What’s NX-t for Nintendo?

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Microsoft versus Sony, Battlefield versus Call of Duty and Forza versus Gran Turismo. These are some of the rivalries that can get people talking about console wars. “Game On or Game Over” is your place to get inside the minds of Nicholas and Andy as they seek to find the true meaning of gaming and tackle some of gaming’s most controversial subjects. Both are award winning authors – although the awards haven’t been mailed or created yet — but trust them. Would they lie to you?

Nicholas: With E3 looming around the corner there’s a special milestone that I’d like to recognise. Only a few months ago did we celebrate our 100th episode, and by the time the industry’s largest companies assemble for their annual expo, we’ll be marking our third birthday of Game On or Game Over. That said, today’s achievement is a little different, and dare I say, a little more special.

Without digressing further, the milestone that I’d like to recognise today is that with the posting of Game On or Game Over #123, we’ve officially become the longest-running feature on Stevivor! Thanks to all our readers first and foremost, but massive thanks to you Andy for coming up with this idea back in 2013, and Steve for giving us the green-light to go ahead with it.

Now to get onto this week’s topic, the idea was sparked by a recent opinion piece written by Vooks.net, regarding the death of the Wii U by Nintendo’s hand. In the article, Vooks speaks about the fact the Nintendo NX is due for release in 12 months’ time, but between now and then there are no major titles being released for their current console. Essentially, Nintendo have already indicated that they’re given up on the Wii U, and for the next year gamers are in a state of limbo.

So to kick things off this week I wanted to firstly ask if you agreed with the sentiments expressed in the article above, and what your thoughts are on this decision from Nintendo. Is this a case of simply getting the hype train started nice and early, or has the gaming giant prematurely shot themselves in the foot with regards to their existing hardware?

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Andy: Whoa, let me take a moment here to screen cap this because if I didn’t know any better I would think that was really close to a compliment. I’m going to savour this for a second. Also, I can’t believe I have been able to put up with you that long, but that’s a whole other topic there. It really doesn’t seem like we have been doing these for that long though. It goes to show how smart Steve was when he let us run with this idea. I too would like to thank him for trusting us and giving us the venue to have our weekly chats.

OK, now that we got that sappy stuff out of the way let’s get to the meat of the topic. First I have to admit that as big of gamer as I am, for me personally, Nintendo hasn’t been relevant to me for a long long time. That’s not to speak badly of them, it’s just when I moved to the original PlayStation I left Nintendo behind. Not really a conscious choice or done for any specific reason, it just happened. With that said, I have tried to stay up on most of Nintendo’s big news so I did hear about them announcing the NX coming in March of 2017, but really didn’t think much more about it than “Man, the Wii-U must really not have done very well.”

With all that said after reading the article you mentioned there are some damn good points made. The big one I came away with is Nintendo has for all intents and purposes killed the Wii U. They chopped it off at the knees and threw it in a ditch. It’s most apparent when you look at the upcoming games for the Wii U and the lack of games they are having at E3. It’s almost like they dusted their hands off and just walked away from an illegitimate child. There is literally no reason for anyone to buy a Wii U going forward. If Nintendo isn’t supporting it I highly doubt third party developers will churn out games of any quality of a system that is basically on life support.

I don’t think this is the normal hype train scenario honestly. Mostly because information about the NX has been next to nothing, aside from knowing the release month and one game, we know little else. I’m actually at a loss as to why Nintendo announced this so soon while ringing the death knell for the Wii U. Being that you are much more of a Nintendo fan than I am, before I get too deep in what I think , I wanted to ask you – what’s your take on everything, specifically the points brought up in the above mentioned article?

Nicholas: I think there’s no denying the situation that Nintendo have placed their Wii U in with the release date announcement of the NX, and I think the points expressed in the Vooks article and also above summarise it quite well. With only one game being shown at E3 (being an NX launch title at that), nothing else on the horizon and a whole year until the new console launches, you hit the nail on the head – there’s no real reason that people have to purchase a Wii U if you’ve been holding off until now. All their heavy hitter exclusives have come out, and if they weren’t enough to entice you to purchase a Nintendo console then, there’s no reason to do so in the next twelve months.

My question for you though is, what are Nintendo meant to be doing? Let’s evaluate the situation here. Nintendo released the Wii U at the tail-end of 2012. Microsoft and Sony released their consoles approximately 12 months later. When the Wii U launched, it was comparable (at best) to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, so when their sequels hit the market the Wii U was in a league left behind. Nintendo’s been plodding along for the past 3-4 years, but it always seems like there was never any buzz surrounding the Wii U until a major exclusive launched – which never seemed as frequent as Microsoft or PlayStation’s offerings. If the NX is meant to be a competitor (if not greater) than the current consoles, and if Nintendo want to start focusing as much of their time as possible on this, what should they be doing until March next yet? Yes it’s bad that they’ll be in a limbo state for a year, but is it better than releasing mediocre games to cover the gap until then instead?

