When I think of Nintendo in recent months I often envision Iwata-san humming the popular Portal tune in my head, Still Alive. Nintendo is hurting, and I could certainly speculate why and point fingers like some angry monkey at various people along the chain of command. But I’d honestly rather consider the bigger picture. It’s just too easy to beat up on Nintendo right now. And even though I myself have shared my thoughts about why the WiiU is Dead to Me, I still don’t consider Nintendo to be a failure.
Nintendo is in a rough spot. They have a console that was dated the day it hit the market and is now even further out of sync with the rest of the industry. But that isn’t anything new for Nintendo. I feel like the people who groan over Nintendo’s choice to deliver a product that is inferior in every aspect, on paper, clearly has not followed the company for more than a single generation.
I look back at the history of Nintendo and they often strike me as an aloof creature. Nintendo is very much the happy little elephant who roams the plains, grazing and crapping wherever it feels like. The thing is, it kind of works for them. At the moment Nintendo seems to be batting around a 0.500 if you consider their winning consoles like Wii, SNES, NES and losing consoles like N64, GameCube, or VirtualBoy. Even their losing consoles are some of the most endearing for it’s fans in spite of being in last place for the generation; and rightfully so. Many of those losing consoles saw the birth of some of the greatest games in Nintendo’s history from Mario64 to Ocarina of Time. We even experienced the birth of the Metroid Prime series and Animal Crossing on the GameCube. These were not popular games because it was our only choice, it was because they were great games.
It is also worth mentioning that nearly every console I listed, the winners and the “losers”, were all inferior hardware for their time. The SNES had a wider color palette but lacked the processing power found on the Genesis, a console that launched the year prior. The N64 once again had powerful rendering hardware with anti-aliasing; a first for consoles, but it lacked the storage to utilize that power. It simply couldn’t compete with the storage of consoles that were nearly 2 years older, like the original Playstation. The GameCube drew tears of joy when it was announced as the first console by Nintendo to compete in the hardware numbers game, but it still barely hung to the trails blazed on the Playstation 2 and Xbox. The Wii was jokingly called the GameCube+ for many months after it’s announcements, having only a performance boost of 2-4x rather than the usual 10x we often see from console cycles. This was also one of their most successful consoles to date. Finally the WiiU is falling into a strange Dreamcast-like position in the performance department.
You Just Got Dream-casted!
The WiiU is ending up as the easy choice for last place in the raw horsepower drag race when you compare it to the latest generation of consoles, but it still holds up well against the largest install base of console owners on the Xbox360 and PS3. The WiiU still has a chance to claw back and break even over the course of the next 5 years of its life, even if it will never be #1. Nintendo is not likely to abandon the console, they have no reason to just yet. Their problem is not in the console, it’s in the message; something that Nintendo has at least 5 years to figure out.
When the dust is cleared, Nintendo has a chance for the WiiU to still be standing. All they need are the games, and strong message to gamers. I am one of those people who was looking at the WiiU, thinking that it might be my next console. I frankly didn’t care that it was an inferior hardware, I was ready to be charmed by Nintendo again. So what went wrong?!
I waited… and waited… and every month leading up to and following after the launch of the WiiU was another story on a gaming news site about another publisher who has dropped WiiU or another first party game that would not be ready for the launch window. Interviews with key first party designers were alarmingly revealing; they had no clue what to do with the hardware. Many responses to what was the key selling feature of the hardware; its game pad, amounted to statements like, “we are evaluating our options…” Not, “we are really excited for the future,” or “we have big plans for the game pad.” It was an uneasy sensation to witness how uncomfortable these developers were to discuss how they planned to utilize the second screen.
So what now? What can Nintendo do to turn their sales around. I certainly have my own ambitions, and I’ll gladly share them. Though I must admit that I am 100% confident that no one with the ability to make decisions in Nintendo is listening to me =). Also, I’ve been out of the Nintendo ecosystem since GameCube and DS Lite, so some of these options may already exist in some form.
Lose the Game Pad
This is easily one of the most aggressive options and one that I would only recommend in the most dire of situations. I think that the game pad is a very cool idea, but it is killing the price point for this console. Replacing the game pad with a Pro Controller and dropping the price to $199, with or without a game, could be targeting a different kind of audience. This could also be augmented by the pairing of WiiU and 3DS.
Pair the WiiU and 3DS
Assuming the 3DS has the horsepower to receive video packets via WiFi and decode them in software (since the 3DS likely does not have video decoding hardware). Even if the packets are transmitted using MJPEG or HuffYUV, the frame resolution is so small that streaming 800×240 via WiFi might be possible with a lower spec codec. It is also worth noting that there is potential for streaming 3D to the 3DS because of the low resolution making it possible for the WiiU to render a scene twice if it needed to. Heck, go for gusto, and become the only console to have a 3rd screen experience!! =) Enable streaming of both DS screens and the big screen. I’ve been looking for an excuse to purchase a 3DS and WiiU, and a pairing like this could be the same reason why I am considering a Vita with a PS4.
Just kidding, this is objectively a terrible idea. That said, there is room for a 4th screen experience here. That’s right, I said it, four screens; quad damage! Beat that Xbox. Though it would be terribly damaging to the brand to simply put Mario on an iPhone, there is room for players to share information via phones. I could easily imagine an App that allows players to “street pass” using GPS with a select roster of Pokemon that they’ve sent away from their game and onto their phone. Then the Pokemon can return to the game stronger than before. I see opportunities for Xenoblade to have a companion App that let’s players handle the menial tasks of buying and selling items, or chatting with friends who may be active in the game. I see more companion App opportunities for the Miiverse to reside on our phones, allowing players to still interact with others and leaving them messages and sharing tips with their Miiverse friends. I even see companion Apps for mini-games that can make coin for the respective game; a card game, mining game, or crafting game that lets me earn rupees for Link is an easy pairing.
Make Something Dammit
The easiest thing Nintendo can do right now is give players a reason to believe in the hardware. They had a year to become relevant and failed to do so with a rushed console release and a software lineup that was not ready for prime time. My advice to Nintendo is to no consider releasing another console without at least 3 of the following items ready, tested, and available on launch day. Note, they don’t even have to be first-party.
- Donkey Kong
- Smash Bros
- Mario Kart
- Kid Icarus
- A core Square or Atlus title
- A core shooter like a Geometry Wars or Contra
- Animal Crossing or Harvest Moon
- Monster Hunter
- Something out of left field like a Killer 7
- Boatload of popular Indie games
Okay, so let’s compare lists with the actual launch list. Hmm, Mario? Nope… Metroid?! Nope… Zelda?! Nope… Castlevania?!?! Sadly, no. Let’s face it. 3rd party games, with a few exceptions, are icing on the cake. But when your plate is all icing and no cake you can’t help but pass on what they are offering.