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The Future of Nintendo

BY LESLIE KIVETT

The future of NIntendo is one of many questions. Primarily, that of their home consoles. And with the Kyoto-based game company posting its first annual operating loss just last month, that seems to be even more the case. While no way indicative of future failures, it’s a sign that things haven’t gone as smoothly as Nintendo may have liked. And that’s why if the Wii U doesn’t make the big splash they’re expecting, it could mean a bit of a decline for the company in the future.

The first problem hurting the beloved developer is their current home console offering, the once famous, now infamous, Wii. When the Wii first launched back in 2006 it was in very high demand, attracting both hardcore and completely new gamers alike. It was a whole new experience for many, and for that reason it flourished. However, as years passed, the once glorious motion controlled rectangle was beginning to decline. This was due to most of its install base losing interest and there being almost no software for the more dedicated players. This has been the case ever since, with rare exceptions like The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Metroid Prime 3. Having your main platform practically cease to be relevant isn’t good for Nintendo’s future market, especially since their next release shares almost the exact same name, shape, and size. To the regular consumer, it might be a hard sell.

With their once strong Wii now all but left out of the current generation of consoles, NIntendo is relying on their line of hand-helds to keep them afloat. With the 3DS launching just over a year ago to a rocky reception thanks to a limited software lineup, many thought the device dead on arrival. But with the glasses-free 3D gadget sales reaching just over 17 million, it would seem that it’s picking up steam. The majority of those sales figures come from Japan where, thanks to an excellent line-up of games, including Monster Hunter 3G and Super Mario 3D Land, recently being made available.

The variable here, then, is that of success elsewhere. While sales in the U.S. have taken an upswing for largely the same reasons that they did in Japan, they still don’t meet what Nintendo had previously envisioned. A surprising fact when you consider the immense popularity of the original DS line of devices. But maybe the issue is similar to the one Nintendo is about to face with the Wii U, the brand association is too close. Parents who have already bought their children a DS, DS Lite, DSi, or a DSi XL see 3DS and think “You already have that”. Time will tell if the 3DS eventually rises to the challenge of meeting or exceeding the success of the original DS, but for now we’re left to wonder: If the Wii U doesn’t take off as expected, will Nintendo need to fall back on the 3DS to keep them in the running, having no home console to rely on? And will the 3DS be up to that task?

Finally, we come to the biggest question currently facing Nintendo: How will the Wii U fare? Will the brand association I mentioned earlier tie in to another rough launch? Or will it rise above the skepticism of many? And how about those controllers? What purpose will their tablet-like design serve? And will it be as fun and innovative as Nintendo hopes? For a more insightful take on the Wii U, we can only turn to the developers who currently have their hands on development kits for the upcoming console.

Many developers have expressed their own opinions on the Wii U, and while many remain anonymous, we can still get a feel for what might be in store. Just last month a group of anonymous devs’ spoke to GamesIndustry.biz, saying things like “...overall the Wii U just can’t keep up” when comparing the Wii U to the current generation Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. Another developer seemed to echo that opinion: “No, it’s not up to the same level as the PS3 or the 360” and “The graphics are just not as powerful”. If we’re to believe that a supposed “Next-Gen” console isn’t as powerful as the current generation offerings, then what does the Wii U have to offer that can, perhaps, not necessarily out perform the competition, but out wit it? Gearbox boss Randy Pitchford may know.

Although he didn’t specifically mention any reasons as to why, he did have this to say in an interview with Joystiq: “I think it’s a great platform and I’m really excited about it, particularly with this game...” he said, referring to Aliens: Colonial Marines, “There’s just so much cool stuff”. What secrets of the Wii U is Pitchford privy to that make him so excited for the Wii U and its version of Aliens? What aspects of the Wii U is he referring to when he says “so much cool stuff”? The controller, perhaps? Or is it more on the development tool side, as he also expressed his excitement therein.

But are Pitchford and Gearbox alone in that? Ken Levine, Creative Director on Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite at Irrational Games, has expressed his own excitement at the possibilities of the Wii U, although at that point he clarified that he had no plans in motion to develop a game for the platform. Even Crytek stood behind it in the past, with company CEO Cevat Yerli saying “Crytek’s support for the Wii U is definitely going to happen”. But now we hear that the recently announced Crysis 3 will be skipping the Wii U entirely. If not Crysis, then what? This is especially shocking considering Crysis 3 will be coming to Xbox 360 and PS3 with Director of Creative Development Rasmus Hjengaard claiming that they’ll be trying to squeeze DirectX 11 graphics onto those console versions. Can they not achieve that on the “Next-Gen” Wii U? Is that even possible at all?

As a true and devout NIntendo fan, I’m always excited for what they’ll do next, and I’m obviously excited to see what the Wii U will offer. But will the Wii U deliver? And if not, how will Nintendo get on? With so many details still unknown about the Wii U, pricing and release time being the largest among them, what are we to expect? If third party developers don’t come together for the console, will it follow the path of its predecessor? Going into a slow decline from the lack of software to keep it alive while Nintendo works on their first party games? Will those games be enough? And what of the recently announced ability to download full retail games, both first and third party directly to the console? Will this help usher in the next generation, or is it ahead of its time?

With so many questions and so many possibilities, one can only wonder what the future holds for Nintendo. While we’ll likely see more than a few great games on the Wii U in the future, whether they be in the form of an HD Zelda or a brand new 3rd party franchise, it’s hard to imagine the consoles overall future. Come E3, hopefully we’ll have some more answers. But for now, all we can do is wait, watch, and wildly speculate.