Nintendo's Toughest Year Ever Starts Pretty Much Now

Nintendo's Toughest Year Ever Starts Pretty Much Now

Nintendo thought it was going to sell nine million Wii Us this past year. Last night, it acknowledged that it will probably sell fewer than three million. Is it time for someone to panic?

For the optimists, there is no reason to freak out. Nintendo has had it rough before, for example when it...

...tried to introduce a game console after the collapse of Atari...

...tried to fend off an aggressive, cooler Sega...

...lost Final Fantasy and other important games support to Sony's PlayStation...

...sputtered with the GameCube...

...launched a relatively weak Nintendo DS handheld against a more powerful Sony PSP...

...tempted fate again by launching a wimpy Wii against a much more powerful Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3...

...struggled so badly with the 3DS that it had to cut price by a third six months after launch day.

And those optimists would say that Nintendo wound up weathering every single crisis just fine, given that it...

...had a hit in the Nintendo Entertainment System...

...survived and thrived as Sega had to abandon making gaming hardware...

...got some slivers of Final Fantasy back and regained the support of nearly every major gaming studio, at least in Japan...

...recovered from the GameCube days with an industry dominating successor in the Wii...

...printed money with the DS...

...printed more money with the Wii...

...turned the 3DS into America's best-selling gaming platform...

Never mind that it...

...left the blood out of Mortal Kombat...

...seemed to actively avoid getting a Grand Theft Auto...

...expressed little more than vague interest in online gaming...

...gave Zelda cartoon graphics...

...stopped working with the blockbuster-making Rare...

...required Friend Codes...

...released handheld after handheld that needed a better model before being recommendable...

...let Metroid go into mothballs...

...kept making fairly weak home consoles...

This is also the company that...

...made Mario...

...made Zelda...

...made Donkey Kong...

...made Mario Kart...

...made Smash Bros...

...published Pokémon...

...made Nintendogs...

...made Wii Sports...

...made Brain Age...

...made Wii Fit...

...made Animal Crossing...

...made WarioWare....

...etc, etc...

Nintendo is nevertheless also the company whose stock price has done this today....

Nintendo's Toughest Year Ever Starts Pretty Much Now

and, over the past five years, this...

Nintendo's Toughest Year Ever Starts Pretty Much Now

Nintendo made the Wii U, a console that isn't close to the power level of the new, popular Xbox and PlayStation, a console that is interesting but confusing, a console that has a screen in the controller, a popular built-in social network and a lack of enthusiasm.

The following things have yet to make the Wii U hot:

...the launch game Nintendo Land

...superb third-party launch game ZombiU

...a new, polished Mario sidescroller

...a new, polished 3D Mario game

...an HD re-release of a beloved Zelda

...a long-awaited sequel in Pikmin 3

...an acclaimed original game in The Wonderful 101

...a new Wii Fit

...an HD remake of Wii Sports

...two straight years of Assassin's Creed games

...two straight years of Call of Duty games

...a $US50 price drop from $US350 for system + game to $US300

...the release of a better battery for the Wii U controller

Nintendo has apologised for the slow pace of Wii U game releases for 2013.

Its release calendar for 2014? It's as follows, maybe:

  • Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, February 21
  • Mario Kart 8, date to be announced
  • Bayonetta 2, date to be announced
  • Yarn Yoshi, date to be announced
  • Super Smash Bros. Wii U, date to be announced
  • Hyrule Warriors, date to be announced
  • X, date to be announced
  • Fire Emblem X Shin Megami Tensei, date to be announced

Is that enough to turn the Wii U around? After all that other stuff didn't make a big impact? That's the question.

Nintendo's handheld gaming system, the 3DS, just had an incredible year of stellar game after stellar game...Fire Emblem Awakening to Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon to Animal Crossing: New Leaf to Mario & Luigi: Dream Team to Pokémon X & Y to The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, along with an ever-increasing number of smaller, quality download-only releases and some good outside support with the likes of Monster Hunter, Phoenix Wright and more. The 3DS also, according to Nintendo, is slumping in Europe.

Nintendo expected to sell 18 million 3DS systems this past year. Now it expects to sell 13.5 million. That, again, is after one of the strongest years of game releases the company has delivered for one of their platforms.

So... time to panic?

If you're a gamer who loves Nintendo games, don't freak out. You're likely going to have a place to play Nintendo games somehow, some way, no matter what. In the worst of doomsday scenarios, Nintendo limps along, spends through its considerable warchest while making its own hardware that must be purchased to play its own games. It eventually abandons making hardware and makes games for other companies' hardware. It's a comedown, but, again, the gamer gets to keep playing Nintendo games.

