As soon as the PlayStation Move and Kinect came online, Nintendo was in trouble. The same type of fun was now available on much more powerful consoles with far better graphics. The Nintendo Wii-U (check out the hot details of the Wii-U) seems to be a good answer to this, for a couple of reasons. First, it seems powerful enough to run “hardcore” games like first-person shooters (Battlefield) or fighting games (Tekken). Secondly, its new controller will probably rally the core Nintendo fans, and reach further into the “casual gamer” + “family” crowd. On the paper, this looks good, but Nintendo absolutely needs to execute on these three critical points:Serve every gamers
For a long time, Nintendo has been seen as the gaming system for kids and casual gamers. It worked great, and Nintendo has proven that it can be very successful without dominating hardcore gaming niches. In fact, it was mandatory because Nintendo had chosen to get out of the technology arms race that Microsoft and Sony were in. Typically, console makers lose money on the hardware, hoping to make money on the software licenses. Nintendo has taken the path of making money on both – and it worked beautifully. The downside of that strategy is that its Wii system is underpowered and unable to cater audiences who want action games with the latest eye-candy.
This is a situation that Nintendo can no longer sustain, and that explain why it has to come back and reach to every single audience. With the Wii-U and future systems, Nintendo is playing in the same Arena that everyone else again. This is a multi-year, or possibly a decade change.
Continue to innovate
Nintendo has always been an amazing company. They have often led the industry, and thanks to that creativity, they have built fantastic franchises that can compete in their own universe. Mario, Zelda and other Nintendo titles have enjoyed unrestricted fan love (and money). However, the Wii controller was their most recent break out.
The new Wii-U controller is innovative, not because of its technology (I bet it uses low-cost tablet components), but because of how it will be used in games, and how it is integrated with existing Nintendo products. To be fair, a lot of the ideas that the new Wii-U controller conveys have been seen left and right before. However, no-one had successfully brought things together like Nintendo seems to have done. I say “seems” because we won’t know for sure until we try it for ourselves. Right now, the odds do look very good, but 2012 is still very far away….
Nintendo needs to lure 3rd-party developers back because the company simply does not have the “hardcore gaming” franchises it needs. Titles like Modern Warfare, Crysis, Battlefield and many many more are must-haves if Nintendo wants to attract that crowd.
Most likely, many game companies will race to be among the first to launch with the Wii-U. This is always a “gold rush” when a new system launchers. When games are sparse, people tend to buy… well whatever is available, so it’s hugely important to be there first.
While Nintendo’s move makes sense, it’s not clear how well it will fare in today’s gaming environment. On one hand, the user experience should be very good, but on the other hand, Nintendo doesn’t take any technological leap, which raises questions about the viability of their solution in the longer-term, when the competition will unleash a new generation of ultra-powerful consoles.
At the moment, Nintendo sticks to its strategy of making money on absolutely everything it sells, and the company still enjoys a rich portfolio of unique and often, unmatched, franchises (like Zelda which celebrates its 25th anniversary). The new hardware will allow it to compete with Xbox 360 and PS3 on more equal terms, but is Wii-U a savior, or a stop-gap measure? It’s too early to tell, but it will be very interesting to play with. Update: I’ve added a link to the complete Nintendo E3 2011 Press Conference below: