According to the Wall Street Journal, Nintendo has sent out software development kits for its upcoming videogame platform, the NX (codename for now, final name TBA). It’s no secret that both the 3DS and Wii U have struggled to gain market share. The 3DS has done an admirable job of outselling the Vita, but Sony’s PlayStation 4 has more than doubled the sales of the Wii U, which is quite remarkable considering the Wii U had a year head start. The combination of no real success story on Wii U and the readiness of its next platform lead me to believe they are moving forward with a 2016 showing and possible release. Nintendo has consistently maintained that NX won’t be talked about until 2016, but has never said when it would actually hit store shelves.
Earlier this year, on March 17, Nintendo announced a partnership with Japanese mobile game designer DeNA to create a series of five mobile device games. At the same meeting, Nintendo of Japan’s president, Satoru Iwata (who later passed due to health complications), first made mention of the NX platform. He wanted to reiterate Nintendo’s commitment to dedicated gaming machines:
Nintendo has decided to deploy its video game business on smart devices but it is not because we have lost passion or vision for the business of dedicated video game systems. On the contrary, now that we have decided how we will make use of smart devices, we have come to hold an even stronger passion and vision for the dedicated video game system business than ever before. Nintendo has made this decision because we have concluded that the approach of making use of smart devices is a rational way for us to encourage even more people around the world to recognize the great value of the wonderful game software available on our dedicated game systems.
As proof that Nintendo maintains strong enthusiasm for the dedicated game system business, let me confirm that Nintendo is currently developing a dedicated game platform with a brand-new concept under the development codename “NX.” It is too early to elaborate on the details of this project, but we hope to share more information with you next year.
Later in the year, at Nintendo’s 75th Annual General Meeting of Shareholders, an investor was concerned that the NX could meet a similar fate to the Wii U. Iwata gave this reply:
Since the word “NX” has been mentioned, please let me elaborate. When Nintendo announced the collaboration with DeNA on March 17 of this year, I mentioned that Nintendo is currently developing a new dedicated video game system codenamed “NX.” 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. In addition, such tone could be seen frequently through the media. 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. This is because the entertainment business has an aspect where there is value in surprising consumers. 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. Having the element of surprise or doing the unexpected is the premise for introducing new ideas and having them welcomed with surprise. That is why I have been repeatedly saying that the next news on NX will not be announced during 2015 but will be announced in 2016.
Nevertheless, since NX has news value, when I am interviewed on various occasions, I am asked about it almost every time. I will not share details on NX today but with regard to the launch of Nintendo 3DS and Wii U not necessarily having progressed well and not acquiring sufficient support from software publishers, we intend to offer NX through a Nintendo-like solution. Thank you for understanding that we are making various considerations and preparations in order to avoid what happened with the previous generations.
Also, a little background regarding the NX can be gleaned from Iwata’s prior comments when talking about integrating the hardware and software development teams at Nintendo of Japan. It gives credence to the idea that NX could be a platform, sort of like iOS is for Apple, which could spawn multiple devices in various form factors. Right now you can download a game for the iPad and it will often work on an iPhone. This is the same philosophy Nintendo wants to use going forward. It will save time and money on programming resources, which in turn could lead to fewer software droughts, an increased production of new IP, and a larger variety of gaming genres. Iwata’s relevant points are below:
For example, currently it requires a huge amount of effort to port Wii software to Nintendo 3DS because not only their resolutions but also the methods of software development are entirely different. The same thing happens when we try to port Nintendo 3DS software to Wii U. If the transition of software from platform to platform can be made simpler, this will help solve the problem of game shortages in the launch periods of new platforms. Also, as technological advances took place at such a dramatic rate, and we were forced to choose the best technologies for video games under cost restrictions, each time we developed a new platform, we always ended up developing a system that was completely different from its predecessor. The only exception was when we went from Nintendo GameCube to Wii. Though the controller changed completely, the actual computer and graphics chips were developed very smoothly as they were very similar to those of Nintendo GameCube, but all the other systems required ground-up effort. However, I think that we no longer need this kind of effort under the current circumstances. In this perspective, while we are only going to be able to start this with the next system, it will become important for us to accurately take advantage of what we have done with the Wii U architecture. It of course does not mean that we are going to use exactly the same architecture as Wii U, but we are going to create a system that can absorb the Wii U architecture adequately. When this happens, home consoles and handheld devices will no longer be completely different, and they will become like brothers in a family of systems.
Still, I am not sure if the form factor (the size and configuration of the hardware) will be integrated. In contrast, the number of form factors might increase. Currently, we can only provide two form factors because if we had three or four different architectures, we would face serious shortages of software on every platform. To cite a specific case, Apple is able to release smart devices with various form factors one after another because there is one way of programming adopted by all platforms. Apple has a common platform called iOS. Another example is Android. Though there are various models, Android does not face software shortages because there is one common way of programming on the Android platform that works with various models. The point is, Nintendo platforms should be like those two examples. Whether we will ultimately need just one device will be determined by what consumers demand in the future, and that is not something we know at the moment. However, we are hoping to change and correct the situation in which we develop games for different platforms individually and sometimes disappoint consumers with game shortages as we attempt to move from one platform to another, and we believe that we will be able to deliver tangible results in the future.
Given the timeframe of the development kits going out to third parties, it seems reasonable to expect the NX to launch Holiday 2016. Looking at past events, the Xbox One and PS4 development kits were supposedly given to select third parties about 12 to 16 months prior to launch. If the NX kits indeed went out earlier this month, that gives developers a 12 to 14 month timetable to get a game completed, a mark that seems doable. Keep in mind that internal studios will have likely had the development kits for quite a bit longer. Developers like Retro Studios and Monolith Soft would have been the very first ones to get to play around with the new kits.
Given the dearth of new game announcements for the Wii U, it’s becoming obvious that Nintendo is getting ready to move on to the next system. For all of 2016 we have just a smattering of games announced: Pokkén Tournament, Genei Ibun Roku #FE (Fire Emblem x Shin Megami), The Legend of Zelda, Mario & Sonic 2016 Olympic Games, and the recently delayed Star Fox Zero. Assuming the NX satisfies both the console and the handheld market, 3DS has even less titles announced for a U.S. release: Fire Emblem Fates and Bravely Second End Layer. That’s not to say more games for both systems won’t be announced, but it sure is a shaky lineup so far.
No matter the case, I’m excited to hear what’s coming next from Nintendo. There is an investor’s meeting soon, and although it’s unlikely we will hear any concrete information about the NX, you never know. What do you think? Will the NX come out in 2016 and what form will it take? Let us know in the comments below.