Nintendo is locked out of the next-gen market
Recently, and in no small part due to the continued activity from PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, the Wii U has fallen utterly out of standing in the console market. Simultaneously, rumors and alleged insider information (all of which are best taken with a quarry of salt) have cropped up surrounding a currently-in-progress hybrid next-gen console from Nintendo. Codenamed ‘Fusion,’ the console is said to mesh Nintendo’s handheld strengths with in-home consoles, though exact details are currently unknown (assuming they will ever be known). A key point to keep in mind when wading through the hearsay is that virtually all research and development—across all industries—is foreshadowed a few years in advance, and in truth, it’s not unlikely that Nintendo has a new system in the works.
In any case, Fusion is nothing more than a ghost tale at present, and a rather infamous one at that. However, the notion of Nintendo putting out a new system in the coming years asks an interesting question:
Could that even work?
Looking at Nintendo’s history, the timetable is suspect. Be it the original Nintendo Entertainment System (1986) to the SuperNES (1992), or the GameCube (2002) to the Wii (2006) and finally the Wii U (2012), the big N favors a 5- to 6-year gap for hardware releases. With that in mind, seeing prototype specs in 2014 of a system one would expect to release around Q4 2017 is premature to say the least. With that said, it’s also true that Nintendo is currently aiming to stabilize their position in the console market, and may be considering abandoning the Wii U entirely to do so. With two disastrous years under its belt already, the system is a sinkhole—one that may be cut loose early.
While this lends credence to the aforementioned timeframe, it lands knee-deep in the issue of consumer trust. If a new system were to hit shelves in a matter of a few years, what are Wii U owners—the fabled system’s primary demographic—going to do? Accept the fact that they dropped three digits on a software-starved system and then gleefully pick up a new product from the same manufacturer? No, if Nintendo can’t prove that they can sustain and support a console before their next living-room contender launches, it will likely prove as popular as a leper in the middle ages.
But you've got to admit, mock-up or not, it looks the part.
Even if Nintendo can right the Wii U (e.g. land the thing some games) time still isn’t on their side. Nintendo’s habit of arriving late to the party, while detrimental in the past (just ask the GameCube), is downright crippling today due to the way modern technology progresses. A few years amounts to a few processors and X-ware iterations behind in this day and age. It doesn’t matter if it’s just as powerful as that if it doesn’t release for four years after that. This means a 2017-2019 release for what would be Fusion leaves two awkward options: be more or less powerful than PS4/Xbox One.
If less powerful, a new Nintendo system will have little more than price going for it, and a $50 discount will do little to offset the interest lost from not packing the frame-rate, resolution and other odds and ends that the everygamer is clamoring for when it comes to new hardware. And as we’re already seeing, a price advantage alone isn’t going to get Nintendo a seat at the big kids’ table. Similarly, it’s clear that defaulting on the same tired IP (your Mario, your Donkey Kong, and your nonexistent Zelda and Metroid) won’t move heaven and earth either.
Though Samus Aran could probably move at least one of them.
Option two—pulling out all the stops and dropping one beast of a machine—is arguably more awkward in that it’s both unlikely and more promising. Investing heavily into raw hardware horsepower completely contradicts Nintendo’s tried-and-true(ish) philosophy of emphasizing affordability, but may be necessary to even open the next-gen door for them. However, in lieu of pressing the $600 mark, it may then become necessary to play the endurance game—taking a loss on each unit sold to move those units to support software sales. Much like the idea of boasting the most powerful system, this contradicts Nintendo’s history of profiting on hardware sales.
For every potential out, there’s a historical and topical reason undermining its odds. So in the end, if Nintendo does plan on continuing their pursuit of console gamers (instead of prioritizing the handheld market, which they dominate handily), it’s clear that an absolute head-turner is in order. Beyond just the market, however, Nintendo may have to turn its own design philosophies on end to come up with a win. Any ideas readers, or is the big N better off as ‘SEGA with a handheld line’?