Why the 'late' arrival of the NX may be a good thing
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
This week, Nintendo announced that its next home console, dubbed the NX, won't be arriving until March 2017. Moroever, the console will not be debuted at E3 this June, one of the biggest showcase events in the industry. Many were expecting the NX to launch toward the end of 2016, where it could capitalise on the commercial busyness of the fourth quarter.
I'd argue that this move to 2017 could be a good thing. I won't make any attempt to absolve Nintendo here - its core business is in decline, so the sooner that it can bring a new console to fruition, the better, and its inability to do so will reflect in the pressures that bear down upon the company across the rest of this year. But given that the NX is mooted to be a 'brand new' concept by Nintendo, being different can be very difficult, when it comes to hardware. The idea of successfully launching such a platform represents a 'brand new' challenge, too.
With the modest launch of Wii U in 2012, Nintendo will likely have learned an important lesson: There’s no point attempting to bring innovative hardware to market, if software and messaging can’t provide a convincing account of its differential value. It may seem like a mistake for the company to miss the crucial Q4 sales period of 2016. I think, however, it would be an even bigger mistake for Nintendo to launch the NX without proper support, in terms of compelling games and clear messaging to express the individuality of the hardware.
Since I have no direct Nintendo NX visuals to accompany this blog, you'll have to make do with a recent shot of me from my Miifoto album. Don't hate me 'cos I'm beautiful.
In terms of Nintendo missing the chance to debut the NX at such a highly-visible event as E3, I think it’s worth noting that the company has been fairly active in building out its own platforms for connecting with fans. Its ‘Nintendo Direct’ and ‘Treehouse’ broadcast series, plus real-world events such as the Nintendo World Championships, represent direct touchpoints for engaging with its audience. So, the company does have scope for communicating the NX outside of major traditional industry showings. However, these channels remain unproven, in terms of relating something as significant as the arrival of a whole new TV console - and there's no reason for Nintendo to abandon other various trad industry platforms across the year, of course.
(On a more personal and slightly less serious note, do you remember the launch of the Wii? I certainly do - I was a games journalist at the time - and it felt like the sentiment surrounding the machine from debut right throught until launch was, at best, bemusement. And at worst, it was noisy, ceaseless mockery. This sentiment bore absolutely no relation to the standing that the Wii would go on to find, and reminded that clumsy initial reveals are never easy to dispel. Imagine if Nintendo debuted the NX at E3, and it was poorly pitched/perceived... how would you feel about another nine months of caterwauling about the NX's extrapolated awfulness?! Actually, as a long-serving, tutting rubbernecker of game forums and the like, I'd secretly be over-the-moon for a few weeks, and then acutely irritated. Sheesh.)
Despite the plaudits that the original Wii would go on to earn, the period in between reveal and launch was a bit of a gauntlet, in terms of how people regarded the device. Would you prefer instead that Nintendo unveiled the NX as close to its relase date as possible? (image credit: Nintendo)
As well as the launch date for the NX, Nintendo announced its first two gaming IP that will reach mobile later this year. The choice of franchise being brought to mobile – Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem – makes great sense. Animal Crossing specialises in daily-repeat visits and short-session play, while Fire Emblem is a turn-based strategy game. It’s not yet clear how these games will be realised and which business models they’ll bear, but given the absence of the NX console this year, there will now be a much greater pressure on these games to perform well.
Why has it taken Nintendo so long to move into mobile? Because it’s traditionally found a sufficient audience within the walls of its own hardware. Having such sway over the experience - from manufacture through to marketplace - has helped Nintendo nurture some engrossing IP over the past few decades, and it was never going to be quick to leave behind such a controlled ecosystem. Ceding a controlled environment doesn't come easily to a company with Nintendo's history. Its cachet is enormous, and so it can afford some idiosyncratic inertia in the way that it operates - but that leeway is limited, and shrinking.
The consumption landscape has changed to the extent that all three console manufactures are having to respond to the fact that even their most ardent fans may also be heavy mobile users. So why not explore ways to keep your audiences engaged through other device groups? It's best to think of Nintendo primarily as an IP company, these days – and its goal is to keep people as engaged as possible with that IP, whereever. I'm sure the mobile games that Nintendo releases will also somehow connect to content released on dedicated Nintendo hardware, so that players of its mobile games can remain tethered to the company's ecosystem, at whatever rate that ecosystem may now look to expand.
On a related note, here's a Gamasutra blog I wrote a few weeks ago, exploring the potential of Nintendo's Miitomo mobile app. Trigger warning: It has lots of pics of me in it. Trigger RAWWRRning, more like.