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Nintendo’s Mobile Plans and the “NX” Are a New Low for the Company

The Japanese company's latest strategy to stay relevant dishonors their legacy and their fans.

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Nintendo is in dire straits. This is no surprise considering the year after year poor sales of the Wii U and predictions by analysts that developing mobile games would not only save the company, but be overall more profitable than their current home console business.

Nintendo fans balked at the talk of Nintendo games and characters landing on other systems (especially mobile) as laughable and unworthy of Nintendo’s legacy. Fast forward to 2015 with Nintendo’s abysmal prospects of remaining relevant in the competitive home console market, and we now have a reality that matches the analysts’ predictions from as far as two years ago.

This news is interesting because it is prefaced by two very important factors:

  1. Nintendo also announced the development of a new system simply titled “NX” that we will not get details of until 2016.
  2. Nintendo is set to announce their end of year financial reports at the end of March.

The timing of this could not be better for Nintendo coming off a poor year of console sales. Even with the moderate success of titles like Smash Bros., Pokemon, or the recent re-release of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, the software numbers for these sales do not stack up against the astronomical numbers obtained by multi-platform titles or exclusives on Xbox One or PlayStation 4.

The reason Nintendo cannot generate those kinds of numbers is simply because the Wii U does not have the market strength of either of its current competitors or even the previous Wii console. This hurts their overall bottom line consistently and is getting worse over time.

While this news isn’t surprising, it seems fiscally logical that they look into expanding into developing for mobile hardware other than their own systems. There are however several intriguing items that come out of this news that raises concerns.

First, fan reaction to this makes no sense at all. Going over comments in sites like My Nintendo News or Kotaku, I expected there to be some sort of outrage or feelings of betrayal from fans at the fact that this is Nintendo basically moving away from their own hardware and allowing mobile games of their IP’s. But the fan reaction seems to be positive. Sega announced almost the same strategy a month ago, with the exception that they were basically done with console development and moving to PC and mobile games only. The online reaction to Sega’s news was basically that of doom and gloom, with statements that Sega as a company was pretty much dead.

So my question is: why can Sega and Nintendo announce almost the same strategy and the reactions be completely different? Nintendo fans seem to be vehemently against Nintendo IP’s appearing on any other hardware except Nintendo made systems, yet seem completely fine with Nintendo heading into the mobile market.

Nintendo IP's on your mobile phone coming soon! Open your wallets!
Nintendo IP’s on your mobile phone coming soon! Open your wallets!

Secondly, as a console gamer, I hate most of the philosophies used in some of the most popular mobile games. Candy Crush Saga, Clash of Clans, Game of War, and many others all use a “free-to-play” model but basically require in-game micro-transactions to actually advance and win the game, or “Pay-To-Win.” This type of model is what Nintendo and DeNA are looking to provide with Nintendo mobile IP’s as well. While those models are very profitable, they are also reprehensible and insulting to core gamers.

By their own admission, at the press conference in Japan on Tuesday, Shintaro Asako, CEO of DeNA mobile, said “The game should attract a huge range of people. We wanted to get a huge audience like Candy Crush, like 100 million users.” They not only want to emulate Candy Crush, but surpass it. This means that DeNA and Nintendo are willing to emulate and push a far more aggressive “Pay-To-Win” model of mobile games on their customers.

Nintendo has recently been testing this model with the recent release of the free-to-play Pokemon Shuffle game for 3DS. The game is free but in order to play it for long durations, or to unlock certain features, it requires players to pay through the Nintendo eShop.

“While those models are very profitable, they are also reprehensible and insulting to core gamers.”

My opinion as a long time gamer and Nintendo fan is that this is a new low for the company. Nintendo always created games and innovated with a certain amount of class and dignity. Sure, there was the late 80’s and early 90’s licensing boom for Nintendo that led to a glut of silly products like cereals, TV shows, and even the horrendous Super Mario Bros. movie. But all these were licensed outside of Nintendo, they were not created or produced by the company itself. Even the notorious Nintendo-Phillips deal back in 1991 to create the ill-fated Super Nintendo CD add-on that allowed Phillips to produced god-awful games using Nintendo IP’s like Hotel Mario or Zelda: Wand of Gamelon didn’t produce anything this insulting to the modern console gamer.

