In the wake of Sony’s phenomenal showing at its ‘Playstation Experience 2015’ event last night, it’s not at all surprising to discover that Nintendo is planning to offset Sony’s PS4 hype-train with its very own big announcement come Monday 07 December 2015. Speaking to Nintendo World Report, Nintendo’s Senior Manager of Publisher & Developer Relations, Damon Baker had the following to say: “Speaking of announcements, I wish I could tell you guys, but stay tuned for Monday. Monday there’s going to be something… something happening on Monday. It’s going to be big”.
Now unlike former Nintendo Treehouse localiser Chris Pranger’s appearance on Part-Time Gamers, an unsanctioned move that ultimately cost the Nintendo employee his “dream job”, it appears that Damon Baker’s time with the press on this occasion is very much a timely ploy spearheaded (and authorised) by Nintendo so as to drum up fan support at a time when the company sees itself losing the crucial pre-Christmas PR battle against staunch established rivals Microsoft and Sony. So what can Nintendo do to counter Microsoft’s and Sony’s double threat?
With the NX still not predicted to be out until mid 2016 (at the very earliest), the only salvo Nintendo has going into the Christmas season is its current Wii U platform. Whilst many have clamoured for a Wii U price drop in recent months, the recently announced Splatoon / Mario Kart 8 Wii U bundle puts paid to such a notion as the pack was only recently unveiled in October 2015 and retails for £239.99. In light of this, any further official price-drops seem highly unlikely. But then one wonders as to whether the Wii U at that price can even conceivably be considered as being an attractive proposition, especially when an ‘Xbox One 1Tb + Fallout 4 + Fallout 3 + Call of Duty : Black Ops III + Steelbook’ bundle can be had for £269.40 whilst a ‘Sony PS4 White 500GB C-Chassiss model with GTA V, Fallout 4 and Uncharted Collection’ bundle can be had for £299.99. Both of those consoles are only marginally more expensive than Nintendo’s Wii U, have considerable more power, are more future proof and will have a longer shelf life, and have more games associated with them. In other words, the XBox One and PS4 offer better value for money from the outset.
Even if the barrier to entry with the Wii U is comparatively higher from the outset, Nintendo can still appropriate its 3DS ‘Nintendo Selects’ strategy by re-releasing Wii U classics at a discounted price. Since 1996, Nintendo has often done this for its platforms (such as Wii, Gamecube, N64, SNES, GB, GBA) to great effect and has enjoyed sterling success as a consequence. Not only has this strategy reinvigorated sales of the platform but has also bolstered software sales in the past. The Wii U enjoys a formidable library of classics and it’ll be folly for Nintendo to not enable more cash-strapped gamers to enjoy what is ultimately some of the company’s greatest games in recent memory. At the same time however, and despite the fact that the Wii U has an enviable first party library, very few of its games are worth the £30-40 price tag two years after release.
With Sony announcing both new IP and remakes / sequels to popular franchises at its Playstation Experience event this year, Nintendo could follow suit by either announcing their own new title (developed in-house or in tandem with a third party developer), or once again mining fan nostalgia by announcing a new entry to an existing franchise (like Metroid) or a HD re-release to an old classic (like the often-requested F-Zero GX). With fans often clamouring for more of what they already tangibly know, Nintendo has often shied away from developing new IP as there’s been little guarantee that its games would do well at retail despite their underlying quality. Indeed, whilst The Wonderful 101 unfathomably bombed at retail, the ridiculously over-rated Splatoon positively soared with over 1 million units sold in 1 month. With these unpredictable results, it’s no surprise to discover therefore that Nintendo has become increasingly risk-averse as the industry stakes have become increasingly higher. But with little choice of relying on tried and tested franchises, and with their popularity arguably diminishing in recent years, if Nintendo are to opt for announcing a game that is tied to an existing franchise, then this move would once again confirm naysayer expectations who argue that Nintendo makes the same games over and over again.
Given that Nintendo has a tradition of only ever releasing one title to a franchise per generation, and with the Wii U already having received the majority of Nindendo’s stock franchises, the only games that Nintendo could conceivably announce in the foreseeable future (that aren’t earmarked for release already ala Starfox) are Pilotwings, Metroid and F-Zero – none of which are considered as “system-sellers” or as constituting being a “big announcement” as the games don’t sell sufficient units.
Before his untimely death earlier this year, Satoru Iwata once stated that “the fate of a video game system is often influenced greatly by the introduction of a single title”. Believing either Mario Kart 8 and / or Super Smash Bros to be those titles, their eventual release (despite strong software sales) did little to salvage the Wii U’s ailing fortunes. But with Splatoon also contributing towards an increase in Wii U sales, and despite expectations to the contrary, Nintendo announced Splatoon‘s pre-release strategy as having plenty of free DLC post-release with new maps and guns. This strategy has also increased the long-term appeal (and shelf life) of Super Smash Bros as the game has also enjoyed plenty of DLC post-launch with Nintendo recently announcing Final Fantasy 7‘s Cloud Strife as joining the ever-growing roster of playable fighters outside of Nintendo’s stable of characters.
So with Splatoon and Super Smash Bros already taken care of, the only other incredibly popular Nintendo title that could benefit from post-release DLC is Mario Kart 8. With a bare-bones release schedule for next year, it would make sense for Nintendo to announce (paid-for or free) DLC for what is the best incarnation of its kart racing game to date as this would not only pad out the Wii U’s release schedule at little expense, but would reignite interest in what is ultimately still an incredibly popular title. Of course, and similar to what Techland are doing with their GoTY version of Dying Light: Enhanced Edition (which includes numerous game enhancements as well as ‘The Following’ expansion), Nintendo could follow suit by also releasing a GoTY version of Mario Kart 8 which includes all previous DLC as well as additional bonuses such as extra tracks, cars and characters.
