If you haven't seen it by now, Nintendo has updated their financial forecasts
for fiscal 2014 (04/01/13 to 03/31/14). Things are... well they're not looking good. At the beginning of last year, expecting to sell 9M WiiUs after a relatively strong launch and a solid start to 2013 seemed perfectly reasonable. Yesterday, Nintendo cut that estimate down to a mere 2.8M units, and their expected 55 billion yen ($527M) profit became a 25 billion yen ($240M) loss.
I'm sorry, Mario. You deserved better, my Italian friend.
There's no good way to spin this story. There's no bright side here. It's bad news all around. The WiiU isn't selling as well as they hoped (or well at all), and Pikmin, Zelda, and Mario weren't the holiday sales trifecta they were banking on. So what now? As much as some would like to think that the WiiU will have a miraculous 3DS-esque comeback out of no where just because Nintendo is so awesome and we all love them so very, very much, I don't think that's reasonable to expect. The two situations are more dissimilar than they are alike, contrary to popular belief. Others think that only Nintendo knows what's best for Nintendo (because clearly that strategy is working so far with the WiiU). I disagree.
I love Nintendo (really I swear), but I think they need some help. Here's my (at least) semi-educated suggestions on how they can turn this ship around:
Step 1) Forget about the third parties. They're gone. These guys aren't coming back. Learn to live without them.
If Nintendo was smart, they would have entered the 8th console generation fully aware of the fact that the casual audience which supported them with the Wii was never going to follow them to the WiiU. That ship has sailed, and the smartest thing they could have done from here was to get the core audience back. Get mature, adult games like Far Cry, Hitman, Dishonored, XCOM, Borderlands, and Sleeping Dogs. Get an online infrastructure that was on par with the competition. Make a game system for gamers, not soccer moms, small children, and old people.
But where were those titles? Yea, they had some mostly late, mostly overpriced, mostly inferior versions of some 360 and PS3 games, but that's about it. It's easy to blame the publishers for that, but if Nintendo was serious about bringing those partners to their console and making money with them, they should have put their own money down to make sure that poor support didn't happen. That's how investment works. The Nintendo faithful criticize that suggestion, but it's exactly what they did on the Gamecube with Sega, Capcom, Konami, LucasArts, and Namco Bandai. In case you forgot, that console was profitable.
Instead, we're here. The WiiU isn't getting a port of every AAA retail game coming to PS3 and 360 from every major publisher (or really any of them at this point). They don't have an online infrastructure that's up to par with Xbox Live, PSN, or Steamworks. They didn't tap the N64 nostalgia that so many people grew up on. They didn't manage to capitalize on their year head start. The ship has sailed, the PS4 and XB1 are here, and those publishers aren't going to make WiiU games anymore. But someone else might...
Step 2) Indies, though? Get those guys. Like all of them. How in the fuck is this game not on a Nintendo platform?
This is an entirely different story, however. Few publishers think it's worth teaching an entire team how to use the WiiU just to port their new PS3 and 360 games for as long as they keep making them (1-2 years, at best). Even fewer are going to dedicate time and money on top of that to scaling down their PS4 and XB1 games once they drop their predecessors. Unless of course the WiiU has an enormous rise in hardware sales and suddenly things are back to where they were with the Wii.
But let's assume that's not going to happen. Because let's be honest, it probably won't. Luckily, Nintendo might not need the third parties as much as they think. When it comes to the indie scene on PC, 9 out of 10 games will run on just about anything. Suddenly, the PS4, XB1, and the highest of high end PCs are all your technical contemporaries for all intents and purposes. This
is the sector Nintendo needs to be going after with all their energy. To be fair, they're doing a better job than Microsoft is, but Sony's got them beat by a mile right now. If it's small, if it's indie, if it's retro, it needs to be on the WiiU.
These are the types of small experiences that can hold people over between the Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong, and (for the love of god, please let there be some) Metroid games. They're inexpensive, they often have low barriers to entry, and they can add a lot of value to a platform if marketed and priced correctly. Which brings me to my next point...
Step 3) Virtual Console is a disaster. Fix that shit already. I'm sorry, but as long as this is a thing, you can't charge $10 for Earthbound.
As much as Nintendo (and some of their fans) would like to think they exist in a bubble, they don't. PS Classics, GOG, and Steam are all real things that exist in real life. So long as they do, Virtual Console has direct competition. The Nintendo faithful will happily buy the same games over and over again until the end of time. They're dedicated, and that's great for them, but they represent a tiny, tiny segment of the industry. Clearly Nintendo cannot live off the diehards anymore. Look at their financials and the WiiU installed base.
If you tried to sell a digital 20 year old game to the average core gamer for $10, they'd laugh in your face. We make excuses for Earthbound because they had to fix what they intentionally broke in the game to try and fight piracy, or that the cartridge costs a fortune today because they never made enough copies in the first place. It's stupid, it's tiresome, and it needs to stop. I'm not saying VC games need to adopt iOS and Android game prices, but the idea of getting the SNES greats for say... $3 a piece would make it incredibly difficult for me not end up matching my 130+ game Steam library. Give me high res support, widescreen fixes, and save states and I go out and buy a WiiU tomorrow. And isn't that exactly what Nintendo needs right now? More people in their ecosystem?
