I’ve seen a lot of talk about what the Nintendo NX ‘needs’ from so-called journalists. But often, they miss out one crucial detail – games worth giving a damn about.
With stalling hardware sales happening and a lot riding on the mythical and much-vaunted “Holiday 2015” season around the corner to propel those sales a little, let me revisit a comment I made before this generation even got underway;
A games console without games is a completely pointless object.
Admittedly, this was mostly aimed at the PS Vita, and it’s a problem that Sony’s poor little black handheld never really overcame. But reasonable minds would take a look at the last couple of years of Generation 8 and note, with some zeal, that the same problem has befallen our home consoles. It’s true there are a few good games, even a handful of great games to be had. But between remakes and rehashes, Generation 8 has been light on quality content of its own. Third parties have routinely dropped the ball, Sony and Microsoft are only now realising the daunting task they have to face up to and Nintendo… well, Nintendo has been doing great work the last eighteen months for the Wii U, but it’s impossible to ignore the dry first eighteen months of the Wii U in kind!
Which leads us back to the Nintendo NX, which is – for all the pomp and ceremony of it all – the start of “Generation 9”. It’s a chance for Nintendo to do things differently again, and for the most part I’m largely in agreement with the popular consensus. Does Nintendo need to really sort out its online presence? Absolutely. Does it need to radically rethink its Virtual Console? Of course, and I’ve even argued that in the past myself. The Gamepad? Well, Nintendo appears to be sticking to it, but the recent patents have given some interesting clues as to what advances the NX Gamepad will come with – and whilst they may seem minor and insignificant, I’m actually largely in favour of scroll-wheel shoulder buttons. I mean, it’s only when you look at the concept that you wonder why no-one has tried it before.
But there are areas I disagree – and the prominent one is that Nintendo needs third-party support.
The simple fact of the matter is – they don’t. Nintendo is a company that is largely unique in that its clientèle really love what the company does, and invest in it heavily. Sure, the Wii U only sold ten million units. As a piece of hardware, it’s impossible to escape the notion that is quite the failure. Of course, when it comes to software however, Nintendo knows its customers all too well. Mario Kart 8 sold 5.6 million copies – that’s more than half the userbase. Splatoon at last count had sold 1.62 million copies – for a new IP in Generation 8, and on a small install base, that’s damned impressive.
Nintendo needs to remember one thing; whatever Generation 9 brings, it will be a battle fought on first-party content.
There’s a reason Microsoft’s Phil Spencer is looking to drop third-party exclusivity payments, opting instead to invest more heavily in first-party content. This generation has seen a spectacular meltdown in terms of third party publishers and developers. Whether it’s holding popular figures of a series to ransom behind a paywall (Goro, Mortal Kombat X), broken releases (Hello, UbiSoft!), egregious nickel-and-dime content (Evolve), season passes being sold long before we even see so much as a freaking screenshot (too many to mention), or pre-order campaigns that just confuse the hell out of everyone (Square-Enix, take a bow!), the so-called Kingmakers have been exposed for the charlatans that they are. They are selling the Emperor Sony new clothes, and whilst it’s fun to see the market leader with no pants on it’s also kind of depressing.
Nintendo also knows that third-party exclusivity isn’t always what it appears to be. Capcom has routinely shopped Nintendo exclusives on other platforms (leading to the awful Revelations HD port), and Sega ended up pinching off a ripe steaming little number two called Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric. UbiSoft took Rayman Legends multi-platform – and never apologised for the fact it sold mostly on the Wii U – and also did this with Zombi-U, turning what was an interesting two-screen survival horror and exposing the fact without that gimmick, we’ve seen and played much, much better survival horror games. Exposing the game largely for the gimmick it was.
