Nintendo holds a very special position in the gaming industry. Not only are they the longest-running console maker, but they also happen to have the biggest selection of original IPs, and hold a very unique image.
While Sony and Microsoft are rightfully viewed as being technological giants, Nintendo is more synonymous with general family entertainment. For years, their creations have been enjoyed by millions of people from all over the world, all belonging to various age groups. It’s been that way since the days of the NES and has continued up until now with the Wii U and 3DS. Indeed, the Nintendo brand resonates with quite a number of folks.
But despite their general level of popularity, the core group of the industry, which consists of ‘true gamers’ as well as the developers, see Nintendo in a much different light; weird, unorthodox, and incompatible. It’s no secret that because Nintendo operates so much differently from their competitors, they hold a position that separates them from the norm. With the company now looking towards their future ventures, how exactly will their situation pan out?
Nintendo has always made moves to separate themselves from their competitors. For starters, they wanted third-party developers to know from jump-street that they wouldn’t get away with the loose conduct that Atari had entertained. To have your game appear on a Nintendo platform, it needed to be tested and approved by Nintendo themselves; that meant that if the Big N didn’t think it was good enough, your idea was rejected. In addition to this, Nintendo only allowed a developer to release a certain number of titles per year.
That does sound a lot like a dictatorship, but Nintendo only had the best interest of the industry in mind; the whole reason why we even still have such an active industry today is because of Nintendo. They saved it from its first crash and were keen on making sure that never happened again. Because they were trying to get gaming to resonate with ‘everyone’, this also meant a push to be like that of Disney and create a family-friendly atmosphere. The go-to example of this is how the NES version of Mortal Kombat was censored, meanwhile the SEGA Genesis version displayed blood with a cheat code.
Having now established this, it’s easy to see that Nintendo really always marched to the beat of their own drum; this isn’t a behavior that just started recently. Unfortunately, it’s this same headstrong nature that caused developers to march off en-mass when Sony’s PlayStation platform came onto the scene, followed by Microsoft’s XBOX brand later on. When the late Satoru Iwata was elected as President of the company with the turn of the 6th generation, he then took Nintendo on an even more exclusive path. Of course, that turned out to be the unorthodox designs of the Wii and DS, as well as their successors.
Iwata meant well; he simply wanted to do what Nintendo had been doing all along — making games fun for any and everyone. With the Wii and DS, he decided to push that objective further by holding back the power of the systems in order to keep prices down, thus making them more accessible to the general consumer. Of course, the same method was used when creating the Wii U and 3DS. While this paid off for Nintendo in the 7th generation, the current generation did not bring the same level of success.
Both the Wii U and 3DS had rough starts, but have thankfully rebounded. Even so, neither of them will approach the level of success that their predecessors achieved, especially the Wii U. Putting aside Nintendo’s dominance in the handheld market, the home console market is an incredibly volatile, and very crowded place. The issue here is that there are three console makers; 3 is an uneven number, which means that when you try to share anything between a division like that, someone’s going to end up getting the short end of the stick. Nintendo has been on the lesser side of overall success in the 5th, 6th and 8th generations. If it were not for the runaway success of the Wii, then there’s a good chance that they could have been on a dominance-decline for 4 straight generations.
That’s not very good at all, obviously. But the question is, what exactly can they do?
Nintendo has spent 3 of the last 4 generations at the back of the pack, supporting themselves primarily with their own IP.
Another reason why third-parties have continued to have bad blood with the Big N is due to the way that they design their systems. The N64 used cartridges instead of discs, the GameCube used mini discs and never truly embraced online, and of course the Wii didn’t bother with trying to push graphical boundaries and instead focused on motion controls. While the Wii U was a step forward in power, its complicated architecture and lack of raw horsepower comparable to that of its competitors ultimately turned developers away very early on.
With all of this being considered, many have come to the conclusion that all Nintendo has to do is make a powerful system that’s easy to develop for, and is capable of the same things as its rivals. In theory, this would work; third-parties would no longer have anything to complain about, as far as development goes. However, there’s still the fact that there’s over 20 years of bad blood to recover from. Outside of a few specific studios like SEGA and Platinum Games, Nintendo isn’t really every developer’s favorite person to deal with.
If this generation has proven anything, is that money talks. Why do I say that? Well, the PS4 and XBOX One are arguably the most closely comparable rival systems that have ever existed. Although the PS4 is ultimately the better machine, the XBOX One can still ride alongside it to an extent. Due to the PS4’s mass success, along with their own negative decisions, Microsoft was left beaten and bruised from the very beginning. In order to turn the ship around, they’ve needed to score deals with a variety of different studios: Rise of the Tomb Raider, Titanfall, Sunset Overdrive and the EA Access service are all examples of this.
Even if the upcoming NX, whatever the heck it is, ends up being a really powerful system that’s simple to develop for, that’s not going to just magically fix Nintendo’s situation. In the time that third-parties have had such a tumultuous relationship with Nintendo, the Big N’s fans have grown closer and closer to the first-party offerings from the company. Nintendo’s hardware has become synonymous with their software even more so than during the NES and SNES eras. It’s not that Nintendo fans don’t enjoy playing non-Nintendo games, they’re just generally very skeptical of third-party releases simply due to the fact that they tend to be treated as second-class citizens when compared to everyone else.
Nintendo is the only console maker that has a first-party empire this big. Third-parties have spent years avoiding this and it’s not going to be easy to fix that.
All of that negativity isn’t just going to be magically remedied by the launch of one system; there’s a lack of trust from both the developers and Nintendo’s user-base. The only way for that to be fixed is if Nintendo actually starts paying (even if partially) third-parties to bring their multiplatform games to their system—they aren’t going to come willingly otherwise. But there’s another glaring variable that sets Nintendo apart: launch cycles.
Going with the more plausible release window, 2017 will be the year of the NX. There’s no real telling exactly when Sony and Microsoft will go ahead and replace their current systems—as a result, Nintendo is put at a disadvantage. As it stands, there are over 55 million rival systems out in the wild. By 2017, it could be as much as 65+ million. The PS4 and XBOX One are about to enjoy their most active year to date in terms of quality releases (no last-gen remasters, actual new games). I doubt that this generation will be as prolonged as the last, but let’s say at the most, the PS4 and XBO will be around for six years. That means they probably won’t be replaced until 2019—three whole years from now. If the NX releases either this or next year, there’s still going to be a period of time where its combating against its predecessors competitors; that’s the exact situation the Wii U was in. In addition to this, with the NX out and about, Sony and Microsoft will be better prepared to create machines that can outpace it.
Considering we’re reaching the point of diminishing returns when it comes to graphical quality, there’s a chance that the upgrade from this generation to next will be on par with what we got this go-around or potentially even smaller. That’s good news for Nintendo because that means that even if the next PS and XBOX systems are stronger, it probably won’t be by a huge amount. However, that’s just looking at it from a dominantly-positive standpoint.
As it stands, Nintendo is in a very sensitive position and they’re all by themselves. With only their fan-base and indie developers truly backing them, they literally have to go all out to win back the respect and attention of the rest of the industry. Analysts and journalists have spent years bad-mouthing Nintendo, while developers have just been ignoring them completely. When it comes down to their future, they either need to push their way pack into the thick of the industry, or continue to down their current exclusive path. Which decision is the right one as it relates to long-term success? Well, that’s an answer that can only come to fruition by a matter of trial—and error.
Having been introduced to video games at the age of 3 via a Nintendo 64, A.K has grown up in the culture. A fan of simulators and racers, with a soft spot for Nintendo! But, he has a great respect for the entire video game world and enjoys watching it all expand as a whole.