Nintendo knows the financial situation they’re in is poor and if they plan to make a shift in their systems by replacing the failing Wii U console with something viable like the proposed “NX” system, then they need revenue to get them to that goal. The problem is that while this mobile deal will probably net them that revenue, it is definitely taking the low road to get there.

Over a year ago, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata said at an investors meeting “The Wii U isn’t in good shape. That’s the presumption we have as we consider reform.” Come to 2015 and even after another year with new software for the system and boasting sales figures for titles like Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart 8, the Wii U is still not in good shape.

In a recent interview with Time, Iwata said himself that the Wii U is not people’s first choice for consoles. “It may not be [people’s] first console of choice, but they recognize it as perhaps the best second console,” Iwata says in the interview. This amounts to the admittance that most gamers today don’t care about Nintendo, and that the owners of the systems are basically buying them to have access to exclusives, which has not amounted to much in terms of sales.

In the era of the Wii U and Nintendo’s decline in the console market, I would have wanted them to either become a 100% software developer and create great IP’s on other systems, or pull their heads out of their ass and actually start innovating in the industry they helped save and lead to prosperity in the 1980’s.

My problem is with the consistently poor decisions and conduct of Nintendo as a company since the Wii U launch, I don’t have much faith that the “NX” will be their answer to the PS4 or Xbox One. Nintendo has been testing the waters of mobile gaming and have now penned a deal to get their IP’s onto mobile platforms. With mobile on their minds and the potential sales they’re projecting for their IP’s, would they really invest in another home console? I don’t think the “NX” system is going to be a full console at all.

NIntendo
NIntendo “NX” prototype – courtesy of gambitmag.com

I believe from these trends that we’re possibly looking at Nintendo transitioning into the mobile gaming market in the slowest and gentlest way that they know how, and “NX” will be their own proprietary, custom mobile tablet platform. Think about that for a minute. Nintendo making a tablet gaming system that would replace both the 3DS and Wii U, have a unified marketplace with other mobile platforms, and possibly come with some sort of dock station to connect it to a home TV, network, and controllers? Conjecture? Madness??! To be honest, I don’t know anymore when it comes to Nintendo.

The “NX” system could be something great if Nintendo was the company it used to be and they really tried to put something into the console market that had the power and connectivity to actually compete with Microsoft and Sony. But if I’m right, and the “NX” turns out to be a tablet gaming device (in an already crowded tablet and mobile space), I think Nintendo better pack up their ball and go home.

Also, everyone should realize at this point that if Nintendo had this giant war chest of money to continue operating for years despite their huge losses, then why the hell would they whore out their IP’s for mobile games fashioned on the micro-transaction model of games like Candy Crush Saga? The simple answer to this is they don’t have the savings to continue to eat losses in the game hardware market. The Wii U has been nothing short of a disaster for them and it has come time to cut the losses. This deal with DeNA for mobile games is the first step in a possible exit strategy for Nintendo from the traditional game hardware market.

“The Wii U has been nothing short of a disaster for them and it has come time to cut the losses.”

It is sad because this is really the low road Nintendo is taking with its franchises to make short term profits. No doubt that slapping Mario, Link, Pikachu, Donkey Kong, or the rest of their beloved characters onto games that gouge players for every nickel and dime as they play will net Nintendo money. But this money could have been earned in a way that would honor their fans, customers, the industry in general, and honor their legacy.

This is what should have happened this gen for Nintendo to get back on track:

