Nintendo could put out a regular console – a Nintendo NX with the innards for a mid-tier PC, an HDMI port, a few USB ports, and a controller. The console could just be a piece of hardware, like a PS4 or Xbox One, and sell based on the hardware and games alone. Everything on top of the hardware itself is an added expense to the consumer.
Oftentimes, these additions take the form of a gimmick—a trick or feature designed to attract attention, publicity, or business. Over the last decade, Nintendo has increasingly built-in gimmicks with its products in order to make them stand out. Unfortunately, gimmicks are neither cheap to develop, nor a guarantee to be profitable, and before including a gimmick Nintendo must weigh the pros and cons of the cost.
Just look at the Wii – a proposition that surely paid off for Nintendo. Not only was the gimmick revolutionary and a massive success, but Nintendo actually made money on each Wii sold. Whereas Microsoft and Sony lost millions selling their consoles through to consumers, Nintendo’s gimmick turned the company into one of the most profitable in the world.
Nintendo’s next two gimmicks did not nearly take the world by the same sort of storm. The 3DS turned heads at E3 when it was first shown off. Such a revolutionary concept – 3D without glasses – would surely perform well at retail?
Unfortunately, the added cost of 3D, which brought the handheld to the uncomfortable price of $249.99 at launch, was not worth paying for most consumers. Few needed the 3D gimmick bad enough to spend $250 on a handheld, and Nintendo dropped the price by nearly a third in just a matter of months to keep the system moving off of store shelves.
Were the 3D mechanics unique and interesting? Sure, especially in the handheld’s first year when the 3DS' first games were still coming out. Was it worth the cost, though? That may be another matter entirely.
Imagine if the 3DS launched, albeit with a different name, without the 3D feature – just as Nintendo's next DS platform. Instead of charging $249 for the system, Nintendo charged the $170 it eventually dropped the price to. Perhaps the consumer proposition would have been far superior. After all, 3DS sales really only took after the price drop was bundled with new games – Zelda, Star Fox, and eventually Mario Kart 7 and Super Mario 3D Land.
Although the 3DS was able to finally take off after a price drop and the release of several games, Nintendo’s newest home platform, the Wii U, failed to ever see its sales come to fruition. This new console had arguably the most expensive gimmick of all – the Gamepad.
Bundled into every Wii U sold was a near 6″ screen peripheral. This giant costs nearly $100 to repair if broken, and purchasing the peripheral separately isn’t even possible. Surely, this gimmick alone must have added $100 in parts and packaging to the Wii U.
Aside from the cost, the GamePad also took another thing away from the Wii U: its power. With the GamePad running nearly all the time, the second screen worked as a giant leech off of the main Wii U unit. With competition like the PS4 and Xbox One, already far superior consoles in terms of power, the GamePad only detracted from the power that the Wii U had to begin with. Many developers had trouble porting games to the Wii U, but the additional GamePad and reduced power as a result of the controller likely only made the challenge more difficult.
With every business proposition, there is both a cost and a benefit, and Nintendo must surely weigh the cost heavily when considering another attention-grabbing system feature. By and large, Nintendo’s pricier gimmicks have yet to pay off, and when there is a feature as costly as the Wii U GamePad, the possibility of failure must be weighted in the realm of millions of dollars lost.
Perhaps when creating the Nintendo NX, its next platform, Nintendo should not consider what its gimmick adds – but rather, what does it take away? Does its “revolutionary” new feature at $100 to the retail price? Does the new feature sacrifice a better processor, more RAM, or a hard drive in order to remain affordable. Most importantly, Nintendo must ask the question: Is this gimmick worth the cost?
This article was originally published on Nintendo Enthusiast.