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Andy: I’ve been thinking about this topic since my first response and I keep coming back to one idea. It may be the reason, or it may not even be close but I’ll throw it out there. The Wii U was nowhere near as popular as Nintendo had planned. Most of the games they kicked out for the Wii U were held back by the insistence by the powers that be to include non-traditional controls and the gamepad. That seemed to really hamstring some games. Thinking along that line it was probably more expensive to try and get those controls programmed in those games.

With the lack of units sold, and the inability to gain any real traction with their games it actually makes sense to just cut their losses instead of pouring money into developing games and knowing there is no chance of making a profit on them. It’s certainly an uncommon path to take, but at the end of the day – to me anyway – it’s just Nintendo admitting that the Wii U vastly underperformed. The most striking thing to me is that Nintendo swallowed its pride a little bit here and admitted defeat. It’s ironic that we are talking about a company that seems to no want to milk gamers for every ounce it can. Instead, Nintendo has basically said the NX is where it’s at, here’s when it’s coming.

You mentioned that the Wii U was released in 2012, a full year before the Xbox One and PS4. That should have given Nintendo a head start and install base. Yet, looking at the number of consoles sold, and games per console the numbers are frankly pretty bad. I know you have a Wii U, so speaking as someone who has played it, and as a Nintendo fan, what went wrong here? Nintendo had a great thing going with the Wii all they had to do was upgrade it and keep powering ahead. Yet it seems like the Wii U has fallen completely off the rails.

Nicholas: We’ve spoken in previous articles that the Wii U was never in the same league as the current generation consoles (or really even with the last generation consoles), and I think that was perhaps the biggest downfall with it. The problem with the Wii was it was really nothing more than a party game – yes, there were some decent first-party titles, but the horrible graphics compared to the Xbox 360 and the PS3 and the motion controls just never made it a platform of choice for all the other multi-console titles like Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed. When the Wii U launched Nintendo never really changed that mentality, and I dare say it was made worse with the gamepad. Sure, you could always use the pro controller, but the fact was, that gamepad was ridiculous. A two-hour batter life, it was never really ‘off’ when the console was on and it was clunky to use, the console was reliant on a ridiculous piece of hardware. In a league of supercars, Nintendo brought a Toyota Yaris to the mix.

I’ve mentioned a few times now this comparison between Nintendo and its competitors, and we’ve cited the design choices as a reason for the Wii U’s downfall, but the question I’d like to ask you is – are companies like Microsoft and PlayStation, Nintendo’s competitors? What I mean is, the Wii and the Wii U were so different to the likes of the Xbox and PlayStation offerings, should (or has) Nintendo ever seek to fight alongside those consoles, or is it doing something different? I spoke earlier about rumours that the NX is meant to be as powerful if not more powerful than the XB1 and PS4, but do you think that’s important when this new hardware launches?

Nintendo has essentially done its own thing since the Wii, do you think this formula can continue with the NX, or does Nintendo need to start trying to trump the other two players? Do you think that’s even what gamers want?

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Andy: I chuckled when I read your comment “are companies like Microsoft and PlayStation, Nintendo’s competitors?” because the first thought has to be, “yes, they all sell video games how could they not be a competitor?” However, when I thought about it a little more I’m not really sure Nintendo is a direct competitor to Xbox and PlayStation. Much like Lamborghini isn’t a competitor to Ford or Chevrolet. Yes, they both sell cars but they appeal to two vastly different markets.

I have a couple additional thoughts on this that I’d like to get your opinion on. First, I think Nintendo faltered when they doubled-down on a cute gimmick. When they released the Wii, the motion controls and things you could do with them were new. They were something different and the novelty of it helped sell a lot of consoles, and by association, games. When they released the Wii U, they did so not only with the motion-controls but added a second gimmick with the gamepad. Doubling down on a gimmick that most gamers had already grown tired of hurt them right out of the gate. Secondly, from the outside looking in there seemed to be a deep void of games that would continually keep gamers interested in the console. You can’t expect gamers to want the console just because. It almost seemed like Nintendo forgot that.

Now, to bring this back around to your question, does the NX need to be as powerful (or more powerful) than the PS4 and Xbox One? In my opinion, no. At least in terms of the actual hardware. When I think of Nintendo I think of iconic characters, storytelling and games that I can pick up and play with not too much of a learning curve. I think if Nintendo got into a slugfest over system specs and raw power they would again lose focus of what got them here in the first place.