The company has plenty of money and, arguably, plenty of time to try various strategies.

In rosier scenarios, Nintendo turns it around and succeeds with its own machines. Today it seems less clear than ever how Nintendo does that. Here are some theories. Feel free to choose which you think is best:

  • Nintendo starts making games for smartphones, which maybe happens alongside it still making games for their own hardware. This is the move the company gets asked about all the time and repeatedly waves off since it would be seen as an abandoning of company philosophy that it can only make the best games if it has also made hardware it can tailor for those games. But maybe it still saves its best new games for its own machines.
  • Nintendo replaces the Wii U with a more powerful console and does so soon in order to better compete with the Xbox One and PlayStation 4... The last company to start zipping through home console iterations really quickly was Sega.
  • Nintendo sticks it out with the Wii U, strikes gold with the Mario Karts, Smash Bros. and some surprise game that has Nintendogs-like success, turning it all around.
  • Nintendo looks to the future while letting the Wii U limp along, stumbles through this generation and prepares for a Wii-like comeback in 2017 or so.
  • Nintendo combines its console and handheld lines, from here on out releasing machines that can be played portably or at home, maybe connected to a TV, maybe not, no longer splitting its formidable game development talent across two different machines and instead having all of its developers work together to make great games for its lone machine. (In case you can't tell, this is your author's pick).

What will it be?

Let's end with something positive. Nintendo did some of its best work when people thought it was down for the count. People think it is down for the count now. Bring on your best work, Nintendo. It's time.


Comments

    …superb third-party launch game ZombiU

    This was my whole problem. I got my WiiU at launch, was excited because the hardware, whilst not the most potent around was well made. The gamepad has a lot of potential, there's some really great features. This was my first Nintendo console since the N64. (excluding handhelds, of course) I was most excited by the prospect of a Nintendo system with real 3rd party titles. ZombiU was not only a brilliant game, it was a prime example of how a 3rd party WiiU title could really work. The gamepad integration was fantastic, without being gimmicky - this game could only work on the WiiU. I mean, sure there was ME3 and Arkham City, ports of effectively old games, but still - a Ninty console with real 3rd party titles!

    Then it just abruptly stopped, and now the WiiU is yet another system housing pretty much solely Nintendo games. Which is great if that's your bag - but it's not enough for the majority. They need their much loved 1st party titles, but they also need the support of 3rd party developers too.

    Also, stop mucking about and get a real account system. This Nintendo Network ID stuff is completely useless. It doesn't actually do anything but lock your account to a region so you're further boxed in from using other region's eShops. Lack of a unified account system (which xbox and Playstation have had for almost a decade) and region locking would be good places to start fixing things.

    I want for Nintendo to do well, and hope they remain that oddball cousin that does things different from the rest of the family - namely Xbox and Playstation. They just need to do something different.

    Backing the development of Eternal Darkness 2 would be a great start in my opinion

    Long story short, Wii U is finished. Not even Zelda will save it.

    Last edited 18/01/14 9:22 am

      I tend to agree. The Wii U has been a marketing disaster, and I honestly think nothing can bring it back from the brink. You can throw all the Smash Bros and Mario Kart at it you like, but in the end it's perceived as a dud system, so why would you bother to purchase one now?

      If Nintendo wants to crawl back, I think they need to risk it all and make the next console a true bleeding edge "next-gen" model. Take themselves back to the glory days and actually woo third party developers again.

        I agree and yet I still love the wiiU. I don't get why people don't want it. Nintendo games are fun.

          Yeah what it has is fun, but it needs a hell of a lot more of it.

            I was just happy to be playing amazing Nintendo games again with proper controller instead of swinging my arms around. And in HD.

          It also needs games that are more than just "fun". Fun is good but if that's the only thing you and your devs are aiming for, you're gonna have a limited console.

    I'm a big Nintendo fan from the SNES days, but recently I've been really enjoying PC games like DayZ and Rust. The problem is, I much prefer playing games on a console. Seeing how Nintendo couldn't (be bothered to?) get a version of Minecraft on Wii U, there's basically no chance that they'll get these other games. It's not just that there aren't enough Nintendo games to play on Wii U, it just doesn't seem nearly as promising as Xbone or PS4. The only answer in my humble opinion is number 3, combine the handheld and home console divisions and make some awesome new Gameboy or something that can be played on or off the TV. I heard Nintendo were dabbling with an Android tablet for educational purposes, so maybe their next system runs a forked version of Android? They should also massively invest in getting their characters into animated movies, toys, cartoons, theme parks, just try to expand their reach from only EB Games or JB Hifi. Long live Nintendo.

