Last week, a cosmic event of cosmic proportions sent shockwaves throughout the world: some retailers jumped the gun on the price cut, and the PS Vita slightly outsold the Wii U in Japan! This week, the price cut has already gone into effect, so the next shock should be even more cosmically cosmic. At least Nintendo will have a grand funeral, or at least it should, given it's being prepared for over 10 years now. But, for the sake of argument, let's assume Nintendo doesn't return to whatever space void it came from. What's next for the house of Mario?
Let's get that out of the way: it won't go software only. That's herd mentality, and would most likely be a very bad move. There's a good case for why it's a bad move here
. Plus, the article doesn't mention other good reasons, such as the fact Nintendo makes the bulk of its money from royalties, and until the Wii U, also profited from selling hardware (except during the initial months following the 3DS price cut). Even if there really was a good case for abandoning the hardware business, Nintendo is just too damn stubborn, so it's not gonna happen, at least not while Nintendo still has an $11 billion warchest.
So what can Nintendo do to have a successful next-generation, besides all the obvious stuff they messed up with the 3DS, and even worse with the Wii U, and absolutely need to get it right next time: price, lack of software for a REALLY long time, unnecessarily cumbersome "features", etc. After seeing strong profits for 30 years running (yes, even during the Gamecube years) and printing money during the DS and Wii years, Nintendo badly misfired for the first time ever with both its handheld and home console.
Until the Gamecube, Nintendo competed toe-to toe on the technology front, and its consoles were very similar to the competition's. This new Nintendo, the one that gave up the arms race and instead banks solely on innovation, is a relatively new creature. The problem with innovation is that innovating is risky. When it works, you're a hero who saw what nobody did, when it doesn't, you're stupid for not seeing what what "everybody did". It may well have been Nintendo's drive to reinvent the wheel at all costs that put it in its current predicament.
Make no mistake: as far as the gamer is concerned, Nintendo will have a very successful generation. That gimmicky, expensive 3DS with few games is a distant memory now, and Nintendo will turn the Wii U around as well. The price will drop and the games will come. Hopefully the Gamepad will also live up to its promise, though that remains to be seen. It would be a shame if it didn't. I'm a believer. It's a fantastic idea, and the (few) games so far have barely scratched the surface of what it can do. I believe gamers will be sold on the idea when they get their hands on the system, but even if the Gamepad, like 3D, doesn't become the selling point Nintendo hoped, the games and the price will do the trick. However, financially, Nintendo will struggle for the next few years. They will probably have a profitable console generation when all is said and done, but the multi-billion dollar profits of the Wii/DS heyday, are, for the time being, out of reach.
From a gamer's standpoint, both the 3D and the Gamepad are good ideas, the Gamepad more so. Everyone I've showed the 3DS to loved the 3D effect, and the Gamepad is also a hit. There's just one problem: they cost more than people are willing to pay for them. From a financial standpoint, they were very bad ideas.
The Gamepad is the biggest offender: at $350 dollars, Nintendo still loses money on each Wii U sold, launching a console at a loss for the first time in its history. Recent reports show Nintendo charging $150 for a replacement Gamepad, which suggests it costs them at least half as much. Iwata said the Gamepad was almost nixed entirely due to the cost, a decision I'm sure he now regrets. Being the only hardware manufacturer that's purely a game company, Nintendo simply cannot afford to follow in Microsoft's and Sony's footsteps and flush rivers of money down the toilet
As for the 3D technology, it is unclear how expensive it is, but surely it contributed to the intial $250 price tag, and to the losses that followed the price drop. Therefore, it is highly unlikely Nintendo will try another money-losing innovation. So what's next?
First, the obvious: they may come up with something totally unexpected. I for one had never so much as conceived something like the Wii before I saw it. But what if they don't? What if their muse is taking a nap? My take, like the title says, is to go back to basics, to the approach that worked for them before the Wii.
