Change, the NX and The Promise of a New Generation

So, first piece of 2016. Oh look, it’s tangentially about the NX…


 

It’s been hard to ignore a growing interest in the Nintendo NX lately.

A new console generation is always cause for interest, of course. And after the Wii U, which has made profits and brought the industry some pretty top-notch gaming content at a time when such things are getting rarer, it’s perhaps not surprising that the more consistent and higher-quality content from Nintendo – sparse as it may currently be – has led to a renewed media and consumer attitude towards Nintendo as a whole. This is the nature of change; the success of the PlayStation 4 has been married to some of this generations most hideous, heinous business practices and shoddy software releases and such things have a bad habit of sticking.

One could argue that the NX should be called the Neo, because Nintendo dodged a truck-load of bullets.

But one thing has been clear from analysts – they’re worried, because Nintendo is sounding the clarion call of “change”. Tatsumi Kimishima, President of Nintendo, has iterated on numerous occasions that the Nintendo NX is an entirely new concept with an entirely different ethos and direction. Whilst some things will naturally stay the same – Nintendo will continue to make video games and the machine will naturally have video games to play, third party support or not – other things are clearly going to change. The much-touted Hybrid nature of the machine is a concept that seems both logical and yet also dangerously impractical, because as I’ve said in the past – consoles and handhelds have different markets by default. It’s not a shock that the PS Vita has pretty much died a death, because it thought we wanted a handheld PS3 – when what we actually wanted was a handheld console that played games strengthened by the nature of it being a handheld machine!

And they’re also sounding concern about a possible late-2016 release, despite the fact that this generation – regardless of Sony’s sales figures (which are still significantly less than the last generation and the Nintendo Wii, sorry but #dealwithit) – has been considered an abject failure. Jim Sterling recently sounded a reason why this was the case – publishers lost faith in games consoles so were reluctant to go all-in for newer consoles (which explains the wholesale abandonment of the Wii U) – but with a new generation due within the next two years, any further change can only really happen on the cusp of a new generation of hardware. And I’d suggest this is why people WOULD go for a 2016 launch – I personally think it is too soon, a 2017 launch makes more sense to me, but I can understand after two and a bit years of abject disappointment and empty promises that consumers would be looking towards the mechanism of a new generation which clears the slate and allows us to start again from scratch. Only the most silly, utterly disinterested analyst with a grasp of the most superficial understanding of the video games industry (Hello, Mr. Pachter!) wouldn’t be able to grasp WHY consumers and some corners of the media are already starting to look forward to an entirely new hardware cycle.

Because the industry needs change, and a new hardware cycle is a starting pistol for said change. Despite hardware sales, software sales have been slowing down – oddly being offset, one imagines, by a constant stream of free software available on Sony and Microsoft’s subscription models. Consumers are growing wary after a few years of extremely high-profile disaster stories too – Assassin’s Creed: Unity was an absolute mess, Batman: Arkham Knight was a crushing let-down in general but the PC version was catastrophically poor, The Order: 1886 was a ton of rancid wind in a whoopie cushion and the less said about Konami’s attempts to bury Metal Gear Solid 5 by not being able to leave it the hell alone, the better.

Jim Sterling may have sources who’d suggest that the publishers lacked faith in this generation, but their mistake has cost them the flipside of that argument; consumers are fast losing faith in THEM. It’s a dangerous situation to be in, and without doubt most know that rubbing the slate clean and purging Generation 8 with copious quantities of fire and salt is perhaps the only way to put any realistic distance between them and this whole generational debacle, and chances are that’s a card Nintendo will be playing with gusto in its drive to get support for the NX as a thing going forward.

However, let’s clear one thing up – because I hate being a gushing fanboy. This isn’t because Nintendo was smart – rather, because Nintendo got lucky.

Generation 8 has given Nintendo many wonderful gifts; the third party exodus from the Wii U gave Nintendo enough distance from aforementioned disastrous games releases and others that it has escaped the disinterest and disappointment from consumers with barely a scratch on its name. The struggling online networks have given the Wii U an air of relative competency. And the general feeling of wanting to get the hell out of this generation has tied in perfectly to Nintendo’s want and need to get out of it before anyone else does. Nintendo has landed itself in the perfect position by chance, happenstance and good old-fashioned luck, and if Mr. Kimishima is half the businessman he’s made out to be, this is the gift that will deliver over and over and over again.

Nintendo’s primary contribution to this situation is making arguably stronger, technically polished games than its rivals, which is really just the sprinkles on top of the frosting of this particular cake – but what sprinkles!

Sony and Microsoft are perhaps more invested than Nintendo; and that’s not a bad thing either, though rumours have been swirling that the next console generation is going to be sooner, rather than later – likely 2018, giving Generation 8 the default generational five years. But it’s not going to be enough – consumer faith has been rocked, publisher faith has been sketchy from the very beginning and what we have ended up with is a quiet generation with a few high notes and a lot of bottled farts smashing onto the floor. Why would ANY analyst worth their salt not understand how important the idea of “change” is right now? We live in an age where games are being broken up into pieces and sold to us episodically to rinse more money out of us, because not enough people are buying games! How is this a healthy industry? How is shafting the consumers who have stuck around in any way a model for future business to flourish?

