For those chanting how awful it is that the NX will miss the holiday season, let’s remind ourselves of a few things.
The Holiday Season is, of course, a great time to release a games console.
Nintendo knows this; but it also knows that it also isn’t what marks a games console as a success story. For evidence of this, let’s remind ourselves of the Wii U and it’s first month or so on the market. Source figures vary in their quantities but what isn’t up for debate is that at the time, the Wii U’s launch was every bit the success. Selling anywhere between two and a half to three million units in that initial launch window, no-one – in the media, the games industry, at Nintendo or even consumers who bought the console – could have foreseen that was the biggest sales rush the Wii U was ever likely to have.
Launching during the holiday period of 2012 was an unqualified success in terms of launch sales – but anyone who owns a Wii U and has done since its launch can confirm that Nintendo lacked punch at the time. The best games Nintendo had to offer at launch was New Super Mario Bros. U – a fine game, but a 2D Mario game on an HD console did come off as a little odd – and the deeply divisive Nintendo Land, a mini-game compilation that came with some great ideas that could have – and probably should have – been built on for actual games. The system was carried by third party titles like the great Zombi U, which utilised the Gamepad with a devastating efficiency and verve that Nintendo wouldn’t discover for almost two additional years, and a variety of ports ranging from the good (Assassin’s Creed 3 – a period of UbiSoft competency), the bad (Darksiders 2 and it’s shocking loading and stuttering issues) to the downright bizarre (Mass Effect 3 on Wii U – swiftly followed by an EA announcement of a trilogy bundle on anything but the Wii U).
We can argue all day about what killed the Wii U, but what I think was most clear during this launch year was a gaping void of quality Nintendo titles.
Now, some may remember that Nintendo intentionally meant for this to be the case. The argument at E3 2012 was simple; third parties had concerns that Nintendo was going to hurt their game sales figures with the release of a top-notch Mario or Metroid or some such nonsense. Nintendo answered them back, like Sony and Microsoft, by effectively gifting third parties the keys to the party in advance and told them to go and make themselves at home. Then the likes of EA threw a tantrum for still quite unknown reasons (talk about lack of power all you like but EA supported the catastrophe that was the NGage to its bitter end), UbiSoft consistently sought to undermine Nintendo and other companies simply decided to bail. Nintendo had left them in charge of arguably the most important period of the consoles lifespan… and it was an unqualified disaster, one that Nintendo has never really managed to recover from.
Why did Nintendo leave such clearly reckless and moody companies in charge of their baby at such a delicate time? Yes, it was partly to keep third parties sweet – for all the good that did Nintendo – but mostly it hid something far more pressing and damning; Nintendo didn’t actually have much ready to go for the console. Had Nintendo had games it could pump out, the stress of third-party abandonment could have been buried under the press for new Nintendo game releases, but there was nothing ready to be shown or released. Nintendo was just getting into this HD lark and had wildly underestimated the amount of time required to polish games to the mirror shine that we typically associate with the company, leaving their own support of the Wii U painfully thin. The idea of entrusting the in-between parts to third parties was a bust, and it left the release schedule looking decidedly threadbare at a period it desperately needed sales to maintain momentum.
Instead, the last three years (and four months) has seen no more than an additional nine million additional sales.
Yes, Nintendo should have known better – I’m not defending Nintendo on this because it is rather indefensible. What I am suggesting is that Nintendo has experience on this front – it got out there for the Holiday 2012 market and trusted in companies like EA and UbiSoft and Capcom and others to maintain momentum whilst Nintendo got to polishing off its works. And make no mistake, the majority of Nintendo’s releases on the Wii U have been sublime and consistently highly rated. That was never in question or doubt – but Nintendo needed time, and rather than delay their console and get their own games ready for it, they pushed it out expecting others to sell it in their stead.
So when Mr. Tatsumi Kimishima, the current Nintendo President, suggests a delay is to ensure a solid stable of launch titles from Nintendo – believe me when I say that’s not because Nintendo is afraid of the competition, but because Nintendo has seen what happens when they push a console too early and with no support from their own stable of developers. People keep suggesting Nintendo should “learn” from the Wii U; what they fail to grasp is that this March 2017 launch date is a consequence of Nintendo learning something. Namely: don’t launch a console without a few killer titles ready to go – hence why the next Zelda game has become cross-gen, of course, because a shiny new Zelda game on launch day is going to have plenty of fans clamouring for the latest adventures of Link.
The other question is – will the shift of date hurt sales?
That’s more difficult; a March 2017 launch has two distinct advantages. First, there’s usually little that happens during that month – for good reason, it’s the tail end of the fiscal year and most developers and publishers try to avoid selling anything too last-minute to include on their annual financial reports. A new console launch at the beginning of March would give Nintendo a few weeks of dominance in the scene, just in time for their 2016-2017 financial reports. It also is distant enough from the Holiday Season that finances are returning to normal and people can have saved up for the new console – though we’ve got enough warning now that saving up shouldn’t be an issue, it’s not as if Nintendo is springing it on us last minute here. You have ten months to save up for it. You have your advance warning. But it is still, compared to the PS Neo, coming later – and three to four months can be a long time in the games industry…
But who really knows? I don’t see any logical reason for a downside – sure, missing the holiday is a bummer, but if the first few months of the NX is littered with a raft of interesting and polished Nintendo games, then it’s the Holiday 2017 rush Nintendo will be pinning things on. Rather than sell the NX on the ideal of “shiny hardware”, this approach demands Nintendo rely on generating sufficient buzz through game releases during its first few months on sale. With suggestions and rumours abound that dozens of Nintendo projects have in the last two years been hurriedly moved towards NX development rather than sell on the ailing Wii U, Nintendo appears to be angling for a more productive and ultimately more aggressive marketing move than at any other point. And they’ll need to do that, because it isn’t completely unfair to suggest that after the Wii U, Nintendo Hardware alone isn’t going to shift units. Consumers and analysts will be watching with interest as Nintendo works to prove to us all that we really need this console.
And if the NX turns out to be as powerful as some developers claim? That’s the icing on the cake – with Sony already limiting the Neo by insisting it has no exclusive content of its own, it would afford Nintendo a devastating blow to Sony’s market and potential third party support. Make games and have to limit them to PS4 hardware… or go to the NX, with its superior hardware and no such limitation? I think I know what most third parties would choose – no matter what they think of Nintendo privately, they’ll want the stronger system. Giving third parties that Nintendo has on board the chance to play with the devkits and utilise the new hardware is important – and if this requires a few extra months too, well, it’s a small price to pay.
The bottom line is this; Nintendo knows it can’t blow the NX launch. Why launch it Holiday 2016 when Nintendo knows it won’t be ready? For people who claim to hate the Wii U, there’s a lot of people who clearly don’t seem to understand that if this truly is a last-chance saloon for Nintendo, then it is better that the launch is done right than done fast. There is no set rule that a console has to launch at any set time; it’s just the holiday season of November-December usually coincides with higher consumer spending as people buy presents. It’s an economic reason – not a direction set in stone from some deity on high. If Nintendo thinks it can pull off a March 2017 launch and has a range of killer Nintendo games to push with it – well, I certainly wouldn’t put money against it being one of their wiser decisions of late.
Though admittedly I’m not entirely sure why the NX Reveal is missing E3 entirely, that does seem a strange decision…