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Overview

Friend Codes are a system of numerical codes devised by Nintendo to create and maintain friends lists in games that feature the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection.  The codes take the form of numerical strings generated when the games are first brought online.  For players to add each other to the game's friends list, they must each exchange their Friend Codes and manually input them into their own copies of the game.
 
The Friend Code system launched with the first wave of online-compatible Nintendo DS games, including Mario Kart DS.  The system was also adopted in the development of the Wii console.  The use of Friend Codes is a requirement of titles designed to use the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection.
 

Criticisms

Despite Nintendo's stance that anonymous Friend Codes allow for a safer online environment, the system has been heavily criticized by both the press and the general public.  Chief among these criticisms is the cumbersome manner of the system, which requires the manual input of numerical strings.  Another issue that plagues DS games in particular is that if a DS game with Friend Code information is taken online using a different DS, the Friend Code information is reset.
 

3DS Implementation

With the launch of the 3DS, Nintendo is changing the functionality of Friend Codes significantly.  The codes are now specific to the 3DS handheld itself rather than the games, meaning that one code will be shared among all of a users titles.  The handheld will also include the capability to share Friend Codes over a wireless connection rather than require manual input.  Finally, the 3DS is able to track Friend Codes and determine when a user's friends are online.

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