With no games beyond October’s Paper Mario: Color Splash on the release schedule, it is very clear that the Wii U’s final days are upon us. Fear not though, as the dawn of a new console generation looms in Nintendo’s near future; and with it comes the rumors, hopes, fears, and general curiosity that always seem to mark such an event. While we know very little about Nintendo’s new console, code named NX, much of the company’s future well being rests on this video game system’s success. Luckily for the big N, they have had quite a bit of experience in console launches, having released six home consoles over the past 33 years. Here are six lessons that Nintendo have hopefully learned from over three decades of console releases.
Nintendo Entertainment System (Famicom)
The Nintendo Entertainment System (otherwise known as the NES or the Famicom in Japan) was the system that made Nintendo a household name. It remains the second best selling Nintendo home console to this day with over 61 million units sold. Here is a key lesson Nintendo can take from it’s launch:
Know your market – part of the NES’ success is that it convinced consumers that it was a different sort of product than the consoles that caused the videogame crash of 1983. One way that is accomplished this was by marketing the system more as a toy and less as a gadget. The NES was sold in the toy aisle as opposed to the electronics department, and it even came packaged with a plastic robot that could “play” selected games with you in the form of R.O.B., the Robotic Operating Buddy. While the NX needs more than just children to be a success, Nintendo must not forget this demographic, and a likely key to their success is to cleverly market the console in a way that differentiates it from the current crop of gaming systems.
Console upgrades – way to steal parent’s money Nintendo
Super Nintendo Entertainment System (Super Famicom)
As the NES’ successor, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (the SNES) had some big shoes to fill. Due to SEGA’s aggressive push into the North American and European markets with the Megadrive/Genesis and the PC Engine (Turbo Grafx 16)’s relative success in Japan t was also the first Nintendo console to face some genuine competition. Nintendo can take the following from the SNES release:
Iterative design can lead to success….to a degree – The Super Nintendo was, much like it’s name implies, the NES taken to the next level. It employed many of the same strategies as it’s predecessor and it even had similar third party support. It was, however, more powerful, with bigger, more complex titles (often times sequels of NES titles). Even the controllers had extra buttons. These advances were enough for the SNES to eventually “win” it’s generation, but the console still sold worse overall than the NES and also lost significant market share. Nintendo would be wise to note that fans enjoy a sense of continuity and advancement when it comes to new systems, but also should remember that iterative advancements alone will not grow the potential user base.
The Nintendo 64 (N64) is one of Nintendo’s most beloved consoles, and for good reason. The system included many iconic titles in variety of genres, ranging from the first truly revolutionary console FPS in Goldeneye 007 to a game that defined what 3D platforming could be in Mario 64. It is also, in many ways, Nintendo’s first big misstep. (In the traditional home console market at least. The less said about the Virtual Boy the better.) The N64 launched relatively late into the 5th consoles generation, allowing newcomer Sony to attain quite a head start. The Sony Playstation would go on to be the second highest selling console of all time (after the Playstation 2) and would absolutely decimate the Nintendo 64 in overall sales. Nintendo would be wise to remember the following:
Third party support trumps hardware power – While Nintendo technically had the most powerful hardware of the generation and also had some amazing first party efforts, Sony had them beat hands down when it came to support from third party companies. It was these titles, and not Sony’s own efforts, that the system is remembered for. New franchises such as Tekken, Resident Evil, and Tomb Raider where a major draw on the system. In addition to this, companies that had once been staunch Nintendo supporters, such as Konami, Capcom, Enix, Namco and Squaresoft, were now either Sony exclusive (in the case of a series such as Final Fantasy) or half hearted ports (in the case of a game such as Megaman Legends). While Nintendo will likely never receive the same sort of support as Microsoft or Sony, they should still attempt to foster an environment where third party games can flourish.
C’mon, how can something that caused one kid so much hype be seen as a failure?
