We take a look at Nintendo's next BIG THING -- The Nintendo NX
The fact that Mario is one of the most prominent gaming icons EVER should give you some indication of how big a deal Nintendo used to be. Used to be because right now...it's not. Microsoft's Xbox One and Sony's PlayStation 4 utterly dominate the current gaming market and both firms have done for many years and several generations of hardware now.
Things picked up a bit with the original Wii console, creating a niche in the "family" motion-based game market and even forcing the other two big players to adapt, but since then the follow-up Wii U has been a bit of a disaster in terms of sales and uptake. The Wii U has only sold 10 million units so far with many analysts predicting it won't even surpass the older GameCube's 30 million sales - until now the firm's biggest console failing. By contrast, the original Wii sold over 100 million units worldwide. That same market has all but deserted Nintendo this generation - but the company isn't one to allow a setback knock its confidence.
Early last year, when it announced its move into smartphone gaming with Japanese firm DeNA, Nintendo also revealed that it was working on the Wii U's successor, dubbed NX. Since then, we've had little solid information from Nintendo itself, and have instead been forced to rely on rumours and industry gossip to piece together exactly what this mystery machine actually is, though plenty of reports claim Nintendo is in DIRE trouble.
In a lengthy interview with SumZero Joshua Kennedy of Sonian Capital Management outlines his assessment of the company at large, what the future holds for Nintendo and whether or not the mysterious NX is enough to change the company’s fortunes in 2016/17. Interestingly, Kennedy believes the market “doesn’t understand Nintendo” and this has resulted in the company’s “mispriced” stock value.
“There is a confluence of factors that has led to Nintendo getting mispriced in the past, and I think it is a pattern we're seeing again today,” said Kennedy. “The first factor is the cyclicality of their hardware business; sales are very strong when they have a hit console or handheld. Software sales are pro-cyclical, so it is a real peak-and-valley sales pattern. The second factor is the company is extremely circumspect about sharing its plans for new products, so it leaves investors, competitors, and fans to speculate about what's coming next for Nintendo, particularly when sales are at a trough because the old cycle has ended.”
On the subject of the NX, Kennedy added: “the NX is likely to replace both Wii U and DS at the same time. There has been considerable speculation that the controller will be a standalone handheld device that you can take with you on the go. Think for a moment how problematic and inefficient it has been for Nintendo to have two different hardware platforms for the last several years. They have to develop separate games for both, third-party developers are reluctant to develop because the audience is split in two, plus there are two hardware teams, two support teams, etc. Simply by consolidating into one platform, which management has said in the past is a desirable goal, could be a win for Nintendo.”
Things have picked up quite a bit for Nintendo in recent weeks, following the release of Pokemon Go. The new Pokemon title, which is available for iOS and Android, has basically taken over the world since its launch in July and has added around £5.8 billion to Nintendo’s bottom line.
Pokemon Go, after just a couple of weeks online, now has more active users than Tinder and is said to be up and running on around 5% of the total Android phones in use throughout the world. This is a HUGE deal for Nintendo and it is something that shows just how popular the company’s brands still are with gamers of all ages and locales.
The advent of the NX is still the biggest thing in Nintendo’s pipeline at present, but the early success of Pokemon Go will go a long way to satisfying the thirst for new content from one of the world’s biggest gaming brands.
The Nintendo NX has been rumoured for a long while now and there's been so much hype about it being the next BIG thing - something you must watch and are going to definitely want. But even though it's been the talk of the town very little concrete information has emerged so far to give us any indication of WHAT the device ACTUALLY IS; what's new, what should we actually be excited about?
As of July 26 it has all been revealed, it seems. Eurogamer, in an extensive report, claims to have heard from "a number of sources" and says it has confirmation about many details of the Nintendo NX device. The broad description is this; the Nintendo NX will be a handheld portable, a display with analogue controls either side of it, however, the controllers will detach to turn the device into a kind of tablet mode.
