New console releases are always exciting – especially when it is Nintendo who’s releasing new hardware. Nintendo has proven itself to be creative and not afraid of risks when it comes to new hardware, having pioneered many firsts in the gaming space, such as Gameboy, Virtual Boy, Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS, and Wii to name but a few. Some have been more successful than others, but that is to be expected when you’re trying something different from the herd.
The anticipation for Nintendo’s next platform – codenamed “NX” – is perhaps the most exciting in Nintendo’s long history in the videogame business – certainly for fans and pundits, at least. The NX is potentially coming much sooner than most expected. The Wii U was launched in North America on November 18, 2012, putting just 4 years between it and Nintendo’s new console if 2016 marks the year for NX. For comparison; the Wii launched on November 19, 2006; putting 6 years between consoles launches. And, for further reference; the GameCube was released on November 18, 2001: 5 years between it and the Wii.
A big factor that makes the NX intriguing is how the performance of the Wii and Wii U may have influenced the design of the NX hardware and the timing of its release. The approachable, family-friendly Wii sold approximately 100 million units worldwide, whereas the unfocused Wii U has sold approximately 12 million units to date. For reference; the GameCube sold nearly 22 million units in its lifetime and the Nintendo 64 sold nearly 33 million.
Even though Nintendo has more cash in the bank than some small countries, they still have the need and desire to succeed. I believe their goal is always to attract the largest audience possible to their hardware and software. They are the only videogame hardware manufacturer in the world that has created and successfully cultivated a large library of software brands that are known around the world by gamers and non-gamers alike. Neither Sony nor Microsoft come anywhere close to this achievement, despite wonderful platform exclusives such as Halo and Uncharted.
If you were Nintendo, what would you do to ensure success with your next console platform? You have reliable, well-known brands that include Mario, Zelda, Pokemon, Smash Bros., Donkey Kong, Metroid, Animal Crossing, Yoshi, Star Fox, and even relatively new brands, such as Splatoon and Pushmo that could be considered successful in their own right. You have some close third-party partners, such as Square-Enix, Platinum, and KOEI Tecmo who have produced top quality titles for Nintendo platforms in recent years. What do you do?
What do we know so far, for fact? We know the NX is releasing sometime soon – whether it is 2016 or 2017 is TBD. We know the specifics of the hardware is being kept a strict secret from the majority of developers. When you consider these two facts together, this suggests the NX may release with one or two first-party titles, and maybe a small collection of third-party titles from close partners. We have seen this type of launch before with numerous Nintendo platforms, with varying degrees of success.
If we wanted to stack our deck, as it were, and do everything within our power to ensure success, wouldn’t we rely on our internal development and close partners to ensure the first year of releases is paced out carefully and jam-packed with dependable games that complement each other? Yes, we would. We would not rely on the standard third-party support because, let’s face it, it’s unreliable. Instead, we would craft a plan that we knew we could accomplish because we were going to do it ourselves and with our close partners.
What does this do for the player? It presents a feeling of Christmas morning (or your relevant day of gift-receiving joy) for an entire year! That feeling of new and awesome software releasing month after month for 6 months straight, or dare I dream, an entire calendar year!? It would generate so much customer excitement and loyalty that the atmosphere surrounding the NX would be undeniably infectious, and everyone within earshot would need to take a peek to see what all the hubbub was about. It would be awesome!
However, what does this do for the third-party developers/publishers? Well, if you’re a big player, such as Activision or EA you might dip your toe in when/if hardware sales start to look strong, but only if it doesn’t require unique effort outside of your multi-platform plans already put in place. On the other hand, if you’re a small independent developer struggling to make ends meet, the NX could offer very green pastures to frolic in. Nintendo make a certain style of game, and even their partners often make Nintendo-style games. So, as an indie developer you could find plenty of holes in the first-party-heavy NX library to fill with your unique titles.
The launch window of a new platform is always a good time to release original games. I for one am very much looking forward to learning more about the NX. E3 2016 can’t come quick enough!