      Lemme guess. You're the guy named Joey who campaigned for 5 hrs straight on the latest announcement in 3DS Miiverse? Shut up about Minecraft already.

    they need to join the mobile-phone scene - there's no reason why they couldn't remake a few retro titles for phones.

      I agree. I know so many people who emulate Nintendo games on their mobile already. Nintendo are missing some huge potential. In fact, I think they should start work on releasing a phone. Almost all the 3DS/2DS owners I know are in their early teens, and they would lap up a Nintendo phone in a few year's time.

    I've seen countless Nintendo doomsday arguments/articles over the years, and not a single one has come true. No matter how many people say "this time they're REALLY screwed!"

    It never happens. And everyone says "they need to do this" and "they need to do that". Well I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that all they "need" to do is keep being Nintendo. They'll be fine.

      I agree, they will survive (at least in the short term) but they have already lost a lot of their core fans to the playstation because of their stubbornness to give people what they want..
      They need to bring new gamers to their system, not rely on fanboys and girls to keep buying their systems.

      Last edited 18/01/14 2:52 pm

      Not sure anything else about the company would agree. You could make the same argument of RIM and Blackberry - huge potential but just slowly frittering away from former market segment leaders, to nothing.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7EweM_ILVt4

    The Virtual Console could use a few games. They should start making some new ones. It's not like Nintendo have a rich history full of amazing games that people would throw fistfuls of money at them for.

      Yeah.... We wouldn't buy the whole line up at all...

    A Pokemon MMO announcement would be good right now Nintendo...

      The world would end as we know it...

        Everyone keeps saying things like that, but would it? Aside from people who already play pokemon (admittely not exactly a rare breed) do you think many people would flock to an MMO? Unless it was pretty stellar as an MMO, I don't actually feel the brand is strong enough to draw users away from other existing MMOs.

    "It eventually abandons making hardware and makes games for other companies’ hardware."

    This will never happen, not with Satoru Iwata in charge. He's practically admitted that he'd rather see the company go bankrupt than put Mario and Zelda etc. on the Playstation or Xbox (or... God forbid... the PC!!!). And despite the absolute dire circumstances they find themselves in right now, his first act after apologising for it was to refuse to resign and let new blood come in. That's what Nintendo needs most of all at this point - new direction. New ideas. Fresh faces. I for one would love to see what Nintendo could become with some new people in charge.

    My god, those "..." lists made this incredible difficult to read.

    Number 4 seems to be the only option. I don't ever see the Wii U ever being a success at this point. They can not make another console for about three more years. It could be possible for Nintendo to be a third-party developer and publisher, but they can't do it whilst the Wii U is around. They can't do much this generation. (Gen 8, right?) They either must look to making generation 9's console a massive success, or start making third-party titles in gen 9. The latter won't happen, though.

    I find the biggest problem with Nintendo right now is that they seem to have more interest in innovating for the sake of innovating, and then leaving it at that. The Wii was considered a massive innovation, but how many Ninty games used motion controls? Not many.
    The Wii U gamepad is something of an innovation, but it integral to Super Mario 3D World? No. Nintendo should stop making pointlessly innovative consoles if they don't want to support their gimmicks through their games. Rant over.
    ...
    Actually, the rant continues.
    The Wii U gamepad was a terrible idea. Whilst it's considered to be pretty good at what it does, it does not make sense to revolve your console around a gimmick that the layman is too stupid to understand. The gamepad is also stupidly expensive to produce. It costs more to make a Wii U console and gamepad than it does to make a Playstation 4! This means Nintendo is forced to lose money on the console if they want to sell it. Nintendo made a loss on the original price of the Wii U at launch, as it cost slightly more to produce and distribute than it was actually sold for. Think of how bad that is now, with the price cut.
    Rant over. (For real this time)

    Ditch the WiiU - you'll take a hit, but it's just not working out. The name is terrible, they failed to market it appropriately and they failed to attract enough third-party support.

    Nintendo won't die - the 3DS is doing pretty well and they have enough money and enough IP to keep themselves afloat until they make another console - which they had better do if they want to be competitive.

      Ditch the WiiU - you'll take a hit

      And burn the 5 million + people who bought one, i don't think so.

      It's one thing to have a problem which they are trying to fix, its another thing entirely to just turn around and say your not going to deal with it and are moving on.

    if they dropped the price of the WiiU here in australia to something in the $200 to $250 region I would buy it, the other issue that really annoys me is that they dont reduce the price of their older 3DS games. You look at the Vita and you can pick up awesome games for $25 (uncharted, LBP, ect) as they are in their classics line, the 3ds? Go have a look at getting the first Mario game that came out for the 3ds, $69, how about the remake of Ocarina of Time? $69, make your older games cheaper, to push units, drop the price of the WiiU to once again push units.

      This annoys me too! I only recently got a Wii through chance (a friend wanted to offload theirs) try finding a copy of either Mario Galaxy game for less than $50 new or used - there's a 'long tail' and then there's 'fucking ludicrous'. Nintendo need to fix the gouging.

        I remember back in the N64 days. There was 'playstation classic' or 'gold' or something, where the packaging was a bit different and it was cheaper. Ninty's never done that.

        You can pick up awesome deals online. Not sure if Wii is too old for that now though.

    Their stock price is still higher than Sony's.

    Nintendo just have to ride it out like they did with the Gamecube. The 3DS will hold them up.

    As for their next console though, drop the Wii name and accentuate the Nintendo side of things. Call it the Nintendo Revolution or something, give it a regular controller (as much as I love the Wii U gamepad), focus heavily on indie support (maybe open it up for android games somehow?), make it a good, convenient piece of hardware, and they'll sell what they need to.

    The thing is, people play consoles over PC because of convenience and exclusives. The problem with consoles today though is, that convenience is slipping away at an alarming rate under the pressure of updates and DLC etc. Focus on making console gaming convenient again, create a platform for indie titles (most of which are just recreating Nintendo's glory days anyway), push the almighty Nintendo exclusives, and they'll attract third parties.

    I think the opportunity is already missed, as this would have been the perfect console to counter the convoluted "entertainment media systems" PS4 and Xbox One, but if Microsoft and Sony continue to make the gaming medium less of a gaming medium with their next generation, Nintendo could seize an opportunity to revolutionize the console gaming -- again.

      The WiiU is convenient - turns on, updates and turns off all by itself. Love it.

    I've been thinking for most if this year that Nintendo's next console will be a Vita-like Gameboy that output wirelessly to HDMI

    I think the Wii in a way ruined Nintendo's perception of the console industry. The Wii sold so well due to the fact that even house wives were interested in what it had to offer (Wii Fit) and it was revolutionary at the time. Not for being a console, but for being an entertainment device that could bring gaming to you in a way that didn't feel like video games ever had before (similar to how apps are to the regular person). You can't recreate this, "Why upgrade, my original is still working fine" would probably be the statement of any person unlikely to hear of the new, confusingly named version of the console. Which leaves it in the position of being a console of which core gamers tend to ignore because of the lack of controller, functionality in terms of development and hardware and lack of core games.

    "Nintendo replaces the Wii U with a more powerful console and does so soon"

    When you have sold over 5 million units of hardware and you then turn around and abandon all those that bought the hardware, i don't think you are really sending a good message to them and i don't think that those 5 million + people would fork out for another console when the one they just bought works perfectly fine.

    So you are telling me that after having international money printing presses for almost ten straight years, they are on the way out?

    The 3DS is selling only 13 million units and the software sales are strong. Online store sales probably aren't doing too badly, either. Their stock price is fifteen goddamn dollars.The WiiU is the only thing you can point to and say "There's a problem", but really? This is Nintendo's doom? They have more money than god right now and they have a perfectly viable platform on top of all of the merchandising and other related stuff. This 5 year fall isn't showing them going out of business, it's showing them returning to being a regular, profitable company off the back of years of runaway success.

    Here's a tip on the foreseeable future of Nintendo: They keep doing whatever the hell they want because their business is making good money. That doesn't include any of the above scenarios. They have owned the only viable portable systems consistently for over 20 years, they have never lost money long term on any system aside from the virtual boy, and even their 'failures' were the N64 and Gamecube. Both of those systems made money just fine. Oh, and they have this thing that sometimes turns up a couple of dollars here and there... you may have heard of this thing called Pokemon?

    Didn't Iwata say he would resign if Nintendo made a loss in this current Japanese fiscal year ending in March?

    Then again, Reggie tells me every generation that Nintendo plan to focus on getting 3rd party support. I shouldn't be surprised....

    you could say that when they lost FF that was the start of them losing third party support which is really why the Wii U is failing miserably. That said, I still want to get one at some point once more Nintendo games are out, but saying that Assassins Creed and COD is a plus on the Wii U, how many units of those games do they actually shift?

    This is probably the biggest crisis staring at Nintendo (I wouldn't say they're actually in crisis just yet) that they've ever faced because the industry is far more mature than it was in the 80s and 90s. The competition from Sony and Microsoft is a lot more fierce even than when Sega bowed out of the console market. The 3ds is keeping them afloat atm, but they need to seriously make efforts to turn around the Wii U because you can't operate it and spend millions on developing games just for the Wii U if they're not going to make returns on them purely because the consumer base isn't there

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