"On the move, NX will function as a high-powered handheld console with its own display. So far so normal - but here's the twist: we've heard the screen is bookended by two controller sections on either side, which can be attached or detached as required," states the report, with an accompanying image.
The report goes on to explain that when not being used as a portable, the Nintendo NX can connect up to a TV for use as a home console.
"A base unit, or dock station, is used to connect the brain of the NX - within the controller - to display on your TV."
EG also confirms that the hardware will be powered by an Nvidia Tegra chipset, a fact revealed by Digital Foundry. It's believed Nintendo may have brought its plans forward and will announce the console in September 2016. Information from some sources suggests the earlier claim of an Android software platform is not true, and that Nintendo has developed its own proprietary software for the console, which will support a game cartridge system; however, the cartridge support will be for an entirely new Nintendo NX design, so don't go expecting backwards compatibilty with your NES, SNES, DS, or Gameboy. It's thought that digital download will also be supported.
Information regarding the Nintendo NX has been ethereal at best, one minute we know something, and the next it turns out its hogwash; there's so much speculation and most of it is still up-in-the-air with little in the way of confirmation from either Nintendo itself or "in the know" sources. However, while earlier details suggested a launch inside 2016, possibly at the E3 expo, information has now come to light that this will not be happening, and we have apparent "confirmation" of a launch in Spring 2017, with March being pointed at in particular. Nintendo's financial reports have now been published and within this report is mention of a "brand new concept" being launched in March 2017 and that's a phrase we've heard before in association with the NX, so although the Nintendo NX isn't fingered directly...well, there isn't much else it could be really is there?
At the same time, Wall Street Journal personality Takashi Mochizuki took to Twitter to confirm that the Nintendo NX will not be heading to E3. He says Nintendo will of course be in attendance, but will be primarily promoting the new title in the Zelda franchise.
“Eiji Aonuma, producer of the Legend of Zelda series, told us that the saga’s new open-world entry, Breath of the Wild, will be the same experience whether you’re playing it on Wii U or NX. That shuts down any theory that NX is some wacky contraption like that patent Nintendo filed with joysticks poking up out of an oval-shaped screen. That doesn’t mean it’s only sticks and buttons, but it does mean it’s not an iPad.”
“We know this because Ubisoft has now announced the second known NX game, a version of its popular motion-controlled dancing game. But wait! Doesn’t that mean NX will have motion controls? Not necessarily, actually. The current console version of the game actually uses your cell phone as the controller, via a special app. So NX doesn’t necessarily have native motion controls.”
Nintendo, after word got out about it canceling production of the Wii U, got down from its high tower in order to address the press and inform them that they were wrong — Wii U production is NOT halting. It will continue producing the Wii U this quarter, the next quarter and for the foreseeable future as well.
The reason this caused such a stir was because many thought, once the news came out about Wii U production ending, that Nintendo was shoring up resources in order to prepare for the launch and/or release of the Nintendo NX console later on this year. But this is not the case, as Nintendo points out — so the NX remains shrouded in mystery.
Nintendo will no doubt unveil more details before or during this year's E3 event, but in the meantime, here's everything we know about the console so far - some of it little more than rumour, while other elements have a bit more substance to them.
The Nintendo 3DS is even older than the Wii U, but Nintendo hasn't announced a successor for it. Anyone who has been following the company since the '90s will know this is very odd indeed; throughout the past few decades Nintendo has dominated the portable gaming arena, with its Game Boy and DS lines achieving the kind of sales that even Apple and Samsung would be jealous of. The 3DS hasn't been as successful as Nintendo's other portables, but has still shifted more than 50 million units worldwide - a very respectable figure when you consider that the rival PS Vita has apparently only managed around 4 million.
