Game delays: a frustrating but acceptable issue, especially when most result in a better final product. But in the case of The Legend of Zelda Wii U, the immediate and almost inevitable follow-up confirmation that the game would release as a cross-platform launch title for the new Nintendo console named the Nintendo NX, has caused a quite an outcry.
Indeed, the announcement of the new Nintendo console represents somewhat of a middle finger to Wii U fans who have long been promised a Zelda game designed specifically for Wii U.
Nintendo clearly isn’t interested in stringing along the poorly performing Wii U any longer, and the company clearly recognises that the NX simply must come out of the traps with decent launch titles that are going to move units. Everything now rides on the new Nintendo console being a success, and 2017 is destined to be the most consequential year in Nintendo’s history. The real question is whether Nintendo has learnt enough from their past mistakes to ensure the Nintendo NX is going have the tools to become a critical and financial success.
Improving first party games
Emily Rodgers, an extremely reliable source for Nintendo news, recently spoke to clarify some information she had recently heard from trusted inside sources at Nintendo. Most interesting was her suggestion that Nintendo is innovating new ways to hasten the development of first party games to better facilitate a more consistent support for the NX.
The Wii U, of course, has endured several lengthy barren spells between game releases, and is certainly part of the reason the console hasn’t garnered a decent following. According to Rodgers, fundamental to Nintendo’s policy with the NX, is increasing software output to the fastest rate in the company’s history. Rodgers went on to claim she was 100% confident the Nintendo NX’s software lineup would easily exceed that of the Wii U.
Although these new strategies sound encouraging, the fact that Nintendo already seems to be planning for the new console to be supported primarily by first party games is slightly concerning. Of central importance to the NX success is the extent to which third party developers are involved in game production for the system. If there is one notion that has been proven woefully inaccurate it is that Nintendo is able to survive supported only by first party games.
Nintendo’s diminishing fanbase
Nintendo’s loyal fanbase might still exist but 12 million Wii U units sold suggests a somewhat diminished target audience, and the market is maybe not as interested in Nintendo game systems as they once were. The NX needs third party games that feel as though they were designed with the console in mind, not as an afterthought. Surely, the NX must engender substantial third party support, and the inclination that the company is already pursuing alternatives should be cause for trepidation for Nintendo fans.
Perhaps the most surprising outcome of Nintendo’s recent announcements was the bizarre revelation that the new Zelda title will be the only playable game demonstrated at E3. If there was one platform for Nintendo to really showcase their supposedly strong NX launch line up before the March release date next year, it was E3. It’s an almost nonsensical decision and goes someway to confirming our suspicions that Nintendo isn’t capable of adapting to a changing industry.
The Nintendo Direct might be a good way to continually engage with their fanbase, but Nintendo need to stop isolating themselves from the rest of the industry and strong E3 showing is exactly what the NX needs to convince gamers to adopt the hardware. Nintendo Directs are typically only viewed by Nintendo fans, of which we’ve already established there aren’t enough of to make the NX a success. To not attend E3, is not a good signal, and Nintendo not going toe to toe with the other big video game consoles shows an incredible amount of weakness.
Weak and gimmicky hardware
Nintendo has arguably been making unintuitive decisions with their hardware for over a decade; the decision to use a cartridge with the N64, the mini disc Gamecube, investing in technology that gamers didn’t want with the Wii, the tablet control device of the Wii U. In the case of the NX, if what we’ve seen from leaked patents are correct, and if it’s rumoured hybrid handheld/home system functionality is correct, then it represents another dangerous foray into creating yet more gimmicky hardware. Nintendo desperately needs to end this series of hardware blunders that has pushed the company further away from what they do best; make great games. Along with a Metroid, Mario, and a new Zelda title, the NX simply has to be complimented by significant second and third party support to convince the gaming community that the NX is reason enough to consider abandoning PlayStation and Xbox One.
The fact of the matter is that Nintendo’s audience isn’t currently very large and may continue to shrink regardless of how good their first party games are. The vast majority of the gaming community no longer believe in Nintendo game systems, which has proven itself to be consistently weak and gimmicky. The problem isn’t Nintendo’s software, which many people still adore, it is that gamers don’t want to buy Nintendo hardware to play it exclusively. Nintendo simply cannot sell game systems based purely on sales of their first party software, and this is where the argument for them becoming a publisher comes into the fray.
Should Nintendo focus on games?
Prior to the first rumours of the NX, the failure of the Wii U and Nintendo’s shrinking appeal in general made a real case for the company to drop hardware altogether. If Mario games can sell ten million copies with an install base of the same number on Wii U, then how many copies could they go on to sell on PS4 and Xbox One? Wouldn’t we all be happier with Nintendo continuing to develop great games, and publish them on consoles we all own and want? Moreover, Nintendo wouldn’t have to waste billions of dollars of their diminishing revenue on hardware R&D.
Nintendo undoubtedly has a substantial amount of financial resources, and while the failure of the NX wouldn’t ruin them as a company, there is a genuine possibility that Nintendo might never recover enough to manufacture hardware again. Whether or not that would necessarily be a bad thing is up for debate, but what we can be pretty sure of is that the NX faces an uphill challenge. Gamers are clearly fond of their PS4’s and Xbox One’s, and the PC community has their own scene. Where does the Nintendo NX fit in among all of that? We all hope the hardware has quality and fidelity, and we want to see a statement from the company that this is a different kind of Nintendo, but are we really convinced that is going to happen?