  1. Iwata, Miyamoto, and the rest of the aging upper echelon of Nintendo should have stepped down and let fresh blood in as to encourage real innovation. They have done great things at the company for many years but their adherence to tradition and the inability to further innovate or look at market trends and competitors’ success in the same industry is dragging the company down.
  2. Nintendo should trust their western studios (Retro, NTD, Next Level Games) with their big franchises so that new ideas can evolve. The complete lack of trust outside of the main dev houses in Japan or preferring to partner with Japanese studios is ridiculous and has been costing them time after time. Metroid: Other M was an ill-received example, a project preferably given to Team Ninja at Temco instead of Retro Studios who produced hit after hit with the Metroid Prime series. They should allow their western studios to make new games using ANY and ALL of their main IP characters.
  3. Let Game Freak (the developers who make the main Pokemon games) make something else. Seriously, these guys can make other games. Take a fucking break from Pokemon, seriously.
  4. Put Mario on the shelf. There are other Nintendo IP’s that could use some love. Super Mario Bros. peaked with Super Mario World back on the SNES. It hasn’t gotten better, I don’t care what people think of Super Mario Galaxy or Super Mario 3D Land. I’ve played them all, Super Mario World was the best. After that, it’s tired. Let Jumpman be an icon. Disney isn’t shoveling out Mickey Mouse cartoons and shoving him everywhere. Let Mario take on an icon role, have some cameos, maybe even a few fun sports games like Super Mario Strikers.
  5. Instead of investing resources in all this outside research into “Quality of Life” products or mobile games, why the hell isn’t Nintendo making more games? Why aren’t all their development houses working double time on everything they have to put out some content on the Wii U that is actually going to get core gamers back on their systems? Nintendo only has nine games launching total in 2015. Out of those nine, only seven are developed by Nintendo, and only two have definite release dates in 2015. This is sad because if you look up what each Nintendo studio has in their pipeline, it is really sparse.
  6. Nintendo needs to eat some humble pie and court third party developers. EA, Activision, Ubisoft, Bethesda, and other publishers and developers have basically given the Wii U the middle finger. This is because Nintendo treats third party developers like dirt and doesn’t provide them with the quality support they need in terms of console API’s, assets, translation issues, and overall system and development kit technical support. This has resulted in wasted development time, money, and created a rift between Nintendo and western publishers and dev houses. They should have been giving all these guys test dev kits of the Wii U beforehand and gotten input from all of them to improve the console before it even launched. They need to fix that rift ASAP.

There could be a bigger list, but these things in my opinion would have really helped Nintendo in a way that could honor their legacy instead of prostituting it out for cheap, easy mobile games. They could have retained and built relationships with third party developers and publishers and held onto big franchises like Call of Duty, Madden, Assassin’s Creed, and so on. Now Nintendo is in a position where it is impossible to get to the next goal without resorting to “aggressively licensing their IP’s.”

***

There is nothing wrong with mobile games if they aren’t built on the sleazy microtransaction, “pay-to-win” model. Plenty of mobile games are great. Candy Crush Saga isn’t an example of that. It is the lowest common denominator, cash grabbing idea that DeNA and Nintendo want to emulate.

All this mobile research and deals wasn’t for customer benefit either. This is around the time Nintendo has to give their annual financial report to the shareholders. Those are the people that Nintendo is answering to and trying to please. Sorry gamers and fanboys, it was never about us as loyal customers. This mobile deal and the “NX” brief mention only keeps the shareholders and investors happy for another year and Iwata keeps his job. We all get to scratch our heads and rationalize all of this, but it becomes clear when you realize who Nintendo is really catering to: its shareholders.

And what if this mobile venture actually works out like gangbusters for Nintendo? What if they meet or exceed their expectations? Does anyone honestly think that they will keep one foot in a console market that they are in a distant third place and hemorrhaging money? As stubborn as they are, Nintendo has made it clear that smiles are not as important to them as money. They will firmly plant both feet in mobile gaming if it garners them the returns they are estimating. Nintendo will exit the console market that they no longer dominate at that point.

Well what about the “NX”? Like I said before, just looking at what is happening with Nintendo, my guess is that it will most likely follow along with their mobile plans and be some sort of high powered proprietary tablet system that will replace the 3DS and Wii U simultaneously. It will not be the traditional home console system that everybody is expecting them to make. Nintendo has not met any gamer expectations in the last few years so I don’t expect them to in the near future.

Nintendo has made their move, and it isn’t in gamers best interests. They need money to continue to survive, and they will stoop to selling out to the lowest tier of mobile gaming to keep going. It’s even sadder that it didn’t need to be this way. Nintendo refused to adapt with the times. It refused to grow up with its core fanbase. It stifled innovation to keep traditional. Now they are paying the price and are selling their souls to stay in the game.

About The Author
Chris Sealy Contributing Writer
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