So why has Nintendo decided against producing another dedicated handheld games console when it has traditionally been so successful in this arena? Because the NX will apparently unite the two markets under one system. There are reports that the machine will ship in two SKUs: a home console and a portable machine. How these two will connect is not yet known, but some have speculated that you'll play the same games on both. The idea is that you can play at home, then take the portable section out of the house with you and continue your progress. This presumably means that the handheld console produces visuals of a lesser quality than that of the home system, which - given reports that it rivals the PS4 in terms of power - should be potent enough to stake its claim on the next-gen market. Another theory is that the portable docks with the main unit, and therefore contains the "brains" of the console - the home unit will be little more than an interface which allows the unit to send video feed to your TV screen.
Whatever form the final hardware takes, it's clear that Nintendo is willing to shelve its handheld ambitions in order to create a totally unified system. It has even combined its home and portable hardware divisions, which is as good an indication as any that the NX will straddle both arenas.
Nintendo's SNES and N64 were seen as cutting-edge machines when they were released, offering immense technical strides over their rivals. However, since the Wii and DS era, Nintendo has taken a rather different approach to hardware. It has produced systems which are less powerful than their immediate competitors and has therefore been able to combine each one with innovative tech - touch control with the DS and motion control with the Wii - and still sell it at a competitive price.
With the Wii U adopting the same strategy but failing, there's a good chance that Nintendo will aim to give the NX parity with the Xbox One and PS4 to ensure that it receives a steady stream of third-party titles - something the Wii U lacked. Again, much of this is up in the air at the moment - some rumours have suggested that it will be less powerful, while others have stated that developers are already talking about porting over existing PS4 games to the console. It's hard to know what to believe without any firm evidence, but we do know that dev kits have been issued, so the idea of studios already working on conversions can hardly be dismissed.
Nintendo knows it has to play the power game this generation, as the Wii U has been left behind when it comes to really amazing third party releases. Nintendo fans love Nintendo games and these can only be played on Nintendo consoles, but they also like robust third-party support, and if you've only owned a Wii U this generation then you will have missed out on Grand Theft Auto V, Fallout 4, Dark Souls 2, Project CARS and Call of Duty: Black Ops III. That simply cannot happen again if Nintendo wants to claim a big share of the market. Giving developers the same amount of power they're used to on Microsoft and Sony's consoles is the only way to ensure that NX gets a steady stream of games. Without them, Nintendo could have another Wii U on its hands - a system with impeccable first-party support but a very small library overall. And Nintendo is in the unique position of not being behind the curve this time around - both Microsoft and Sony are hoping their new consoles will have long lifespans, so Nintendo can enter this particular hardware rare on level terms.
Patents are a good way of seeing what companies are planning in their future tech, and one relating to Nintendo showcases a controller which has a screen covering its entire surface. Developed by Sharp, these "free form" displays have a wide range of uses, but in the case of Nintendo's patent it would allow developers to alter the button layout at will, placing new touch-screen controls anywhere on the controller's surface. It's quite an out-there concept but the potential is obvious - you'd never be short of buttons again, that's for sure.
Again, we're in shady patent territory so these points are worth taking with a pinch of salt - like all patents, they might not necessarily happen. Documentation discovered online suggests that the NX could abandon an optical drive and go totally digital, which would be a bold move but would allow Nintendo to reduce the manufacturing cost of the unit as well as make the console smaller in size. The company already has a robust digital storefront in the form of the eShop on the Wii U and 3DS, and while the PS Vita has been a bit of a flop, it has proven that a console which purely favours downloads can still find an audience. Then there's the obvious comparison with smartphones and tablets, neither of which have a physical delivery method for software. Digital-only is the future, but is the market ready for a digital-only home console? Perhaps NX will be the machine that answers that question.
On the subject of cloud computing, another patent claims that the machine could benefit from additional horsepower via remote servers. The idea would be that during especially intensive sections of a game, some of the processing load could be shared by cloud-based servers, which could make for more visually impressive games. The same patent also hints that "supplemental devices" could make the base console more powerful - if you're old enough to recall the N64's 4 MEG RAM expansion cart, you're on the right lines.