Prior to the Wii U, the GameCube was considered the benchmark for Nintendo failure. In a generation where the Playstation 2 would become the best selling video game system of all time with 155 million units sold, the Gamecube would struggle to sell over 21 million consoles. The system certainly has it’s merits. New and unique entries into classic Nintendo franchises, such as Super Mario Sunshine, Super Smash Bros. Melee, and Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker joined quirky new franchises such as Chibi-Robo and Pikmin. Third party support was certainly better than it was on the N64 (the Resident Evil series in particular comes to mind), but many “important” franchises like mainline Metal Gear (although the system did see a remake of the PS1 classic Metal Gear Solid in the form of Twin Snakes), Final Fantasy, and Grand Theft Auto skipped the Gamecube. Nintendo learned an important lesson this generation:
You can’t always fight fire with fire – Nintendo can not hope to compete head on with Sony and Microsoft. Nintendo does not have the same reputation amongst traditional core gamers, which puts them at a disadvantage with that market. In addition to this, while the GameCube managed to be sold at a profit, it is unlikely that Nintendo can continue to compete with Sony and Microsoft without creating a console that acts as a loss leader. Nintendo must make money off their hardware, and they do not have other divisions besides gaming to draw from, so they are literally unable to have the most powerful console on the market in the current gaming climate. When they do offer a similar experience, as they did with the Gamecube, even when it is augmented by quality Nintendo titles, it does not have enough appeal to grab a significant amount of the traditional market that have largely moved on to the type of experiences Sony was offering.
The Wii, Nintendo’s golden goose, is the company’s best selling home console with over 100 million units sold. It was also a bit of a cultural phenomenon, as motion controls in general (and Wii Sports in particular) became massive worldwide hits. The concept of motion controls was a disruptive factor in the video game industry, and it appealed not only to traditional gamers but also to a wide variety of individuals that would not normally be considered “gamers.” The system would be home to many of the best selling video games of all time, and it would do so on what was widely considered to be “outdated” hardware! Nintendo needs to remember the reasons for the Wii’s success:
A gimmick can be a market disruptor – but only if it is innovative and has appealing software – Many people fail to recognize the fact that the Wii sold a substantial amount of software in addition to hardware. Motion controls only worked as well as they did because Nintendo had developed the proper game to show them off. Wii Sports was a game that could be seen played anywhere from old folks homes to cruise ship recreation areas. It was really that software the pushed the hardware. On top of that, Motion Controls are an intuitive and novel addition to gaming. This means that it appeals to many and actually lowers the barrier of entry for non-gamers. “Gimmicks” absolutely can sell massive amounts of hardware…but they have to be innovative, accessible, and also have the right games showcasing their strengths.
Proof on concept on motion controls – it was actually exciting once upon a time
The Wii U, despite Nintendo’s best efforts, would end up being the company’s biggest failure since the Virtual Boy. The system launched in 2012, which would result in the console being released at the tail end of the the Xbox 360 and PS3’s life cycles. The Wii U would therefore be seen as a contemporary of those consoles, and was already old hat by the time the much more powerful Xbox One and PS4 would launch. The system’s main selling point is it’s tablet like controller. While this hardware was used to great effect in games such as Mario Maker and Splatoon, it failed to disrupt the market in the same way that motion controls had done in the previous generation. Nintendo can learn the following from the Wii U launch:
A system needs clear marketing and a defined mission statement- The Wii U was a mess from its outset, as people were confused on just what it was. Part of this is likely due to overall accessory fatigue with the Wii, what with Balance Boards and Steering Wheels and Wii Motion Plus’ coming out as regularly as they did. That being the case, the average consumer could be forgiven for thinking it was just a tablet addon for the original Wii console. The name confused things further, as the the Wii branding lent itself to those sort of thoughts. On top of this, it would be difficult to pinpoint exactly who this system was for. The expanded market that had bought the Wii would not be attached to the dual analogue layout, and touchscreen control were far from disruptive. Hardcore gamers would like give it a pass as it would be underpowered compared to Microsoft and Sony’s future offerings. The system seemed as if it was an unneeded compromise that catered to no one.
…To be determined. Current rumors suggest that this system might actually be a hybrid. Hybrid or not, Nintendo would be wise to look to their past when planning out their future.