For each person who uses the Wii U console, you'll need to create an account (up to twelve per console) – kind of like a user area on any Windows computer. Represented by your little Mii character, your user account will tie together all your save games, settings and play history, as well as your own personal set of bookmarks for the in-built browser, letting you play to your hearts content without worrying about upsetting other player's data, accidentally overwriting saves, or simply running out of save slots for the whole family, as has been the case so many times on the Wii in the past.
Your unique ID will be known, somewhat unimaginatively, as your Nintendo ID, with a unique username representing you to the online world, allowing friends to easily add you to their friends list, and stay in touch by way of direct messages, video chat, and the Miiverse. The account also ties together anything you choose to buy from the Nintendo eShop, although anything purchased by one user on your Wii U console will be playable by anyone else – so there's no need to buy the same thing twelve times if everyone wants to play it. In the future, you'll also be able able to use your Nintendo Network ID across both the 3DS and Wii U, as well as accessing your account online via PCs and smartphones to make eShop purchases or check for Miiverse message board updates while on the move.
But perhaps the biggest news is that the transition to usernames for the Wii U also means the death of friend codes. A randomly generated string of numbers dished out on a per game basis, meaning you had to boot up a game, find your friend code, then manually exchange the random, twelve digit string with anyone you wanted to play with, made playing online on the Wii a chore. As the code was different code for each game you wanted to play, you ended up having to repeat the lengthy process over and over – once for Mario Kart Wii, once for Super Smash Bros. Brawl, once for Monster Hunter. Compared to the Xbox 360's simple typing in your friend's username and it automatically sending them a request which they could either accept or turn down with the click of a button, the Wii's system was a pain in the neck at the best of times.
Having been left in the dark about the Wii U's online functionality for a while now, we're glad the lid's finally starting to be lifted on some of the more important features - however, there's still a lot left to be revealed. What we do know is that many of the online features of the Wii U won't be available straight out of the box, and will require a system update (available on launch day) to add them to the system – perhaps a sign that Nintendo are burning the midnight oil, and could still be working on the online side of things as we speak?