I have had the headline burning in my brain for a while now. Reading article after article of Nintendo’s Wii-U console sales being rather slow off the gate and falling behind not only in terms of numbers, but falling out of the minds of the gaming community at large. Consider the success of the Wii, which had sold a mind-boggling 100 million units. In December 2009, thanks to a price cut and New Super Mario Bros Wii coming out, it sold over three million in one month, smashing records in sales in a month and eventually bypassing the 360 and PS3 in terms of overall units sold. It had become a cultural phenomenon as well as a technological curiosity, bringing in kids and seniors alike, this kind of domination had not been within Nintendo’s reach since its last zenith with the Super Nintendo, a console that many consider to be the best of all time, yours truly included.
So what’s going on with Wii-U?
Unfortunately all is not as great in Nintendo Land, and I am not talking about the packaged in software with the console.
In a July 31/2013 article posted on IGN, Keza Macdonald breaks down Nintendo’s most recent financial results and showing that Nintendo’s “Not so much next-gen console” has all the makings of a lackluster money pit. According to the report, As of June 2013, the Wii-U has sold 3.6 million units since the launch, with a rather paltry 160,000 between April 2013 and end of June 2013. Oh, and those are worldwide results, not just Japan or North America or Europe. Not only that, but the only thing that is making Nintendo any kind of coin these days, are 3DS hardware and software sales, with software in particular outselling Wii-U software nearly ten to one. Now despite the Wii-U selling well below even the most conservative of financial forecasts, Nintendo remains optimistic by the end of the fiscal year in March 2014. This will be interesting to see how Nintendo fare during the holiday blitz that is Christmas time, considering most of the game playing populace will be clamoring for both Sony’s and Microsoft’s new consoles. But this is only tangible evidence of a company that is not what it once was. From a philosophical perspective, new and innovative has seemed to be replaced by a “Hey, let’s just do the same thing we did last time because that worked!” mentality. As an example, I took a look at the last few New Super Mario Bros games, and I would be hard pressed to find any meaningful difference between any of them, certainly not with the startling contrast one would find comparing say, Super Mario Bros 3 and Super Mario World.
Enter from stage right Sega.
Flashback to the Dreamcast, which between its infamous 09.09.09 launch and the guillotine treatment that it was given in March of ’01, was certainly an interesting period of time for game development. Despite the 18 months or so of popularity, the Dreamcast was fighting what would quickly become a losing war on several fronts. To start, the past was still biting Sega in the ass, with the dismal sales of the Saturn and the Sega CD which combined a total of 14 million units moved between the two of them, starting a decline in annual income that hit Sega pretty hard. Secondly, Sega had inadvertently shot itself in the proverbial foot with a newly acquired studio in the name of Visual Concepts who developed NFL 2K, the direct competitor to the all mighty pigskin powerhouse that was Madden. This certainly did not sit well with the heads of EA, who at the time were trying to ink an exclusivity deal with Sega as the premier sports provider for the console. With relations becoming more and more strained, EA walked away, and started to develop Madden for Sony’s Playstation 2, a console that put more than a few offerings of Gold, Frankencence and Myrrh in Sony’s bank account. Simply put, the biggest developer at the time had walked away from at the time, the most hyped console on the market.
Now let’s take this back to Nintendo, it is not exactly selling gangbusters on the Wii-U from a units perspective, it is only being kept afloat by the 3DS and it still is having to try to sell developers on the merits of the Wii-U, all the while having to endure inflammatory comments such as this. At the risk of sounding somewhat alarmist, there could be a very near future that has game consoles in homes, and none of them have Nintendo on them. A possibility that as someone who recognizes that there very well may not have been a games business as we know it today for if it were not for Nintendo is, well, f’ng weird!
So what are some possibilities for Nintendo in a case such as the company being operational, sans home console? A few I offer here.
1) Go straight handheld, and try to put all your dollars into taking chances with new IPs. Producing for the 3Ds while expensive, does still offer Nintendo the chance to produce or indeed even subsidize companies trying to make a game for the platform, and others that follow.
2) Go straight software. The fact of the matter is, in both the U.S. and Japan, Nintendo (and to a certain extent Sony and Microsoft) has been noticing that the cellular markets are very much competing in the gaming arena in the forms of IOS (More on Apple in a little bit) and Android mobile platforms. Nintendo could possibly licence out to these platforms as well as Microsoft or Sony and the highest bidder would most certainly prevail in the long run and pay damn good money for it. This could however easily be considered nothing more than a stopgap measure, one that Nintendo could play around with for as long as it desires, until it decides what direction that the company takes moving forward. This does run the risk of Nintendo losing it’s identity somewhat, a sentiment that Nintendo president Satoru Iwata has expressed himself.
3) Now this last idea is only if Nintendo’s shareholders are Defcon 1-ing all over the place and the stocks start taking a massive nosedive. Sell to Apple. Stick with me on this one. Apple has the cash, and with the base to guarantee the sales numbers, Nintendo has the weight to negotiate any kind of exclusivity deal it wants, and the terms that come with it. A bluetooth enabled Nintendo controller to allow me to play Link to the Past on my phone or Ipad? I do admit it would have a certain amount of appeal. While I can admit that this scenario is far-fetched to a certain degree, it does not completely escape the realm of possibility, and would give Nintendo a very big boost in terms of getting back into the forefront of the consumer. Plus, the closed off architecture of Apple would almost be a kickback to the strict QA processes that Nintendo of yesteryear was known for. Remember those Nintendo Seal of Approval stickers? I sure as hell did.
I also sure as hell remember when Nintendo made damn good games. Not only made damn good games, but published good third party titles as well. Let’s face it, anyone who does play games does hold a love for Nintendo to one degree or another. It doesn’t mean that Nintendo’s future is completely engulfed in some sort of creativity mire, but history does have a way of repeating itself, and I personally don’t think that the current situation that Nintendo finds itself in can be ignored forever, Sega tried that and as explained above, it paid the price. Consider this opinion piece one fan’s rally call. We all want to remember the things we love for the pleasant memories they brought us. I want to fondly remember the company that introduced me to a little boy who could wield a sword and a boomerang to save a kingdom called Hyrule, to a bounty hunter that battled alien parasites on distant planets, and finally,to a wee Italian plumber that could run, jump and fly, in worlds that were larger than life.