Thursday, May 7, 2015

What I Expect from "NX" and Nintendo's Partnership with DeNA

The house that Mario built is expanding.

Nintendo has been fighting an uphill battle for its share of the gaming landscape ever since the Wii U launched several years ago.  Nintendo has, until recently, held fast in their opinion that smartphones and new hardware could not right the ship and turn the company back to huge quarter to quarter profits.  With the recent announcement of a partnership with DeNA and a teaser mention of a new hardware platform code named “NX,” the future of Nintendo is starting to pique the interest of fans and critics alike.

Software Expansion with DeNA

Can DeNA help future-proof Nintendo's approach to smart devices?

Here is a link to a detailed press release concerning the partnership between Nintendo and DeNA.  There are two primary takeaways from the announcement.
  1. With DeNA’s expertise in tow, Nintendo software and intellectual property will finally expand to smart devices with the plan that these applications will turn people towards Nintendo’s primary delivery platforms, i.e. their hardware.  The software in question will all be newly developed and optimized for the platform expansion, so people expecting ports of classic titles will have to continue looking elsewhere.
  2. Again with DeNA’s assistance, Nintendo is ready to modernize their account system to include multiple devices and delivery platforms.  This is the near term promise, targeting Fall 2015, that Nintendo is giving fans to help satisfy a few major complaints.  The new approach will include existing Nintendo devices, 3DS and Wii U are both mentioned in the press release, as well as future hardware.  It appears that the system will have a broad range of capabilities, possibly including rewards as the long running Club Nintendo program was officially closed down this year to make room for the future.
This is a big step for a company that has been firmly entrenched in tradition and independence.  Nintendo is famous for shunning partnerships with other large companies like Sony throughout its history, so this agreement in and of itself shows the company’s new-found willingness to adapt to the changing market.  It also in some ways may be interpreted as an admission of failure in some sense.  Nintendo has struggled to modernize the way it manages its consumers.  Current Nintendo hardware has difficulty tracking the software an individual has purchased, and system to system transfers are often ridiculed for being overly complex and unintuitive.  Features taken for granted on other systems like account level achievements and cloud saves have never been available from Nintendo either.

Future Hardware & the Potential of "NX"

Will the "NX" merge these two devices into a new hybrid machine?

Here is another look at a press release from March when these initiatives were announced, this time directly from Nintendo.  Mr. Iwata positioned the “NX” hardware announcement as a promise to remain in the dedicated console business, but the potential is a lot greater than just keeping Nintendo in the hardware business.

Nintendo has hinted for some time that they are cooking a unified operating system up in their labs.  As seen in sales figures, their bread and butter remains in their handheld devices.  The 3DS family, much like the DS and Game Boy families before it, dominate the marketplace for dedicated mobile gaming hardware.  The landscape is trickier today with tablets and smartphones, but Nintendo has still found a way to stay profitable in this arena.  With the exception of the Wii, their entries in the home console market have not been as dominant for several console cycles.  The Gamecube and Wii U in particular have been dramatically outpaced by other dedicated hardware from competitors in their respective generations.  A unified operating system that allows you to play your games at home or on the go on Nintendo developed hardware would allow Nintendo to turn its strengths into a bigger asset and make its weaknesses less of a liability.

What other benefits does a unified platform bring to the table?  Picture an HD capable, wide screen tablet device similar to the Wii U controller, but not quite as bulky.  Something that could be used as a primary controller for your home console.  Imagine if you could untether it from the home console box and bring it with you when you leave the house.  A lot of people initially believed that this was core functionality of the Wii U, a system whose strong suit is allowing people to use the controller’s screen as the primary method of consuming content, often while another person is using the television the console is actually connected to for some other purpose.  Now imagine that same device allows for cross save, cross buy, and cross play functionality, similar to what Sony offers between its devices.  Add on top of that the DeNA co-developed account system and access from external devices outside of the ecosystem, and all of a sudden you have a modernized, better equipped for the future Nintendo.

A lot of people believe “NX” should just be a box with updated specs, something comparable to Sony and Microsoft’s latest console offerings.  I disagree with that sentiment, and I believe Nintendo would get crushed in the market if they offered a “me too” device without adding their expected Nintendo appeal.  I think Nintendo needs to focus on allowing people to access their content in modern ways with fewer restrictions.  I said recently in a comment on Polygon that removing region locking starting with the “NX” device would be an excellent gesture to reaffirm the company’s commitment to removing barriers to play.  If the “NX” and the partnership with DeNA signal a more open and accessible Nintendo, similar to the message they sent when they opened their intellectual property for expanded licensing, then I think a new generation of gamers will be ready to jump in right alongside the gamers who have been with the company from the beginning.  I look forward to that accessible and open future as a Nintendo fan.

- Scott

No comments:

Post a Comment