So, Nintendo has admitted it has a new system in the works. A Wild Speculation Appears!
We all knew this day was coming.
It wasn’t too long ago that we learned that Nintendo was already knee-deep in the R&D stages for its next-gen platform, and it’s highly probable that the Nintendo NX (its current working title, which is certainly a little more on the mark than ‘Dolphin’, ‘Revolution’ and ‘Project Café’ ever were!) will be that new next-gen platform. Nintendo were looking at a hybrid console, one that would finally begin to unite its two distinctly independent business arms, and were fascinated by the prospect of hardware which would allow for content to be equally playable both in a home context and a handheld context. This is old news. We knew this back in 2013, we knew Nintendo were already aware of the position they were in and were also fully aware of how the market views the company currently.
I want to talk about the NX on its own, because the deal with DeNA, a Japanese mobile gaming company, is one of its own merits. It’s not porting across games, but building new mobile titles with some of Nintendo’s entrenched IP. It’s a whole different discussion, but of course one the NX grew out of in the vainglorious belief that doing so would remind people that this wasn’t Nintendo admitting defeat and going for the smartphone market (one which EuroGamer, in a proud tradition dating back to the Wii reveal, once again stepped right into. Nice work there EuroGamer. Really. Top-notch journalism there chaps.) – the DeNA deal was a new venture for a different market, and the NX was an actual hardware thing they had in the works. So let’s talk about the NX.
Actually, let’s step back and broach a few Elephants In The Room.
First of all – the odds are if Nintendo does a reveal in 2016, next year, that the console will be out in 2017. That will mean that the Wii U will have had a roughly five-year lifespan, and to put that into context, Gen7 was in and of itself a huge anomaly. The gap in Europe for example between the Super NES and the PlayStation was three years. For the Sega Saturn to the Dreamcast was four years. From the PSX to the PS2 was about four years too. And four years between the PS2 and XBox to the PS3 and XBox 360. The eight to nine years we enjoyed from Gen 7 was a completely anomalous event. We’d not enjoyed such an extended period of console lifespan since the 80’s, but even there there were no real attitudes to generational leaps, just constant pushing of the technological envelope when possible. Whilst it’s true that the games scene did much to create a gaming crash event in the 80’s, the constant retuning of hardware and making something released a year prior obsolete and rendering the huge investment worthless also ensured the death-knell for an overzealous British technological industry that forgot that hardware needs time to breathe, and games need time to be made and sell.
It’s also true that last year, I conceded that when you look at the hardware that our current generation has lumped us with, it is far from a proper generational jump. The oft-promised 1080p/60fps ideal has all but been demolished, because the hardware we have can’t do both those things AND keep the graphical polish to a point where our eyes feel there has been an actual jump in hardware performance. Generation 8 is, and always will be for many of us console gamers, a little bit of a damp squib. We were meant to blast off to the moon but we’ve barely broken our own atmosphere, in space terms.
To go back further when I didn’t even have a dot-com address, I argued that no progress is made on the back of compromise. The more compromise we are asked to put up with, the less progress we actually end up making, and this generation has been all about compromise, and the terrible thing about that is that far from feeling like a fresh new generation – many already feel as though we’re stagnating, because so much hasn’t progressed. I’d almost go as far to proclaim that this is more Generation 7.5, a novelty distraction before real progress and change happens. It’s a gap generation that some may not feel they need to be a part of.
It might feel quick or sudden to some people then, but the reality is probably anything but. Look at the jumps in graphics cards, and the looming spectre of 4k resolution (it seems a little quaint we expect consoles to jump straight to 4k when they’re still fighting with normal 1080p HD). And to cap it off, we’re even now waiting for 2016 to be the year of the VR Headset; a reality that already seems novel and antiquated for many tech-heads, but is also already largely looking obsolete with newer hardware like 4k on the horizon. This whole generation is like one big, “Let’s get ALL the dumb stuff out of our system now, chaps.” And they really are – as a unit, even. Publishers and manufacturers combined all seem to be dribbling loons of late.
The desperation to get out of this generation is not just from some hardened tech fans or Nintendo. One of the markets biggest players, Microsoft, also intends to not be a huge distance behind the Nintendo NX if you’ve been paying attention. Arguably, that IS of Microsoft’s own machinations; the XBox One has been nice but a spectacularly misjudged muddle of ideas and concepts, and it’s a millstone that Nintendo also suffers from, although from the perspective of Nintendo – many critics have been raving about Wii U content for some time. Sony will no doubt be forced into an embarrassing generational jump in spite of the (confusing even to Sony executives) success of the PlayStation 4, and so all the profits the PS4 is making now are going to be swallowed by the R&D on what will ostensibly be the PlayStation 5 (I can’t imagine them calling it anything else, can you?).
This means that Generation Nine will be here 2017/2018. A little sooner than expected for some (me included), but nothing that is abnormal in terms of generational cycles.
Nintendo is, perhaps, better primed it would seem for a generational jump. It has spent quite a bit of time discussing the notion of a “hybrid” console – and I’m going to go with this because, if anything, it’s perhaps the most sensible business decision that they could make right now.
For a start, Nintendo knows the only way it can claw back third parties right now is to simplify; and to some extent, I could aim this also squarely in the crotch-area of Sony and the PS Vita as well. The problem with having to play two such distinct markets is that invariably, you will find those two components compared. For both Nintendo and Sony, that’s not a fair comparison. Nintendo’s 3DS is another roaring success story, and the Wii U has suffered as the PlayStation 4 has dominated the market. Sony needed it to though, because the 3DS has crushed the Vita pretty much dead. Third parties are languishing on the Vita but we don’t herald the doom of Sony, do we. Even when Sony’s market value and debts are spiralling out of control for the most part. And third parties have all but abandoned the Wii U. But that’s the death knell of Nintendo again (Nintendo – proudly doomed since 1992).
That said, third parties haven’t abandoned the 3DS, nor the PS4, because – shock horror – they actually sell! There’s a thriving market for those machines! Holy Breast Implants Batman, this is such a novel concept! Businesses prefer to sell to markets they feel that can be profitable. I bet they don’t teach you this in business school. Wait a second. *mutters into phone* Yes…. oh I see… uh-huh. *puts down phone* Turns out they do teach this stuff in business school. My bad.
Therein lies the novelty of the “X” part; the hybrid, the cross, the unification of two parts into a cohesive whole. Because you can get that third party support from one arm and literally graft it onto a/the more successful part of the business; in this way, you can bring the third parties into the middle ground once more by subtly shifting the market into one entity, rather than two distinct parts where one is favoured and one is ignored. Microsoft is also doing this in a sense, with it’s Windows 10/XBox Live crossover. And if they succeed, you can bet Sony won’t be too far behind either.
It’s not an especially new idea, but it’s an extremely clever business idea. It’s very current 21st Century business thinking too, something many feel Nintendo doesn’t do enough of, but here it is; it’s an obvious move which makes perfect sense in the long-term, and removes this idea of “Cross-Platform Purchase” (i.e. buy a 3DS game, get it also on the Wii U); right now, that appears to be a loss-leader. Two separate entities, one purchase price. A hybrid isn’t two systems though, it’s one system which can be used in two ways, and it makes it appear much less on a business front to be making any kind of loss. Because there aren’t two parts or markets, there is only one whole. This superficial change will be enticing to third parties and their shareholders; whilst only having to focus on the one machine a company has also ensures a more stable throughput of support.
The name itself would also be shedding the old Nintendo ideal too, where the codenames were oft silly or weird. NX – The Nintendo NX, or Nintendo Cross, is much more descriptive and on-point. It’s perfectly sensible. I wouldn’t even be that sad for it to be the actual branding; the NX combined into an infinity symbol (a defiant middle-finger salute to the doom-mongers Nintendo has suffered since the early 90’s). Then it morphs into the X, and the X splits vertically down the middle, pulling the screen into two parts to reveal trailers and teasers behind it. And of course, IX is the roman numeral for Nine, and it would be Nintendo’s ninth generation console. So NX even has that oddity going for it too.
Much of this may not be wholly by design; but it doesn’t really matter, because it’s a great point to jump from.
But none of this will matter of course if Nintendo doesn’t address another problem it has, and that is its terrible affliction for sitting on its IP, and doing little to nothing with it. And even here, sounds within Nintendo lately have been positive when it comes to the NX. Iwata and Miyamoto seem to both concede that Nintendo doesn’t make nearly enough new games with its established property; in context, I believe F-Zero was mentioned. The popularity of Mute City in the popular Mario Kart 8 reminds us that we ARE still waiting; it’s been far too long, and it appears Nintendo may finally be relenting on this front.
This means that with any luck, the NX will be one of the few occasions were we see a complete selection of Nintendo’s greatest properties being reused once more. With solid Nintendo support, a simplified system and storefront alongside a unified hardware point will make risks much more likely from third-parties, because it will look safer and a more stable platform to take a few risks. This also suggests alongside Nintendo’s current penchant for letting outside companies tinker with its IP (like the wonderful Hyrule Warriors, more of that on the NX please guys!) that Nintendo is aware of content shortages and isn’t just going to rely on third-parties, which isn’t a terrible idea because sadly that notion last year kinda backfired on Sony and Microsoft, who ended up with some egg on their faces.
All of this does suggest that the NX ideal, as a next-gen console, is one that on paper seems perfectly sound and in truth, much more sound than the Wii U ever was. In some regards, I wondered recently if the Wii U might not have been better marketed as a home-based DS system, rather than a continuation of the Wii brand. In any case, the NX is likely to bury the Wii brand, and if all talk of hybrid technology is sound, might even bury the DS brand as well (which itself buried the Game Boy brand). That’s just a novel aside though; food for thought.
Don’t for a second think this is going to be straight-forward, however. There are going to be issues to address.
