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I continue my series of blogs outlining what I think would be the best approach to the next generation of gaming for some of the industry's biggest companies. This time my focus is on the console manufacture in the most unique place moving forward. Keep in mind that this is just what I think they need to do in order to be successful, your opinion as well as what they choose to do may be completely different.
Nintendo finds themselves in an interesting spot in comparison to their console competitors. Whether interesting denotes peril or optimism in this case is open to interpretation. Perhaps weird might be a better choice. Last generation the company watced their GameCube console flounder in comparison to Sony's world-beating, headline grabbing Playstation 2 sales numbers. Bellow the fold, Microsoft's late foray into the space eroded Nintendo's share of the console market even further. These days that little purple box is probably just as noteworthy for its odd shape, choice of MiniDVD media format, and insane controller layout as it is for some of the handful of undeniably great games that launched on it. Without a doubt the less than dominant performances of the Nintendo 64 and GameCube systems helped shaped the company's philosophy moving forward.
Logic might have suggested that an obvious route for Nintendo to take entering the current generation of gaming would have been to return the rather straightforward days of their breakout NES and SNES consoles; essentially abandoning the oddities of their two most recent consoles in order to reestablish a foothold outside of the core Nintendo audience. In some ways, they did just that. The Wii is a rather nondescript box, its controllers are fairly nondescript rectangles, and the media format is about as nondescript as discs get. What all that disguised though was a unique gaming experience; one that would eventually see Nintendo jump from middling, aging core gaming dinosaur to cutting edge casual gaming robot over night.
The Wii did what many thought was impossible for Nintendo. With that unassuming little white box the company recaptured the interests of the fair weather gamers who likely didn't upgrade from their Xbox or PS2 while simultaneously capturing the attention of those who normally wouldn't play games. In the process they helped to create a whole new corner of the industry as people realized that there was space for games outside of the gaming community. Unfortunately, a lack of strong support from developers outside of Nintendo and the demographic they targeted means that the company isn't as far ahead as one might think, in spite of the fact that they moved nearly 30 million more units than their closest competitors. On top of that, the system did little to draw in support from the hardcore gaming community that had already been transitioning away from Nintendo's home consoles. Now the Japanese heavyweight is jumping feet first back into the same space that they were so roughly muscled out of. This is the spot where things get weird, or interesting, or whatever you want to call it.
What They Need To Do
Nintendo may be the only member of home console manufacturing's dominant trio to have announced its next generation product, but that doesn't mean the company's future is any clearer. Sony and Microsoft have already rolled out similar functionality to the Wii-U's unique touchscreen controller, with Playstation Vita Cross Control and the Surface tablet respectively. The console itself is looking to break back into a sector of the gaming market that they largely ignored for the past half decade or so. In order to successfully gain a foothold in the arguably more sustainable side of the market, Nintendo will need to find a niche again; fill a role that the others can't or won't because they don't think there's room for profit.
The Wrap Up
The Wii-U is a potentially unique piece of hardware that comes with a unique set of challenges to tackle. It almost certainly will not be the most powerful piece of technology in the coming generation, but there is a place for it. If anyone can take something odd and make it into a phenomenon it's Nintendo. However, being successful for the Wii-U will rely on the system doing more than just what it seems to be setting out to do. It can't be just another box with HD games that every other system has or a device with lower fidelity ports of next-gen titles. It sounds counter-intuitive to suggest that an alternative to the $60 price point and graphics heavy focus of modern video games that still provides a comparable experience might come from an industry staple, but it is a very real possibility that Nintendo's Wii-U could do just that. Then again... Nintendo has done some weird things in the past and they don't appear to plan on taking a break from that anytime soon.