I don’t write much about Nintendo because I haven’t cared much in a long time.
That’s just me though, maybe you’re a big fan. God knows the Nintendo fans are still very passionate. They will defend any Nintendo console ten times as rabidly as Microsoft fans during the Red Ring of Death fiasco or Sony fans during the Playstation Store hacking scandal.
If you are a fan I can’t imagine that deep down in your soul you are as satisfied as you tell people. The ‘net is filled with doom and gloom articles for Wii U. I didn’t want this to be one of them by the way, I’d rather we accept a few things and move on.
First, the trouble Nintendo is having with Wii U is legitimate. This is not like when everyone hated on the PS3 and assumed it would fail. The Wii U is the successor to a unique piece of hardware that captured the imagination of non-gamers around the world with it’s motion controls. That was what made Wii a hit; the continuation of flagship franchises like Mario, Metroid and Zelda solidified the life long fan base into something a little more solid than it was on Gamecube.
Since you’re here I assumed you’ve read about the difficulties for Wii U so I’ll be brief in repeating them. Wii U was expected to sell nearly 9 million units by now. It has sold less than 4. Nintendo stock is falling and the honchos have admitted they may need to implement a new business model. Sounds like a good idea. Make no mistake, the Wii was so successful Nintendo can sustain this damage. Plus their portable market is doing great. The rocky 3DS start probably isn’t going to be something we can compare to the Wii U’s start though. Wii U has specific challenges.
The big first party games just come too slowly for one. Where is Metroid? Zelda? Star Fox? The time between new entries is forever in today’s development cycle. I’m against annualizing a franchise, but it isn’t as if the games Nintendo puts out are massive leaps in technology. They need all franchises firing on all cylinders. This won’t save Wii U, but it will keep it on a respirator. Which leads me to the fact that you all must accept: Wii U is not going to be a big success. That doesn’t mean it’s going to just die like my beloved Dreamcast. Nintendo doesn’t need to cut it off, in fact that would make them look worse than it would to pay the cost to limp along for 4-6 more years. Many will say they need to drop the price on Wii U, and that’s probably correct, but at this point they would probably lose more money than needed. It would be better to just have more software and hope it adds up over time.
Wii U is going to be okay, but it won’t be a success. Cant we all accept that? Good. Now, what the heck should Nintendo do next?
To get that software moving and releasing at a faster clip I’d actually invest in some new talent both Japanese and western. Beef up the studios and work up a realistic business model. The good news is they don’t need to come up with some big online networks to compete with Microsoft and Sony, it just isn’t necessary. What they have works, they just need some common sense reforms.
Speaking of software, the adults who are thrilled to buy Nintendo products are usually old fans who have kids now. I grew up on NES, I don’t have kids but it’s kind of surreal to see my brother’s kids playing the same franchises I did 20 years ago. The best way to get those people is to appeal to their sense of nostalgia by resurrecting old franchises that excite the memory with possibilities. That’s where I’d put the new studio talent. Right now Sony’s internal studios and indie partnerships are making the most artistic and experimental gaming experiences available. Nintendo needs to get on the same cutting edge, but in that commercialized kid-gamer way they have always been good at.
I know a lot of folks go to the extreme and say that Nintendo should just, or partly, because a 3rd party developer. In my heart I want them to. I wish I could still play the big games from Nintendo without having to buy a console that I don’t want. However, it wouldn’t make much sense for Nintendo to make this move yet. For now their exclusives are all they have going for them. That is all that’s shifting consoles. Wii U tried to do something that no piece of hardware has ever been able to do in history: repeat the success of a gimmick. As I see it the answer is to find a new way to appeal to consumers.
Just trying any new gimmick won’t work, as the Wii U has proved. You typically can’t invent a capability and then force people to like it. Whatever market you wish to enter you had better make sure it’s something people are in the mood for. Wii happened to coincide with casual interest in gaming. It has been supplanted with mobile gaming because swiping a finger on a phone is easier than waving a wand at a TV. Consumers needed time to figure that out, but now that they have there’s no getting them back to a console for the same purpose.
I wish I had an answer to give fans, or Nintendo (maybe they would pay me!) but it’s a complicated problem how to debut another console after one fails. They’ve done it before though. To some degree the Wii brought the active arcade experience home. Maybe there’s more to mine there. Arcades are still dead after all. Perhaps a hardware hub with a set of sophisticated plug and play peripherals, each with a fully supported lifespan of top-grade software could capture the public’s imagination. The base console could have a standard (good this time) controller and work with the main set of games. Old fans could buy this for all their Mario and Zelda needs. There could be a wheel for everything from Mario Kart to the latest open world racing shooter party game. A camera could be sold for dance games and the like, perhaps with a dance pad. There could also be traditional wand controllers, a touch screen device, and guns. They would all have to be top grade and have regular software support though; normal peripherals tend to just be good for a couple games and then die an early death. The Wii Fit balance board was a step in the right direction for the exercise genre.
Or if that doesn’t market test well, perhaps they could center the entire console around mobile capabilities. Wii U fans do enjoy the remote play feature on the tablet but it’s quite limited. I’ve played Killzone: Shadow Fall off my PS4 from my Vita flawlessly and it’s just infinitely more impressive. Folks do enjoy their 3DS’ and 2DS’ though. Maybe a new console could act as a home docking station for those, with unique network capabilities from the home wifi network. Such a console could be strong enough to support exclusive home software from the flagship titles.
Nintendo is just off the generational curve. Having the Wii U support 3rd party “hardcore” games turned out to be a mistake. The idea was to appeal to that crowd, but with the worst version of every multiplatform game due to being technologically behind the competition it has all come to naught. The solution? This is my favorite option. :) Just go balls-out and dive back into the hardcore scene full force. Microsoft is practically already on the ropes with Xbox One. They keep hanging themselves with business practices that anger gamers and so far it’s starting to look like the PS4 version of everything will be better than the Xbox One version. Sony also has the first party games to keep the lead. Since the “all-in-one” functions of the Xbox One are going to have trouble being useful outside of the United States there may be room for Nintendo to take their spot years down the line when the Xbox One is retired.
This would entail making a fully up to date console that is backward compatible with as much Nintendo gear as possible. It could serve as both the kids and the adults console. Mario would look just as good as Grand Theft Auto 7 and they would share the same space. Wouldn’t a return to direct competition from Nintendo be damn exciting?
I don’t have the real answers, I’m just a writer. As a fan who grew up on, and was driven away by Nintendo I just know that their next approach to gaming is either going to have to be fill a new societal itch or go toe to toe with the big dogs.
What do you think they should do after Wii U?