Let’s rewind back to June 2011 – Reggie Fils-Aimé takes to the stage at E3 to reveal Nintendo’s latest home console, the Wii U. This “infinitely complex yet perfectly simple” console fell flat with both attendees and fans around the globe. What is the Wii U? Is it a brand new console, or an add-on for the Wii? Nintendo’s message for the Wii U was confusing to even the most dedicated of gamers, and as a result it failed to match their previous success with the Wii. In fact, Wii U is one of Nintendo’s worst selling home consoles to date, currently sitting at around 13 million units, just over half the lifetime sales of the Gamecube, which was considered a failure itself.
Thanks to the Wii U’s abject failure, gamers worldwide have cried out for Nintendo to abandon the home console route and become a third party game developer for other systems, much like their old rival Sega. Despite this, Nintendo is taking another stab at the console market with their new offering, codenamed ‘NX’. Due to arrive in March 2017, rumours about the NX have been swirling for months, with Nintendo keeping notoriously tight-lipped; we know nothing official about this new console.
Although one can only guess what Nintendo’s ultimate plan is with the NX and console gaming in general, their recent actions have injected a bit of optimism amongst fans. At Apple’s event in September 2016, Shigeru Miyamoto was invited on stage to announce his latest Mario game; ‘Super Mario Run’. Made purely for mobile devices, it is an automatic running game, utilising a simple tap on the screen to perform Mario’s signature jump. Devoted fans immediately turned up their noses, resenting what is easily the most simplistic, accessible Mario game to date.
It is not the game itself however which inspires optimism (although it does look great in this writer’s opinion), but rather the potential spring board it will afford Nintendo in the long term. Mario games have a widespread appeal that extends beyond hardcore gamers; the main games in the series frequently top the charts for Nintendo consoles, and Super Mario Run has the potential to sell hundreds of millions of copies on iOS and Android, provided the price is right. With this in mind, Nintendo can utilise Super Mario Run as a marketing tool for the NX. It’s clear at this point that Nintendo is not in direct competition with Sony and Microsoft in the console race, and nor is it interested in doing so. Whilst Sony and Microsoft pitch their systems with a lot of the focus on power, Nintendo draw their audience in with more of a focus on the games themselves.
In the past, Nintendo has mostly leaned on its own admittedly sketchy marketing for their consoles and games. With Super Mario Run, they can give consumers the perfect taste of one of their flagship properties. Pokémon Go proved to be a phenomenon on mobile devices, and injected much enthusiasm for the main games in the series currently on 3DS, boosting sales dramatically. If Super Mario Run proves to be a similar success, and Nintendo can somehow market the NX in tandem with their mobile games, they can tap into an audience they haven’t appealed to since the days of the Wii. This particular market abandoned dedicated consoles for mobile gaming once iPhone became the juggernaut it is today, leaving Wii U to appeal to more ‘core’ gamers, thus collapsing with the impending release of PS4 and Xbox One. But if Nintendo can embrace the philosophy “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”, they can utilise mobile gaming as the perfect stepping stone to their next venture.
Whatever happens in the next few months, it’s clear that Nintendo is taking a decisively different route to its business practices. Having been near radio silent for many months following the failure of Wii U, a smarter, more aggressive Nintendo is emerging from the ashes. The NX will be make or break for them, but I believe they are already firmly on the right track.