Nintendo leak explains the use of friend codes over usernames

Graphic: James Bareham/Polygon

A leaked, internal Nintendo PowerPoint presentation discovered online Saturday explained why the company continues to use “friend codes” instead of using unique usernames.

A post on ResetEra suggested the leak was originally posted to 4chan, reportedly linked to “a server hack” at a contracted company. A ton of information was included in the most recent leak, like Wii design files and source code. Among those files was the PowerPoint presentation that included information on the friend code system.

The friend code is a feature that people have been complaining about for decades now. While Microsoft and Sony use usernames for their online features, Nintendo continues to use a randomly assigned, 12-digit numeric code.

The leaked PowerPoint slide notes that using screen names would be a problem as “there is a high probability of duplicate screen names,” thus conflicting with the idea that nothing regarding the game should be hard to set up, including picking a name.

It also explains that it would be possible to “guess someone’s screen name by trying different variations of their actual name,” conflicting with “the ‘comfortable’ principle.” The “comfortable” principle is Nintendo’s design philosophy regarding online play. The company wants it so that the user “always has the option of playing only with friends.” According to the PowerPoint presentation, having people guess usernames could prevent this. Somebody with the user name “John” could get tons of friend requests from random people just because of the simplicity of the username.

It should be noted that the leaked presentation was for the Wii, not the Nintendo Switch. It appears that the basic design philosophy hasn’t changed since then, seeing how we’re all still doomed to use friend codes for the foreseeable future.

We’ve reached out to Nintendo for more information regarding the leak’s legitimacy.


Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons

  • $80

An extra pair of Joy-Cons comes in handy for local multiplayer gaming. They come in a variety of color combinations.

Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. For more information, see our ethics policy.

Comments

Im calling BS on the first principle.

" conflicting with the idea that nothing regarding the game should be hard to set up, including picking a name."

And pulling out a 12 digit hard to remember code everytime you want to add a friend or game isnt? Are they assuming people lack the creativity or arent intelligent enough to come up with a name?

Are they assuming people lack the creativity or arent intelligent enough to come up with a name?

Well, given that we’re working on an assumption, I wouldn’t say they assume people aren’t creative enough so much that picking a name can sometimes be a hassle, especially when that name is unavailable.

And to the point, I’ve never had a problem coming up with a name for my Nintendo account, because I didn’t have to.

Now, are Friend Codes a pain in the ass? Big time.

They probably never had online in the mind when they did this, or at least not a priority.

They still don’t

Completely agree – the second point is valid, if misguided, but the first point is just dumb. It’s way more difficult to deal with a 12 digit code every time you want to do online play than it would be to just find a username that wasn’t taken.

Not to mention Xbox Live solved this elegantly by just generating a (surprisingly funny/memorable) random name for you.

Blizzard let you pick a username and then appended a random number on the end you had to know to befriend someone. Seems like a middle ground.

Yeah if I could pick a unique Runescape username (and deal with a few tries of names that were already taken) when I was like 8, I think kids today can do the same, let alone adults who’ve been doing that for decades.

Their target audience is children.

Nintendo likely doesn’t realize they don’t need to limit people to 12 characters, they could let you use 50 characters when coming up with a name for example (various games artificially limit names to very few characters so it’s not an uncommon thought process).

Somebody with the user name "John" could get tons of friend requests from random people just because of the simplicity of the username.

Is this really an issue though? I’ve had the same username with Xbox and Playstation for over 10 years, and I’ve never had a problem of being sent multiple friend requests from other gamers looking for someone who’s username is close to mine. That’s why these systems require that you get creative or specific about what you use.

That’s why these systems require that you get creative or specific about what you use

Except, literally the line above the one you quote…

[…] nothing regarding the game should be hard to set up, including picking a name

But it’s not hard, as even these systems give you options to choose from should the name you want be taken. I’d rather have John123 instead of a 12-digit friend code.

Nintendo doesn’t share the same reality as the rest of us though. That’s the flaw in your logic

The use of "decades" feels a bit hyperbolic considering Nintendo online launched in November of 2005.

Writing "for over a decade" instead would:

1) be more accurate to use here

2) help me feel less like I’m an old withered crone knocking on death’s door

So, according to the writer of this, the friend code have, at least, been around for 20 years.

Eh, it just means it’s been an issue in the 00’s, the 10’s, and now still in the ’20’s.

And it will be into the 2030s. Their next console will rely on friend codes as well unfortunately.

Multiple online platforms have addressed this issue by providing user accounts with specific codes while also allowing them to change the username that other people see.

Nintendo wants to limit online interactions by making it more difficult to connect with people you have not yet connected with. That’s fine, but Nintendo shouldn’t have tried to hide that beyond an excuse that makes it seem like users are too ignorant to know the difference between people’s usernames.

These are leaked internal documents. They’re clearly not hiding anything, unless you think they’re hiding this from their co-workers.

Multiple online platforms have addressed this issue by providing user accounts with specific codes while also allowing them to change the username that other people see.

This reminds me of that report from Eurogamer in which an anonymous third party dev said that Nintendo wasn’t familiar with what other platforms were doing with online gaming back when they were gearing up to launch the Wii U. This appears to be a consistent pattern with them.

This is so bs.
You still can have unique online IDs and whatever in-game names. They are the ones lacking creativity.

Honestly, I’m more annoyed by the too-low character-limit on names than the friend code thing.

I find it ironic that a risk-taking, innovative company such as Nintendo could be so backwards and stuck in their ways.

Meh, it’s reasonable logic and they cater to families first and foremost. It’s not ideal for you or me, but it probably is for a lot of people. There’s probably a better system out there, but I get why they went with this.

View All Comments
Back to top ↑