To call the WiiU a commercial disappointment would be the understatement of this generation. After 3+ years, the system has barely moved 12M units, 1/4 of which have come from the shrinking Japanese market. Nintendo financials have improved, but it's questionable if the WiiU can still pull a net profit like the GameCube did, or go down as a financial disaster like the OG Xbox.
As speculation for the NX grows in anticipation of a 2016 or 2017 release, Big N has a chance to flip the script and re-cement itself as a force in the industry. If they take advantage of their 1-2 year head start on the PS5 and next Xbox, they could even come out on top. So how do they pull that off?
People hate spec talk. Reality is, what's in the box determines what devs can do with a system or if they'll even want to develop for it in the first place. The Wii and WiiU launched closer to their competition than the NX likely will, but they followed the same trend: be at least as powerful as the generation before you.
Processor - AMD x64 8 core Puma CPU
Video Card - Radeon Rx 200 GPU (Curacao based)
Legacy Hardware - IBM Espresso CPU for BC
Memory - 8GB DDR3, 64MB eSRAM
Storage - 2.5" 500GB hard drive (removable)
Games Media - 25/50GB proprietary discs
This would give Nintendo exactly what they need. Puma and Rx 200 are the successors to the Jaguar and HD 7000 based chips in the PS4 and XB1. A downclocked Curacao GPU -- such as the R7 265 or R9 270 -- would give them performance parity, as would the 8GB of RAM. For the sake of development ease and the viability of NX as a digital platform, a hard drive is a must. 500GB HDDs are dirt cheap, and will only get cheaper with time. Plus this APU combo would cost about as much as what launched in the PS4 and XB1 in 2013 -- and those were mid range then. These are completely realistic specs and wouldn’t be out of character for Nintendo to run with.
The User Experience
Does the NX need all the bells and whistles of the PS4 and XB1? No. But without a truly unified account system for basics like cross game invites, party chat, and a purchase history, there's no way the NX competes next gen. I'm sure they'll have their little family friendly spin on things like they always do, but the essentials need to be there. I'm too old to deal with Nintendo being a decade behind on this stuff and I'm far from alone in that. I just wanna play my damn games with my friends, not worry about shit, and never have to think if my digital purchases will stay with me.
Say what you want about the GamePad -- scapegoat publishers, blame marketing, talk up the couple games you played that sorta worked with it -- the thing accomplished nothing. Outside the faithful, consumers did not buy the system for it, it was barely supported even by Nintendo, and it increased the base cost (and god knows how much in R&D). They cannot, and under no circumstances should even consider, forcing that financial burden on consumers again.
This isn't about you believing Nintendo should "stick to what they do" and build a console around something different. It's about a publicly traded company with a board of directors who can and will force Nintendo to pull the plug on their console division if the NX cause 3 fiscal year losses like the WiiU did. This isn't about what Big N has in the bank (because that's their money), it's about share holders who want profits. Putting their eggs in a basket that failed them twice last go around (hello 3D) would be a completely reckless decision that would severely jeopardize the future of this company as we've known it for the past 30 years.
They can go down the "unique input" route and try and do something cool, but they need a core SKU that comes with just a classic controller. Fuck fragmentation concerns. I'm sorry, I can already see the angry replies as I write this, but you're wrong. This is a business, not your personal fan club, and they need to sell a system to people who just want to fucking play the new Mario and Zelda at the lowest barrier to entry and don't give a shit about whatever gimmick Nintendo is pushing on people this go round.
Third parties matter. Yes, really. Nintendo has the best first party team in history, and even if they pumped out sequels like clockwork they couldn't support the system by themselves. Third party licensing fees are how you afford to launch a console, and a software library is how you convince consumers to early adopt. Whatever they gotta do, they need every major publisher (Western ones especially) on board with their full lineup from launch day. Good news: using basically the same x64 hardware as the PS4 and XB1, as I propose, would make that way easier. So would a competent online infrastructure and digital storefront.
"But wait! What about the indies and niche Japanese games I love?" Yea, they're great, and they'll be on NX... eventually. Eastern publishers, especially smaller ones, historically wait until an installed base grows before they jump ship to a new gen. They simply don't have the capital to port games to a brand new platform when they have limited fanbases to begin with. Indies are awesome too, but 30% of $10-$15 games cannot sustain a console launch window.
And yea... maybe a new Metroid or something... and a 3D Donkey Kong... or a good Pokemon RPG... ah, who am I kidding. Their first party lineup will speak for itself. No need to nitpick this. It's never been a problem for Big N. Credit where it's due... gotta get Virtual Console right this time tho: no upgrade fees, and no slow trickle of re-re-releases. Sorry! Had to say it.
The XB1 and PS4 hit $300 last holiday, and will likely dip below that by the end of 2016. If Nintendo believes for a minute they can put another console out more expensive than MS and Sony's offerings -- as they did with the WiiU next to the PS3 and 360 -- they'll have effectively killed their Year One yet again. A $300 launch price is the highest they can possibly go with this thing, at least for the controller only bundle they (by an act of God, if necessary) need to do.
$250 would be ideal and, behind a handful of strong exclusives the first year, would likely give them a launch as strong as the 360's. But I admit that price point is unlikely. Whether $250 or $300, this means hardware losses out the gate. That's the reality of this industry, and has been for 20+ years. If they build the installed base like they can and should, it'll be moot in a year when software puts them in the black and makes shareholders happy. Because again, my proposed specs are pretty modest.
The End Game
"What you're proposing is basically a Nintendo PS4. Why should I buy that?" Better question: why the fuck would you buy a PS4 or an Xbox One *instead* of this? Sony has axed half their developers since the PS3 days and is living off third parties now. MS has done better with stuff like Halo 5, but mediocre fan reception hasn't pushed hardware like they hoped.
So take most of that publisher support, in a competently powerful system, with an online infrastructure that's up to snuff, *and* I get the best exclusives in the industry by far? The damn thing would sell itself (competent marketing wouldn't hurt). And sure, if they manage to make some cool (optional) thing on top that people are into or some handheld or smartphone connectivity, that would further incentivize a purchase for those who want it.
You remember the first time you ripped open your SNES or N64 or Gamecube? How much fun you had with Super Mario World, Mario Kart 64, and SSBM? How you were able to play Contra, Turok, and Tony Hawk with your friends? Why is playing it smart and giving people what they want suddenly a bad thing in the post-Wii games industry? Why is that not enough? Why do we need a "different" for the sake of different?
Or maybe I'm just crazy.