At the end of the day I think gamers want good games. How they get them is secondary. In my opinion Nintendo needs to drop the gimmicks, stay true to their roots and innovate in regards to the games, delivery of them, how they tell the story and branch out a little bit from those main core characters. Nintendo fans are very supportive when it’s something they can get behind, just look at the Amiibos and how incredibly well they sold.  What do you think though? Being the Nintendo fan does that accurately describe what you want from Nintendo? What do you think it will take for Nintendo to right the ship and get back to the constant juggernaut they were?

Nicholas: Here’s the thing, as much as I love seeing the same stuff from Nintendo, part of me wants them to move on as well. I’m not suggesting dropping Mario, Pokémon and Donkey Kong – far from it, it’s what I love from them, but I want them to progress as gaming as a whole moves forward. To clarify further, that doesn’t mean making Mario realistic and with him wielding hidden-blades as he kills Goombas, but making the games challenging too. I understand that they have a family market that they need to cater to, but I feel like the community that got them where they are today is sometimes forgotten. A fun game doesn’t have to be an easy game, far from it actually.

You mentioning that Nintendo isn’t in direct competition with Microsoft and Sony is exactly what I was alluding to when I posed that question to you, but I suppose what I’d like to know is what’s next for the gaming giant. Like I’ve just mentioned, I want to continue to see sequels to games like Super Mario 64 (or Super Mario Galaxy 2) but at the same time, I’d like to see Nintendo get the support from publishers like Ubisoft and Electronic Arts. With the Wii and the Wii U, it seems only half-arsed ports or sub-par games that capitalised on the motion-control gimmicks made it to the game library, and that kind of makes me feel like Nintendo consoles aren’t as valuable as others on the market.

You’re entire right that Nintendo needs to do what they do best, but I just wonder if Nintendo doing what Nintendo do best is enough to see them succeed in the long term. Sure, titles like Pokkén Tournament saw great sales for both the game and the console, but it always seemed like those situations were few and far between.

As we close up this week’s article, I wanted to get your opinion on what Nintendo should do, and what you think they need to do, as they gear up for the gradual hype and launch of the NX. You speak about dropping the gimmicks, which I completely agree with, but how about when it comes to their games. Should they continue to make cute-sy family games like Yoshi’s Woolly World or do they need to start getting franchises like Call of Duty and Need For Speed on board? Further to that, what would it take for you to return back to Nintendo and purchase an NX?

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Andy: Man, that is a big, big question there at the end – holy crap. What would it take for me to come back to Nintendo? Wow. When I first read that I started thinking about all the games I remember playing, the franchises I loved and went down memory lane, but the fact of the matter is I’ve been away from Nintendo for so long I’m not sure I’d recognize their games anymore. I think that’s a statement many old-time Nintendo fans share when they think about Nintendo now. So, if I were Nintendo I’d look at trying to get those gamers back. The easiest way to do that is release some of those older games via mobile platforms. That way I’m not out the cost of a console plus the cost of a game. Let me rekindle that connection and then slowly bring me back under the banner. It’s a win-win for them really.

Now that I’ve answered that part let’s get to the meat of your question, where does Nintendo go from here so they don’t fade away like a Sega? In my opinion I think Nintendo is too married to their sequels. What I mean is Nintendo seems to rely way too heavily on the next <insert iconic character name here> game. They almost seem to be operating under the idea that when they make the next Pokémon game people will buy it and keep playing on the system they have for it. Most of the Nintendo fans I know get excited about a new game, play it and then don’t play the Nintendo console until the next big sequel comes out. It’s akin to driving through a forest and seeing the amazing views and then driving for 15 hours through a barren desert until you get to the next forest. Nintendo needs to keep those tent pole franchises, but they also need to forge new stories with new characters. Like you said, you want new stuff just as much as those iconic characters.

Nintendo has also boxed themselves into a corner somewhat. They are great at making those cute, fun, family friendly games. That’s what they are known for. To really get the support of third party publishers they need to let the reigns out a little bit and be willing to step into new territory. Yet, they have to be careful that they don’t go too far too fast or they may have another repeat of Devil’s Third. Nintendo has a niche that they are very good at, their fans are very supportive of it. The problem is aside from gimmicks they haven’t really taken a step forward in what they do.

Make no mistake about it, Nintendo is a good company that has some amazing franchises. The last thing they need to do is double down on those and do nothing else. They know their audience well, but their audience is also getting older and they need to adjust to that. Nothing dramatic, but increase the difficulty once and awhile and make a couple new franchises that aren’t as “cute”. I think a great line for Nintendo is something I heard a couple years ago talking about progress. “If you’re not going forward you’re stuck. If you’re stuck you’re not creating.” Those two sentences are how I see Nintendo. There’s a lot of good stuff there, they just have to get out of their own way and let their games do the talking, no need for anymore gimmicks.

Tune in next time for the next instalment of Game On or Game Over. If you have any ideas for our next article, feel free to contact Andy or Nicholas on Twitter.