The technology arms race is fast coming to an end. We aren't far from a future where a machine as powerful as the PS4 is selling for $99 (which will open up a huge, untapped market in the developing world, but that's a different conversation), and after that each upgrade will bring very small practical gains, to the point where they will eventually become irrelevant altogether. The selling points of a new hardware won't be horsepower, it will be things like games, affordability and functionality. So, unless costs drop so dramatically that Nintendo can incorporate 3D/Gamepad/next innovation without needing to hike prices, they won't be returning.
Wouldn't it be great if we could play all big third-party games AND Nintendo exclusives on a single console? With some loving Nintendo arm-twisting and a console that isn't a generation behind, third-parties would be onboard. That alone could be a bigger selling point than any "new way to play".
What about motion-controls? It may be a long-forgotten past now, but when Nintendo unveiled the Wii, it was an exciting prospect for core gamers, and it can be again. Don't run away, just let me explain! Motion controls on the Wii have two big problems: games using them in asinine ways "just because" (waggling to shimmy across vines in Skyward Sword comes to mind), and the limitations of the Wiimote, that has far from 1:1 movement.
The first can be easily solved: just stop doing it! Nintendo itself should lead way, as it certainly doesn't send the right message when third-parties see the big N itself tackling waggle onto its marquee franchises. It's simple: if its easier or better with buttons, stick with the damn buttons.
The second has already been solved. The Wiimote has limited movement recognition, severely limiting its usefulness in, say, a sword fight game. The Wii MotionPlus, on the other hand, has near 1:1 movement, and by now it's likely the technology is even better. Unfortunately, it wasn't the standard Wii controller, and it suffered the same fate nearly every single console accessory suffers: got almost no support and was quickly forgotten, but not before we got the one game that showed how it's done: Red Steel 2.
Red Steel 2 sold half-as much as its predecessor, largely on account of the required MotionPlus, and it proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that, sometimes, motion controls make a big difference. Sword fights in that game are much, much better and more intense than they would have been with a standard controller, and, as far as I remember, there's no unnecessary waggling, just pure awesomeness. If the next Nintendo console has something like the MotionPlus or better as its standard controller, we can get many more games like it.
And a game doesn't have to utilize the system "gimmick" in revolutionary ways to be effective, something 105% of developers failed to grasp with the Wii, and now again with the Wii U. Sometimes, a simple touch, such as exploring the dark hallways of Silent Hill: Shattered Memory with a Wiimote as the flashlight, is enough to take the experience to a whole new level.
Most important of all, pack the damn box with the motion controls AND a dual shock, and unless absolutely necessary, make games support both as standard. No more "optional" (meaning ignored) classic controller nonsense.
This would be attractive to core gamers as well as casuals and families. The conventional wisdom is that casuals aren't interested in consoles anymore thanks to smartphones, but I don't think it's that simple. While that market is surely smaller now, it is still there. After all, you can't gather your family and friends around a tablet for some Wii Sports fun. When people say "smartphones took away all the Wii casuals", what I hear is "the Wii casuals might still be interested in a new Wii if they weren't being asked to pay a ludicrous $50 for a game that could be on the original Playstation. AAA games may generally justify the price tag, but there is absolutely no reason why a minigame collection can't be sold for $20 or $15, other than that "that's how we've always done" mentality recently championed by Ubisoft.
Finally, online. If Nintendo overcomes its deep-seated onlinophobia and gets with the program, it could be a huge boon. Microsoft already charges for online and Sony undoubtedly will as well, giving Nintendo an opportunity to offer a free alternative. Nintendo doesn't need a revolution here either, just do at least what the others already do at least as well: cross-game chat, easy, system supported voice chat, trophies, and an online store that offers all kinds of games, from retail products all the way down to F2P. Sony showed with the PSN that it can be a free service. And if the infrastructure really becomes too expensive to be free, Nintendo could charge a fraction of the $60 Microsoft does and now Sony will, just to recoup costs instead trying to turn it into a revenue stream. Although, given Nintendo's pedigree as the company of "bad online", they would first need to prove themselves with a free service if they ever hope to charge anything.
And of course, let people actually play online. There's no reason NSMBU, Star Fox 64 or Pikmin 3, for instance couldn't be online if Nintendo wanted to.
That's my take on what the successors of the Wii U and 3DS should be like. What do you guys think?