This will be a bold manoeuvre from a company that is trying to modernise and make itself more relevant in a 21st Century games market. Nintendo is all about quality; we know this, and the games are evidence of that, there is no doubt. But Nintendo in seeking a new direction is taking another massive gamble; it’s unification will result in two brands being destroyed to replace it with one bigger whole, and if that ship sinks then there really is no-where to go but out. Having one arm propping up a weaker arm can allow a weaker arm time to recover; chopping off the weaker arm that really isn’t making bank makes sense short-term, but if the stronger arm tires out, you’re going to fall down.
A hybrid console will also be taking a big gamble on hardware still largely in its infancy; we’ve seen the phenomenal tech demos from mobile hardware makers, and I always knew that the iPad and tablets were unlikely to be the true beneficiaries of such leaps in microhardware. But we’re talking very much untested territory here. Handheld devices with visual capabilities equal to the XBox One? Sure, the hardware exists, but only in a few examples. Nintendo will need to have this hardware hit mass-production levels in two years.
There are also styling issues; the Wii was sleek, stylish, current. The Wii U, on the other hand, harkened back to a more child-friendly phase. Nintendo clearly needs the NX to LOOK the part too; it’s no good modernising a company and unifying two parts of the business if you’re going to mess it all up on the aesthetics, for sure. Remember, part of the success of the old Wii was that it was so modern in style that you could have it in the open, unlike the hugely fat and aesthetically-challenged PS3 and XBox 360.
It was a lesson Sony learned with the PS3 – if people are hiding it away in shame because it’s so ugly, it’s unlikely someone seeing it in a shop window will stop and go, “Wow, I want that!” Ergo, the PS4 is sharp, modern and kinda similarly calling the angles of the Wii. The Wii U isn’t ugly per se – the PS3 Fat was ugly, no question. But the Wii U isn’t remotely beautiful, either. Like the XBox One, it’s safe but kinda dull. Do not underestimate the power of aesthetic attraction; especially for something which will largely be sitting out in the open. As someone who moved recently and decorated the flat, you learn aesthetics do matter a little. This is by no means a straight-forward process. There will likely be two parts akin to the Wii U; the controller (with a screen, maybe two) and the TV Unit to stream/unify the machine to your TV. Both will need to look as though they belong, and look right.
And that controller will need to be more 3DS than U-Pad; I like the U-Pad, a lot, but it is a bit too big and a bit too unwieldy in spots. The New 3DS is the right kind of size, weight and shape. But it will not leave much room after improved hardware and battery for novelties like gyros and NFC technology; admittedly, these are gimmicks fewer and fewer games are actually making any real use of, and their disappearance wouldn’t really be terrible. But it also means not all games will be backwards compatible too.
Again, these are issues that Nintendo will need to be sorting out RIGHT NOW. They have at best fifteen months to get some of this together.
The last few issues are contentious though; screen resolution, for example. A hybrid will no doubt need to perform on a small screen AND scale to a 1080p HD screen. That’s going to prove an interesting little hurdle, and it may be on this third parties have valid concerns. So how will Nintendo juggle a hybrid that needs to perform adequately in both contexts?
Then there’s the price. Nintendo needs the hybrid to be competitive in pricing, and as I mentioned, we really are looking at some pretty cutting-edge details here. Nintendo will doubtlessly this time be needing to loss-lead on hardware, there’s no real question of that. But how much is it prepared to sacrifice on each sale, and how many games will it take to claw those losses back? It’s a high-risk venture, and Nintendo isn’t known for taking such dangerous, potentially-ruinous risks. Will they go for $300? $400? How much will be too much? ($599.99 might be too much…)
And finally – if it has to loss-lead, as I suspect it would have to… could it continue to offer a free online service, or will Nintendo have to throw in that towel and concede to a subscription-based model? This is important because Nintendo has been proudly flying the free online flag for a while now, and it’s certainly built up a certain degree of popularity as a result on the 3DS and with Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U. But it’s obviously the easiest and most efficient way to generate extra revenue on a new games console; so can Nintendo, at a time it will be risking everything more or less, really afford to not provide a subscription service?
Anyway. I will slow down the speculation here. I think this is enough to be going on, and it’s extrapolating a lot from throwaway business comments, but there we go.
The NX is going to be an interesting thing, because it’s clear Nintendo are trying hard right now to remodel their whole business somewhat. The last few years has seen studios brought into a single unified office space, a greater willingness to work with certain third-parties and a more clear notion that quality content matters. It has been an expensive and costly modernisation job for Nintendo.
The NX, as I see it, is the last piece of that modernisation, the renovation of a company over a century old into a brave new modern era.
Whether it pays off… well, if I knew how to answer that, I’d be charging you for information because it could make you very rich indeed. As it stands, we’re just speculating. Because… well… we’ve gotta talk about something, and I’d really rather not talk about Resident Evil: Revelations 2. Not yet anyway. I need to think up some ways to describe Moira Burton.
And not in a pleasant manner. What is it with Capcom and terrible female characters of late? Sure, she’s better than Lady Hunk, but a chainsaw to the face is better than Lady Hunk….