facebook account you can see which of your current friends has Miitomo installed and send them a request. This wisely sidesteps the issue of complete strangers approaching you and if anything does go wrong, it’s easy to block users and report abuse.

At its core, Miitomo is a social networking tool which offers the chance to get to know your friends a little better without allowing the entire world to peek into your private life. And there’s also a pachinko mini-game included to play! All that said, the question still remains whether or not the app will be an ongoing success, and I believe the answer to this question is no it will not.

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From a financial point of view, Nintendo is probably making lots of money. Like most big free-to-play games, Miitomo features many different ways to spend real-world cash. The app is free-to-play, but features such as new clothes to dress up your character can be purchased with real cash. There are also My Nintendo Missions to undertake, which reward you with Platinum points which can be used to purchase special items as well (only at the time of writing this, these missions are limited). Being able to purchase clothing and dress up your character, as well as take part in missions for rewards – certainly gives Miitomo the edge over the likes of Twitter and Facebook, but it will obviously never overthrow those two giants of social networking. Instead, Miitomo can be seen as a companion app for many users. Therein lies a bit of a problem, as once the novelty wears off it’s likely that many people will stop using Miitomo, as it doesn’t really allow you as many features nor as much freedom as the other social media apps offer. You can’t for example share an article you read on your favourite video game website nor can you rant about why you hate Batman Vs. Superman all night long and have your friends see your discussion in real time. You can’t share gorgeous art work you stumbled upon online nor can you take a snapshot of an exotic place you are visiting and share it easily with your friends using Miitomo. What drives us to use social media is the way we use. It has less to do with the actual social media platform and more to do with psychology, only Miitomo doesn’t understand this. It’s not important how social media works but rather how we decide how social media will work for us. What makes social media sites like Twitter and Facebook so appealing, Miitomo lacks — and more importantly, it will only be as fun as the number of friends you have using it, and continue to use it. Miitomo also requires more effort to use than its more traditional and established social networking rivals and in an already saturated market, it stands little to no chance of having a lasting impression. Why use Miitomo when we already have too many effective messaging apps that we can hardly keep up with? When someone asks me what Miitomo is competing against, I really don’t know what to answer because I’m not sure Nintendo knows what it wants it to be yet. It sits somewhere between Snapchat, Bitstrips, Facebook and Twitter with the only unique feature being the ability to create and customize a cartoon character of you – which is so far, all I have been using it for. Did I mention how cool my Mii looks?

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Miitomo is carving out its own niche in social media but only time will tell if it remains relevant. Even if it the appeal doesn’t last very long it is a strong start for Nintendo. It’s unique, which counts for something and full of charm as you would come to expect from the Japanese giant. If you love Nintendo enough and if you have enough friends who also love Nintendo, this app is just for you. The only thing to worry about when using Miitomo is that it can easily eat through your battery. It takes up a lot of memory on your phone, and those 60 frames per second require a lot of processing power. And that is the biggest handicap here. What makes Miitomo most fun is when you’re actively using it, which means you need to have it open for a long period of time, which means your battery will quickly die. Even the built-in battery-saving feature won’t help much, and for that reason, and that reason alone, Miitomo may quickly lose its edge.

If Nintendo really wants Miitomo to succeed long term, they really do need to find better ways to integrate it with their upcoming mobile games and/or MyNintendo account system. There is a ton of potential here, but not enough features thrown in yet to call home about. In the meantime, let’s just hope that Nintendo and its mobile partners have some truly amazing games that take full advantage of smartphones and tablets in the near future.

– Ricky D

Some people take my heart, others take my shoes, and some take me home. I write, I blog, I podcast, I edit, and I design websites. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Goomba Stomp and the NXpress Nintendo Podcast. Former Editor-In-Chief of Sound On Sight, and host of several podcasts including the Game of Thrones and Walking Dead podcasts, as well as the Sound On Sight and Sordid Cinema shows. There is nothing I like more than basketball, travelling, and animals. You can find me online writing about anime, TV, movies, games and so much more.

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