And these Wii to WiiU upgrade fees to VC? Drop and refund them all. The idea of paying money to port a 20-30 year old ROM from one emulator to another is just insulting to my intelligence as a consumer when there is a community on PC that makes better emulators for free. And having to pay again to buy the same NES games on the 3DS? Give me a fucking break. Buy it once, get it everywhere forever. Now that
would be a real system seller to anyone who loves the Nintendo classics, and it'd make Sony look like real dicks for dropping PS Classics from the PS4 and under-supporting them on Vita. Plus it'd solve the same problem the indie games would: giving people something to play in between the first party releases. Speaking of which...
Step 4) Milk something other than Mario and Zelda for once. It's been six plus years, god dammit. WHERE THE HELL IS MY METROID?!
Super Mario 3D World, as critically acclaimed as it is, was not the system seller Nintendo hoped it would be. Neither was their $50 update to a two generation old Zelda game. Nintendo forgets sometimes that they have more than two franchises in their IP catalog. Now I'm not saying put Monolith on an Ice Climbers game or something, but at some point, if you keep milking Mario people are going to stop caring. Honestly, I think we may have hit that point already. New Super Mario has diluted the franchise significantly, and I don't know if that's something that can be remedied by throwing "World" in the title of a 3D Mario and hoping people will forget about that New Super ever happened.
Here's an idea: Retro isn't the only developer you own which could make a new Metroid game. Hell, how about somebody outside of Nintendo who isn't woefully incompetent (*stares at Team Ninja*). If you don't think a gorgeous 3D Metroid game with a great, Prime Hunters style multiplayer would move hardware, you're kidding yourself. The same could be said for a kick ass (and properly marketed) Star Fox game that balanced the on foot Adventures gameplay, the space combat of the first two, and competitive multiplayer styled around Assault (except actually fun). And a good 3D Pokemon. Why the hell isn't that a thing yet? Is Nintendo oblivious to how huge Pokemon is or something?
And finally, the cardinal sin: we're a couple months into the second year of the WiiU and there is still no Super Smash Bros game, let alone a date for one. This is maybe the best example of how Nintendo management has its head up its own ass. And to be completely honest, it makes a really great case for why some of the higher ups need to be let go. The previous Smash game was released at the beginning of 2008. HAL finished work on the last two Kirby games by the middle of 2011. Namco Bandai is a phone call away. The fact that Nintendo thought kissing Sakurai's ass was more important than releasing a sequel in the franchise that basically made the Gamecube a success is just... I have no words for how fucking stupid that is. Smash 4 could have put the WiiU on its back this past holiday. Especially if it was combined with...
Step 5) A $200 WiiU without the GamePad. Do it already. It's not the Virtual Boy, but it's time to let this dream die already.
In August last year, Nintendo announced the 2DS and the internet freaked out. Some thought it was a joke, others were rushing to pre-order, and some were just concerned about how this was going to be marketed properly given the god awful name and their track record with the WiiU. Well they sure as shit proved me wrong, because the thing was a success. The feature (read: gimmick) that they arrogantly thought they could sell a $250 DS successor on didn't add any value to the product for most consumers. The 2DS was an admission of their failure. A failure which they managed to turn around into a giant success.
And so brings us to the GamePad. I get off screen play. I have a Vita and part of why I'm itching to get a PS4 is so I can sit on the shitter and keep playing my games (or go anywhere in the house and keep playing, for that matter). But forcing people to drop an extra $100 on a system just so they can buy a controller (with an abysmal battery life) which Nintendo themselves aren't even using for anything useful is just dumb. It's bad business, and it's exactly why the PS4 is outselling the XB1 and it's unnecessarily bundled Kinect camera by a very wide margin.
It's great that the WiiU is $100-$200 less than its generational competition, but it's still $100 more than a PS3 or 360. Two platforms with huge and way more varied software libraries. Ones you can get for dirt cheap these days. The value proposition for the WiiU just isn't there. If you wanna keep selling a $300 bundle with the GamePad, more storage, and an extra game, be my guest. But not having a $200 WiiU on store shelves when 360 and PS3 games graphically look the same is just financial suicide on Nintendo's part. If you really want to keep the vision for the GamePad alive, just let gamers use other screened devices with gaming inputs as well. 3DS much? How about the dozen Android alternatives out there? It accomplishes the same goal at a lower cost to you, the platform holder.
Worst case scenario, the WiiU sells 20M units in its lifetime, it gets another great batch of Nintendo games, the system costs Nintendo a couple billion in losses, and they move on to a successor in 2016 or 2017. They have billions in the bank, they can afford it. But no one wants that. I don't want that, the 5M+ people with a WiiU don't want that, Nintendo doesn't want that, and anybody who doesn't want Sony to get complacent like they were after the PS2 doesn't want that. These are a few changes I believe would greatly help them turn things around. This may be a Nintendo Machine. And that's okay. But it would really help, for Nintendo's sake and their ability and desire to continue making great console games in the franchises we love (and a few new ones), if it was a profitable Nintendo Machine.
So while we're playing the "pretend to be a CEO" game, how would you turn things around for Nintendo? Do my suggestions have any merit? Am I bat shit insane? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments. If you like what you've read (or at least enjoy a good discussion about it in the comments), why not upvote the blog because you're such a wonderfully kind human being?
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