Finally, there’s the NX. With Nintendo having already stated on numerous occasions that there will be no news incoming about the Wii U’s successor until 2016, the most that fans can expect from Nintendo is an announcement of an announcement regarding the console reveal.
Ultimately, what can Nintendo announce that will leverage its industry cache and give fans something to clamour for in the Christmas season and 2016? The company no longer enjoys sufficient clout by having extensive third party support. Its established stock franchises and game offerings (regardless of perceived quality) hold diminishing appeal for long-time fans who have become increasingly jaded by the company’s insistence on its “done to death 20 year repeats with ‘New’ stuck in front of” its products. The Wii U console and n3DS handheld have both been left to languish with extensive software droughts and sub-par releases that aren’t exactly inspiring confidence among those who are still on the fence and who want to be assured that their hardware purchase will be a viable long-term investment. And then there is the notion of wanting to consider the forthcoming NX…
With Nintendo rumoured to be targeting its NX to sell 10-12 million units by the end of 2016, all signs point to the Wii U’s successor as being priced lower than its competitors and again being underpowered in comparison to the competition. With the company resolutely sticking to its guns of wanting to offer something different in comparison to the competition, many are speculating that the NX will continue the company’s tradition of eschewing power in favour of gimmicks that don’t quite revolutionise the way gamers play. Of course, and with third party support being practically non-existent, Nintendo will again be left with the burden of single-handedly championing its hardware with its own in-house developed games. Due to this, Nintendo aren’t in a position to rely upon third-party licensing fees to bolster its finances, and because of less-than-stellar sales of key franchises in the past, the company can’t afford to invest a lot of development resources into key software projects without knowing that these will recoup.
It’s a Catch 22 situation. Nintendo can’t afford to manufacture and market its NX on technical merits alone as the resultant price-tag would only end up deterring any would-be buyers who already are aware of the PS4 and XBox One as offering better value for money – not least in terms of having libraries that offer richer variety, are substantially more supported by third-party developers, and host many of today’s popular franchises – such as CoD, GTA, Assassins Creed etc. In this regard therefore, and so as to ensure that there is sufficient sell-through of its games in order to eke out a profit, the only hope that Nintendo has is to make a console that is sufficiently cheap enough (like the Wii) so as to be considered an impulse purchase by those who want a low cost console “for the kids” and / or a second platform. In short, the vast majority of Nintendo’s stock franchises aren’t considered as being system sellers and don’t justify a high price tag (with the Wii U being a great example).
But if that happens, what will be the fate of the NX three years after release? Will NX owners again be confronted with a situation similar to the one Wii U owners faced with the cancellation of Project CARS? And what about software releases on competing consoles that are actually wanted en-masse by gaming audiences and that offer a “next-gen” experience unimpeded by technical restraints? For example, the latest trailer for Final Fantasy 7 Remake not only shows off the PS4’s technical abilities but also rams home the notion of what can be achieved when software designers aren’t constrained by technical limitations.
And if that wasn’t enough, and despite Nintendo’s Reggie Fils-Aime’s out of step assertion that VR isn’t fun – as if the Wii Remote / Nunchuk “waggle” combo ever was for a vast amount of games (like The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Donkey Kong Country Returns) – Sony out-Nintendo’d Nintendo by ramming home a technical “gimmick” that not only paved the way for what the future offered, but also promised a new way for audiences to re-experience age-old classics.
Somehow I get the feeling that Nintendo’s forthcoming Legend of Zelda game in development (mooted for release on Wii U but most likely shifted over for a fuller-fledged NX release) will have a lot to live up to. Regardless of how beautiful the game ends up being, when the market already has open-world titles like The Witcher 3, Metal Gear Solid 5, and Fallout 4 – games that represent the pinnacle of their genres, have incredibly high production values, and are routinely being touted as ‘Game of the Year’ material – for Nintendo’s game to stand out it’ll have to be something incredibly special indeed. The Wii U’s install base is too meagre to justify the vast resources that Nintendo has expended towards the project, and based on what’s already been shown, it’s unlikely that the Wii U has the necessary technical prowess to fully live up to Mr Aonuma’s and Mr Miyamoto’s vision.
But then again, and despite heated competition, with the recently released Xenoblade Chronicles X clamouring to offer “2015’s most impressive open world”, maybe there’s still hope for Nintendo, it’s Wii U, and its yet to publicly unveiled NX. After all, if games like Xenoblade Chronicles X and Mario Kart 8 can capably demonstrate what the Wii U is capable of, and if handled right, then The Legend of Zelda should be more than adept at holding its own in the face of what XBox One and PS4 have to offer.
Nintendo fans often state that one should never underestimate Nintendo. But in light of Nintendo’s previous attempts to hype its own activity and products in the past, only to then bitterly disappoint fans who were hoping for evidence that Nintendo is more than capable of holding its own, it’ll take something truly special for Nintendo to counter Sony’s Playstation Experience 2015 event. And with Microsoft and Sony both opening up their current gen libraries to incorporate legacy platforms, the only “big announcement” that will foreseeably allow Nintendo to live up to fan expectation is news about its NX platform, The Legend of Zelda game, or its new Account System (currently in Japan) which allows consumers to carry over their eShop purchases to future consoles. Anything else and Nintendo / Damon Baker would have just found themselves in an all-too-familiar scenario of hyping up expectations only to then end up wasting everyone’s time.