Nintendo brought a flurry of information to us today during their “Business and Capital Alliance,” and I’ll be writing some brief thoughts on some of the most notable areas as we digest the next chapter in Nintendo history.
Yes, I said Nintendo history. The news today brings with it Nintendo’s plan for returning to dominance atop the gaming industry, and their ideas seem bursting with potential.
First, the basics: Nintendo has struck a deal with DeNA, a company that manages and provides infrastructure for mobile and online services. DeNA owns the Mobage mobile gaming service, which is particularly popular in Japan with over 30 million users. DeNa will enable Nintendo to bring their IPs to smart devices (notably, without exception), and also to create a new membership or loyalty program that bridges all current and future platforms. Finally, Nintendo has a “dedicated game platform with a brand-new concept” called NX in the works, supposedly to function alongside Wii U and 3ds, about which they will release more details in 2016.
Whew. Nintendo DeNA, NX, and Mario on your iPhone. That’s a lot of information, so let’s pull things out one by one.
1. Nintendo has partnered with DeNA to produce Nintendo games on smart devices.
This is an absolutely mammoth development. Nintendo President Iwata-san has said for years that Nintendo was staying away from creating games for smart devices so as to not take away business from Nintendo’s other popular portable, the 3ds. He has also said that the company was looking for ways to utilize smart devices to strengthen their brand, but was adamant that they would not be making games so as not to create internal competition.
It appears that stance has changed, at least slightly. The plan appears to be not to produce games of Wii U or 3ds quality, but rather to create new games utilizing their most popular franchises in a manner more suitable to smart devices. With this in mind, they’ve developed this partnership with DeNA, a company which has produced several Disney games for smart devices over the past few years and thus is in a good position to do something similar for Nintendo.
Reaction: While some fans may decry Nintendo’s move for fear of a rash of low quality endless runners on smart devices, I see this as a brilliant and very necessary step to bring the Nintendo brand back to the top of the heap. Make no mistake about it; smart devices are everywhere, and the days of playing your handheld console on the bus or train are quickly being replaced by smart devices. Yes, the 3ds and Vita still have a place for those who want highly quality gaming experiences, but all you have to do is look around while riding in any public transport system to know that companies like Nintendo are missing out if they don’t acknowledge and participate in the platform.
I’m relieved to hear Nintendo stress that they won’t be bringing console-quality games to these devices. With rare exception, I don’t care for smartphone games, and I truly want Nintendo to keep bringing the big guns for their 3ds and whatever successor arises thereafter. But while I likely won’t buy such smart device games myself, I do think many other people will, and that this is a really smart move by Nintendo.
The Wii U is struggling – there’s no way to sugarcoat that fact. After 28 months, it’s still sitting around 10 million consoles sold, which ranks right up their with their biggest console failures. Don’t get me wrong; I love my Wii U, but apparently not many other people do. It’s too soon for Nintendo to start considering a new console, at least not until 2017, so they needed to figure out a way to generate more excitement and interest in their hardware and software, and utilizing smart devices is the perfect way to do that. It will get people talking about Nintendo again and quite possibly drum up the enthusiasm and excitement necessary to sell some more Wii U’s, not to mention the amazing amount of potential free advertising Nintendo would have through the sale or promotions of smart device Nintendo games.
2. Nintendo has partnered with DeNA to create a new membership or loyalty program across all relevant platforms.
Again, given DeNa’s history, this makes perfect sense. DeNA is currently running the Mobage mobile gaming service, which has over 30 million users in Japan alone, so they clearly have an understanding of managing such an infrastructure. Nintendo plans to have this membership program extend across all devices, which hints to utilizing a single login such as your Nintendo Network ID to connect all devices.
Reaction: Again, this seems like a really smart move by Nintendo. While we mostly liked the idea behind Club Nintendo, execution was often poor and frustrating for users. Streamlining the process by partnering with a company that has a strong history in the technical side of such programs means that they are aware of their shortcomings and are taking steps to improve.
There are certainly plenty of question marks still in the air. But this seems like a very promising step in the right direction to strengthening their position and brand through unification of platforms including smart devices. Nintendo has one of the strongest brands out there (Mario was more identifiable with kids than Mickey Mouse in one survey), and creating new games with their beloved IP’s while integrating a seemless connected infrastructure for a rewards program seems like a surefire way to climb back to the top after some recent stumbles with the Wii U.
3. Nintendo is working on their next gaming device, currently named NX.
We know the least about this detail, but it’s a big one that deserves some discussion. We don’t know for sure if it will serve as a replacement to the Wii U, to the 3ds, to both, or for neither, but we do know that they called it a “dedicated game platform with a brand-new concept.”
Reaction: First off, it’s no surprise that they’re working on another device. The big three (Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft) likely immediately begin work on a new console as soon as the current one is released, as it takes many years to produce new hardware. However, what is a surprise is all the possibilities that Nintendo’s device has given the ambiguity surrounding its functionality. Will this be the next-gen device that unifies both home console and handheld, the oft-referred to “Fusion” project? Admittedly, little is factually known about it aside from Nintendo’s purchase of related domains, but there’s undoubtedly been a lot of discussion referring to a “fusion” of home and handheld devices.
From everything Nintendo has put out over the past year, it seems like they are committed to not giving up on the Wii U. They have a strong lineup of games this year, including some pillars of their platforms such as Star Fox and the new Zelda U. Personally, I’ve heard many people say that they don’t own a Wii U now, but that they will be forced to buy one once Zelda U comes out. Supposedly Zelda is slated for the end of 2015, but given the amount of content we’ve seen from the game (not much), it seems like there is certainly a possibility of that being pushed to next year.
Would Nintendo really release a flagship title like Zelda in the midst of announcing their next console to replace the Wii U and 3ds? I find that unlikely, unless the announcement next year is just to tide us over until much later, like holiday 2017 or 2018. If it is a device to be released next year, then I find it more likely to be something to accompany the Wii U and 3ds, such as a streaming box where you can subscribe to play all the older classic Nintendo games or something like that. There’s also the Quality of Life products that Nintendo has been talking about for some time, but about which we have heard very little. It’s certainly possible that the next device will include these products as well. If it’s in reference to a device that will be released next year, I’m banking on it not being a replacement for Wii U and 3ds. If it’s set to be released in 2017 or later, then all bets are off.
Well, there you have it – Nintendo has released some exciting news today and we’re all abuzz with excitement for what the future holds. This article is just meant to be a quick glimpse; for more of my thoughts as well as those from my fabulous co-hosts, please check out the upcoming March edition of our podcast, “Wii Need to Talk,” set to be released by the end of the month. In the meantime, you can check out our February podcast.
And as always, sound off in the comments if you have any thoughts on these exciting developments.