Nintendo certainly pick their moments. What started as a quiet Tuesday morning turned into a media frenzy as they nonchalantly announced that they're working on a "new hardware system" codenamed Nintendo NX. It's a cool name, and as you'd expect, the internet exploded. Nintendo and NX are still trending at the time of writing and there are already loads of armchair articles speculating about what the new console (if indeed it is a console) could bring to the table. What is it? Could it be a console/handheld hybrid? A mobile streaming box? The New Wii U?
So I was about to jump on the bandwagon myself with a barely-informed speculation piece, but the more I thought about it, the more convinced I am that Nintendo NX isn't the real story here. In fact, you could argue that it's barely newsworthy at all, and is actually overshadowing the truly big news that Nintendo announced yesterday.
See, console manufacturers are always developing new hardware. They never stop. Now considering that console cycles tend to last roughly five years (the last generation was a fluke), this puts Nintendo's next machine in the frame for 2017... which completely tallies with their promise of a reveal next year. The headline, then, is "console manufacturer makes consoles." No, I don't think that we're going to stop the presses.
Instead, let's take a look at the real scoop: Nintendo's first true foray into mobile games and the mysterious new membership service.
First off, mobile games. This is huge. Ninty CEO Saturo Iwata has been fighting the pressure to develop mobile games for years despite fierce calls from investors and shareholders, and it seems that he's finally caved. They've decided to shack up with DeNA, who after some cursory Googling, looks to be a fairly suitable partner seeing as they currently own Mobage and app developer ngmoco.
“Both companies will develop and operate new game apps based on Nintendo’s IP, including its iconic game characters, for smart devices,” reads the announcement. “To ensure the quality of game experience that consumers expect from this alliance of Nintendo and DeNA, only new original games optimised for smart device functionality will be created, rather than porting games created specifically for the Wii U home console or the Nintendo 3DS portable system.”
This is actually a great idea in theory. We've long laughed at the idea of Nintendo just porting over platformers and having to somehow trigger Yoshi's flutter jump using poxy touchscreen virtual inputs, but more focused development could pay off in spades. Nintendo are the kings of perfectly creating software for particular hardware gimmicks and input devices, such as we saw with the original Wii, though of course they need to do a lot more in terms of GamePad-heavy Wii U titles.
The idea is brilliant, especially since it would allow for companion apps and games to help push people towards Wii U or 3DS titles, while there's no denying that there's scope for adapting some of the more niche franchises. After all, the NES Remix games could work brilliantly if retooled for mobile devices. Nintendo and DeNA could well help to bring some class back to mobile development and prove that there's absolutely a space for quality premium games on iOS and Android.
However, as we know, mobile development has a dark side. A dark side we've seen with Pokemon Shuffle on the 3DS and a nasty temptation to make the quick buck. "Just think of paying 99 cents just to get Mario to jump a little higher," said an American shareholder last year. We hope that Nintendo will be breathing down DeNA's neck when it comes to how their crossover titles are monetised. If handled right, it could massively improve Nintendo's fortunes. If botched they'll be a laughing stock. Huge. Absolutely huge.
And then there's the new membership service.
"Nintendo, together withDeNA, will jointly develop a new membership service which encompasses the existing Nintendo 3DS and Wii U systems, the new hardware system with a brand-new concept, NX, and smart devices and PCs, and Nintendo will be the primary party to operate this new membership service," Iwata explained.
"Unlike the Club Nintendo membership service that Nintendo has been operating, the new membership service will include multiple devices and create a connection between Nintendo and each individual consumer regardless of the device the consumer uses. This membership will form one of the core elements of the new Nintendo platform that I just mentioned."
It's interesting that Nintendo plans to properly unify their devices and services, and about time too. Though Nintendo Network IDs and MiiVerse went some way towards providing a decent cloud-based account service, the way that purchases and user accounts are currently handled is primitive at best and there's huge scope for improvement. Plus, with Club Nintendo closing its doors later this year, there's absolutely room for a loyalty scheme to be folded directly into existing accounts rather than being a separate service. Perhaps something like Xbox Live Rewards, only hopefully better.
In many ways, I wonder if Nintendo mentioned the NX specifically to quell the inevitable backlash that would have otherwise followed this press conference. "Nintendo are abandoning consoles." "Nintendo don't care about real gaming." "Nintendo why are you forsaking us?" Well, that'll shut them up. Alluding to upcoming hardware assures fans that there's still more to look forward to, but on the flip-side, has also completely overshadowed what will really matter for both gamers and Nintendo in the short term. We look forward to seeing what comes of it.
But hey, that NX, right? Right?
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