And the general market knows this, too, which is why I doubt there’ll be quite the sales-surge in these tail-end years that were seen during the last generation. Generation 7 was a time of rapid growth and expansion, with new ideas – that wanted to CHANGE THINGS, analysts – and a heady optimism for what was to come. Generation 8 has none of that optimism, and the only device left to come promising any relative growth is Virtual Reality. And no, it’s not going to be the next Kinect. That’s deeply unfair. It’s going to be the next Wii Remote – superb idea but extremely specialised, with a limited usage and software, which will eventually be consigned to the closet when people realise a normal screen can do everything equally as well. Damn, I nailed that nutshell!

By the end of 2016 and its glut of long-overdue, much delayed sequels, there’ll be no way to deny the importance of a new generation. Generation 8 is going to be left to run its natural course, but the vast majority of people are already looking forward. Nintendo is getting the attention right now because people are looking for the next hardware cycle, and it was clever or just plain fortunate enough to coincide with a growing apathetic feeling spreading through the video game landscape. If Microsoft had announced a new console in the last 6-12 months, they’d be getting the attention. That’s all it is.

Nintendo is at the front riding this wave, and whilst rather reckless and dangerous there’s no question that it is starting to inspire and impress others. Nintendo’s message of change, of changing things, is no more than a rallying cry for a disenfranchised generation of gamers to march to right now. These consumers want more, want better and want things to change. They’ve grown tired of hollow promises and sweet nothings. Nintendo may not be the Messiah, but “a very naughty boy”; in the right/wrong place, at the right/wrong time, a figurehead for what people want and/or expect from Generation 9, a name and a face to pin hopes and dreams of “a better way” on.

Will Nintendo capitalise on all of this? If they do, they’ll make a killing. After all, the biggest risks carry the biggest rewards! But if they don’t – well, we all like a good car-crash. We don’t like to admit it, but we all look, don’t we?

And I’d dare to predict this year Sony and Microsoft will realise all of this and start talking a little about their next-generational plans. Phil Spencer already pointed out that Microsoft will put formerly third-party exclusivity money towards first-party content instead; so it’s clear that the XBox will absolutely be continuing in some form. And unless Sony spectacularly implode in the next year or so, chances are they know the winds have changed and are busy tinkering on a PlayStation 5. After all, with all the copying both have done of Nintendo’s past success stories, what’s one more to the list, eh? Can’t let Nintendo hog ALL the hardware attention in 2016, right? Not after the $600 pricetag for the Oculus Rift. I doubt other VR Headsets will be lower than $400 for the base models too, and that can buy you a pretty large branded Smart TV nowadays.

By the end of 2016, we’ll be well on the way to vacating this generation for good. We know this; and most of us knew this months ago, even. Analysts can continue to glower about this, but the simple fact is – they’re wrong. Generations live for as long as they need to, and this generation has been a relative misstep from the start. We’re already reaching the conclusion of Gen-8, and it’s short and sad life will be a legend in the generations to come – a horror story to tell new publishers and new entrants to the gaming pantheon.

Bad for investors? Not really – getting hyped for a new generation could be a good thing. The only real downside is that we’ve still got a year or two of this generation left – and the current software sales figures, low pre-order numbers, angrier consumers and the mistrust over season passes should all be much, much more off-putting for investors than the promise of putting such nonsense to bed and doing better things with newer hardware to get back some of that lost market of old. Because all that horrible stuff I mentioned is happening NOW. You know, right now. This is a thing. Happening. Now.

One thing we can be sure of; the next couple of years will prove fascinating – an industry trying to stay financially afloat, a more informed and demanding clientèle and new business ties forged and reforged, presumably as lessons are learned that Nintendo is nigh-indestructible right now, so ignoring it completely isn’t an option – and with Sony’s complete withdrawal from the handheld space now, even as a hybrid – Nintendo will continue to dominate that space as it has done now for twenty-six, nearly twenty-seven, years (1989 was the first Game Boy – oh yes!). So much for the Vita killing the 3DS, eh?

Change is coming; a generational jump is always a place for change. And if you’re an analyst who is afraid of it – well, one, you clearly haven’t been paying attention. And secondly – why are you afraid of change? If anything, the way things are now – if we stay like this, chances are things will die anyway. So do we go out in a blaze of glory – or quietly drag ourselves into a corner and suffocate slowly and painfully awaiting the inevitable? After all the games industry has done, all the progress it has made – the latter option really isn’t much of a choice, is it?

And there are few better reasons I can think of to take giant risks and make large, sweeping changes – I mean, if the games industry is dying off, what is there left to lose? If it succeeds – we rise like a phoenix from the ashes of near-death. If it fails… well, at least the industry can say it tried…

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