Faced with a third-party catastrophe in the making, it’s no surprise Microsoft is shifting focus to first-party content. And that’ll be great to see. Microsoft has a ton of money. They no doubt have a lot of talented people. And Rare. They’ll no doubt come up with some stellar exclusive content. And Sony – well, after years of closing studios, it looks like that may not have been the wisest decision now…
Thing is, Nintendo is all about the exclusive content. This is a company with a laundry-list of franchises that make most companies look small and insignificant in comparison. From Mario to Zelda, Donkey Kong to Eternal Darkness, Pikmin to Splatoon, F-Zero to Wave Race, Metroid to Xenoblade Chronicles and many more besides, Nintendo has one of the most impressive ranges of IP in existence. That’s also taking into consideration second-party content it has bought into along the way, like Fatal Frame/Project Zero (depending which side of the Atlantic you are on) and if talk is to be believed, Bayonetta is co-owned by Nintendo now.
Getting all this stuff out in one generation is no small feat; but it’s a feat Nintendo must face up to if the Nintendo NX is to thrive.
Sure, some of these names may not sell more than a million or two. The question is how many fans have held off buying a Wii U because it doesn’t have ‘their’ game? My guess is, a lot. Without a Metroid, an Eternal Darkness, a Wave Race, people who have fond memories of these games are resisting a purchase because their game isn’t getting on the shortlist. And that means less sales for Nintendo, and less market presence as a result. People need reasons to buy a console; and with such an enviable pool of franchises to draw from, getting them all working for Nintendo will likely create a cumulatively larger audience.
The Nintendo NX sounds like for the most part to be righting a lot of wrongs. Talk of no region lock, a proper account system and even optional achievement boards all sounds good. Marry this with servers which have largely been pretty sound (unlike its competition), Miiverse and the Wii U Front-end and it begins to look like an attractive proposition. The one mistake Nintendo made with the Wii U – aside from not calling it the HDS because, let’s all join hands here, it should always have been a DS offshoot and not a Wii offshoot – was relying on third parties at a time when for so many of them exclusivity clearly means squat, and where loyalty only extends as far as you are willing to plough money into their coffers. Which is likely why Sonic: Lost World is being released on PC. I figure Nintendo called Sega’s bluff on that front. And after Sonic Boom, they’d probably be right to have done so.
With the NX, Nintendo cannot make that mistake again. It has to have games ready; killer franchises that only Nintendo can put out there. I said before, if that means the Wii U has to suffer the last year of its life on the market with table scraps, then so be it. The Wii U has already been proven a sales failure. The NX needs the content more. Much better to use it to drive sales of a new console, than tether it to an older machine that already died a death on the consumer circuit. A new generation is a new start – few markets can boast of a mechanic that wipes the slate as clean as the games console market! We will forget the problems of the Wii U, in much the same way we forgot how badly Sony dropped the ball with the PlayStation 3 launch.
Only when Nintendo has a strong line-up will the company ever have a chance of securing any serious third-party support. Nintendo needs a range of titles, old IP and yes, new IP too, that cement the NX as a destination for quality content. When the NX is impossible to ignore, when Nintendo has built those foundations, when the sales start to climb – that’s when third parties will take note and want to line up at your door. And that’s the way it should be, actually. Third parties should WANT to be on your system; a console should be built on the foundations of its creative company doing the legwork. Give third parties the keys to your kingdom whilst you’re busy, and well… that’s been Generation 8 for the most part. Someone has to organise the party, after all.
Everything else can be done in time if they aren’t there on release. Region locks can be patched out. Accounts can be patched in. User interfaces can be remodelled over and over again. But Nintendo will never really regain any market traction if the NX walks out onto the market with an anaemic launch line-up consisting of a 2D Mario and some party game, with some scrappy ports for good measure. Nintendo needs to make sure the Nintendo NX has games we want to buy and play. It needs a first-year launch schedule of at least one or two big names a month. To say it needs a 10 out of 10 game in the first year is true as well.
Because, again… “A games console without games is a completely pointless object.” The PS Vita exemplifies this. And the current state of the console market also proves it – it’s been a slow, slow generation so far, and it looks like it will soon come to a crashing end. Whether that’s an impressive phoenix from the flames or a fifty-truck pile-up, I can’t say. Holiday 2015 is where the industry has been pinning its hopes and… well.
Nintendo needs to make sure the NX is not a pointless object. Let us never, ever repeat Generation 8’s slow start ever again.