Editor reaction (Johnny Blaze) from a PR and marketing perspective: Nintendo pulls the plug on Swapnote / Letter Box after ‘discovering’ minors were receiving illicit photos

Swapnote / Letter BoxOn 1 November 2013, Nintendo made the surprising decision to shut down it’s popular Swapnote / Letter Box service.

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Notice about service for Nintendo 3DS software Nintendo Swapnote / Letter Box

Thank you for your support.

Nintendo has learned that some consumers, including minors, have been exchanging their friend codes on internet bulletin boards and then using Nintendo Letter Box to exchange offensive material. Nintendo has been investigating ways of preventing this and determined it is best to stop this service because it allows direct exchange of photos and was actively misused.

Nintendo always wants to provide a positive experience for all consumers and limit the risk of any inappropriate activity or misuse of a service. We feel it is important on this occasion to take this action.

We will be stopping the service listed below. We are very sorry for the inconvenience to the many consumers who have been using this service responsibly, however this decision was made considering the point that many minors also use this service. Thank you for your understanding.

Nintendo will continue to work to ensure more consumers are aware of our Parental Control features which allow parents to manage their children’s experience on our systems.

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It would certainly seem like Nintendo is overreacting.

The first couple of lines of the press release could be worded better. The way it’s worded suggests that they were caught be surprise. The truth is quite likely the opposite. Plus, sites like Eurogamer and Joystiq have been cherry picking phrases in the press release to suggest that Nintendo were caught by surprise.

I’ve seen many comments around the reasoning that if we need to accept these people as our friends then why is Nintendo making it an issue? Sounds very logical to me too.

Avoiding a PR fallout

The issue here is a PR and branding issue. And one that is critical for Nintendo (and far less so for Sony and Microsoft). A negative article from Nintendo shutting the service down is much more preferable and less detrimental to the fallout from many newspaper articles showing that Nintendo’s own service allows minors to share illicit material. There may have been better options, but this was the least risky approach.

As far as I could tell from the press release, they removed Spotpass because there was no present way to moderate the service so that they could offer those features while protecting minors from the sharing of illicit photos. Nintendo cannot afford a controversy like Snapchat or Vine had (indeed, those services made quick changes and apologised after the controversies came to light). It may be alright for it to happen to Sony/Microsoft (and even then they might balk and shut their own service down temporarily to search for a patch) but Nintendo’s kid friendly image for parents is quite critical, particularly in the lead up to the very very important holiday season.

One might argue that Nintendo should drop the kid friendly image and finally appeal to the core audience, but this isn’t the way to do it. No brand and PR professional would suggest it for Nintendo (not suggesting controversy isn’t an effective marketing tactic, it just isn’t for Nintendo). Arguably, Nintendo is already taking quite major steps to address the lack of ‘mature’ rated content through Bayonetta 2 and and their use of Zombi U as the Wii U launch title.

Miiverse to save the day?

MiiverseOnce Nintendo gets Miiverse features running on the 3DS, it would be easy to just issue bans or suspensions to offenders. Much like how Microsoft can issue bans to select individuals. Swapnote/Letter Box, does not have such functionality built in. Arguably, the friend code exchange and the built-in Parental Control options should have been enough – but it’s not like Nintendo can issue a press release after the newspapers crucify Nintendo for allowing minors to exchange or share or receive illicit photos saying, “sorry parents, you should have known better and used the parental control options and made sure your kids were using the service responsibility”. They can’t. Not in the business world.

It may be that Nintendo will restore the service after they’ve taken further steps to educate parents on the Parental Control options available. There is no indication that this is a permanent removal but it’s a little hard to tell at this stage.


The editor has eight years of experience in PR, branding, and marketing.


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