It's never a good day when a major company realizes that its best, or most influential days are behind it. But all the optimism in the world couldn't change the fact that Nintendo was forced to ask some hard questions following the 2013 launch of the Wii U; a home console that finally brought the company into the HD era (several years behind competitors Microsoft and Sony).
Lacking the 'killer apps' and fan-favorite franchises of the past, the console's sales lagged almost immediately, falling well, well short of its predecessor. A swath of critically-acclaimed games released since haven't kickstarted momentum, and while the company isn't giving up on the Wii U, they're already looking forward to the company's next home console, known as the Nintendo NX. And new rumors claim it may hit store shelves next year.
The rumors come courtesy of DigiTimes, who claim that Nintendo has partnered with manufacturer Foxconn Electronics to start pilot production in October 2015 with full production getting underway in May/June 2016. Another manufacturer, Pegatron Technology is apparently also pursuing a manufacturing deal for the NX, and if the site's sources are accurate, Nintendo may need all the help it can get. With rumored projections aiming for sales of 20 million consoles in the first year, the rumored release window of July 2016 is expected to be a big one.
Obviously, these rumors should be taken with some skepticism; the supply of such a massive number of consoles alone would go against Nintendo's past practices, but moving 20 million consoles in a single year would be shocking. The Wii U struggled at launch, leading to only 10 million consoles sold over more than two years, but neither Microsoft nor Sony's latest consoles matched those numbers (the PS4 moved 22.3 million units in 17 months). The site also reports that Nintendo has officially announced the NX - which they have - with the console already set for a release date in 2016 - which it is not.
Thankfully, it's not just speculation on the NX that Nintendo fans can look forward to. During the recent Annual General Meeting of Shareholders, company president and CEO Satoru Iwata was asked about the announcement of the NX while major titles for the Wii U have yet to be released. Iwata explained the decision for the early confirmation of the NX's existence, and why the mistakes of the Nintendi Wii U and 3DS' launch won't be repeated:
"The reason I mentioned this was, at that time, there were more than a certain number of people that thought that Nintendo would give up on the dedicated game system business and concentrate on smart device application development, or that Nintendo should take that path... I felt it was necessary to communicate that Nintendo is not pessimistic about the future of the dedicated game system business but rather more and more eager to continue it. On the other hand, details on the new platform essentially should come later... It is not convincing enough to the consumer if we describe how the magic works before actually showing it to them and then expecting them to be surprised or delighted."
President and CEO of Nintendo of America Reggie Fils-Aime reiterated (via Forbes) that unlike previous console roll-outs, the unveiling of the NX shouldn't be seen as a sign that it has usurped the Wii U's position as Nintendo's top priority:
"In the home console space, we’re focused on Wii U. NX is in the future. That’s something that we’ll talk about at the appropriate time. But right now, it’s all about driving our Wii U business... Consumers know that effectively, as we complete one piece of hardware, we always start thinking about the next. So we’re constantly challenging ourselves. What’s new? What’s different? What’s coming down the pipe?
"The way we approach it is when there’s a game or an approach that we can’t do on the current system, that’s when we begin in earnest to focus on the next system. So what that means is that our developers, a number of them must have certain ideas that will be enabled by the NX. We’re going to have to develop those ideas and get that software ready. And that’s going to drive the timing for when we provide more details on NX."
It's impossible to lay the blame for the Wii U's disappointing sales on just one decision - too few system-selling games, its name, or the inconsistent use of the GamePad - but the lack of support from third-party publishers was a major problem (explicitly making either console preferable for specific franchises). So it's no surprise that word came out of E3 2015 that Nintendo was not only showing the NX to third parties behind closed doors, but came out of the show having made serious progress.
The promise that more details on the NX will be coming when Nintendo is good and ready to give them isn't the only sign that the company is taking its time. The current obsession over VR headsets seen with every major console maker was impossible to miss at E3, like extended tablet/smartphone support before it - and motion control gaming before it. But Fils-Aime brushed aside questions about the NX embracing VR as part of its "brand new concept," stating that the tech is only promising if it is a) fun, and b) a social experience, rewarding for all gamers present.
Fils-Aime's claim that he "hasn't seen a "wow" experience yet" may be corporate posturing (since more than a few demonstrations of VR headset gameplay drew applause and cheers from the crowd), but Nintendo has made its name by pioneering new gameplay, not copying the latest trend. Plus, it's hard to argue that the industry has yet to crack the use of VR for anything more than singe-player experiences.
We'll keep you posted as more updates on the Nintendo NX arrive, but for now, what do you make of the presidents' comments and ambitions? Are you less convinced that the Wii U and 3DS will be fully supported in the coming years? What do you hope to see introduced as part of the NX's new gameplay?