The simple answer to the question proposed in this article’s title is: don’t compete. Innovate and stand apart from the rest, produce something that is both unique and immediately intuitive for a mass audience, believe in the idea that the consumer doesn’t know what they want until they get it and execute command – simple, right? Regardless of whether Nintendo has built themselves a device capable of redefining gaming as we know it, they will need to avoid the treacherous pitfalls that have plagued its current home console, the misunderstood yet oh-so-appealing Wii U. By now industry followers are aware of the twelve million units sold for the Wii U and how these sales figures fare against the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One (AKA the Big Boys). Released a year before both consoles, the Wii U stumbles way behind Sony’s behemoth, which even as we speak is increasing beyond the announced 35-million units sold. The battle and the war is lost for the Wii U, but maybe some good can come of this devastating defeat. This isn’t the late 1980’s anymore and Nintendo can no longer lean on its ubiquity, so if they can’t deliver the evolution of gaming to our living rooms then how else can they ensure success and compete with the big boys with the release of the NX?
It’s telling that this is a time when the big boys, even with their lack of first-party exclusives, can still capitalise on the constant stream of AAA third-party titles. More-often-than-not the calendar for the Big Boys is perfectly laid out, ensuring there is never a gaming drought for the Big Boy faithful, more than can be said for the Wii U. Nintendo’s console might boast of its illustrious dominance in the first-party market, but 2016 appears to be the emptiest year yet, and while this might be due to the imminent arrival of its successor, Nintendo still needs the Nintendo faithful to adopt their new system. Nintendo will need to take a page out of the Big Boys’ book if it wants its NX to thrive in a highly competitive market.
One of the developers for popular Xbox One title Ori and the Blind Forest, Thomas Mahler, is already frustrated with Nintendo’s approach: he explains how ‘With Nintendo not having any devkits out there at this point and probably wanting to sell it in 2016, I can already guarantee that they’ll just not have any software support, since nobody can just jumble games together in less than a year.’ If this is Nintendo’s approach then there’s an immediate problem looming over the company and their historically unique outlook on the gaming industry. Nintendo will need to attract the Big Boy besties Ubisoft, Square Enix, EA etc if they’re to gain a foothold in the console market. Gamers game, and the Nintendo faithful might not be too happy if they’ve got nothing to play aside from very few first-party titles. The third-party studios needed the devkits months ago to truly understand the interactive implications for Nintendo’s new device, and – as Mahler mentioned – developers need time to create a good game. If developers don’t have the devkits by now it might already be too late.
Like it or not 1080p and 60fps are selling points that can prove detrimental to a title’s success. The Uncharted and Metal Gear Solid series are prime examples of top-quality games with high-end production values catered to those with a taste for the cinematic. Their reliance on an audience’s identification and familiarity with contemporary filmic tropes bridges the once-awkward gap between the world of video games and film/television. It’s this inter-textual satisfaction that guarantees the success of the huge AAA titles, and it’s only getting stronger with the likes of Kiefer Sutherland of 24 fame providing the voice of Snake in Metal Gear Solid 5 and Xbox One title Quantum Break incorporating live-action television excerpts into its narrative experience. Games with Mario in the title sell for certain, but would it hurt to expand the Nintendo horizon? Maybe an excursion into the cinematic? It’s no secret that the Wii U is notoriously difficult to develop for – the translation of AAA titles such as Batman Arkham City and Mass Effect 3 onto the Wii U proved both frustrating from a development point of view, and much too late especially when both games had been released on the competition’s consoles prior to the release of the Wii U. A lesson for Nintendo: make the console user-friendly to attract the developers, and then inspire them to create exclusive NX titles – games that wouldn’t be welcome in the Big Boys yard.
Finally, the consumer will need to know exactly what the NX is and what it can actually do. The E3 2011 debut of the Wii U proved divisive and, at best, confusing among consumers and industry professionals. Was it just a controller? Where’s the console? Was it a mere add-on for the Wii? Nintendo had failed dismally when explaining what the Wii U actually was, and it’s this shoddy marketing that predicated the Wii U downward trajectory. Nintendo will need to cascade the NX information with a focus on clarity and the surprise it has (so far) been successful in retaining, but they cannot afford to withhold any important information such as price, release date etc. Absolute transparency will work in Nintendo’s favour and could even sway the naysayers of the Big Boy faithful, but they will also require pace and a promisingly fresh launch line-up to give that extra push to those still sitting on the fence. To summarise: If Nintendo has a machine that is easily programmable to attract developers and said developer knows exactly what the machine can do, then soon the third-party will adopt the system and use what they know from other systems to adapt the formula for a Nintendo audience. Software sells gaming systems and only by doing this can Nintendo, itself, become one of the Big Boys – simple, right?