Editorial: What Nintendo Will Not Do

Nintendo hardware may become a thing of the past, at this rate.
Nintendo’s entrance into the mobile market does not mean we should expect mobile phone hardware.

Hi again, reader(s[?]), I am back this week to once again write to you about that there Nintendo. A lot is going on with this company of late, so much in fact that I felt a bit uncomfortable writing about them simply because I have no idea what they are going to do next. With the sudden passing of their president, the slow hand picked nature of selection that normally takes place in choosing one, and the corner about to be turned on two major subjects (mobile and NX development), so much is up in the air. But the dust is settling and I still feel pretty confident of at least a few things Nintendo is likely not to do.

Nintendo is and likely will remain a company of far more “don’ts” than “dos”, and so I find pinning down the things they are highly unlikely to do much easier than guessing at the things they will do. Some of their old “don’ts” they spoke very strongly on have recently been reverse, like development of mobile gaming, but these reversals are few and far between. Iwata said Nintendo would cease to be a game company if it began working on mobile games, and one of the most recent developments before his death was to collaborate with DeNA for help working on the mobile market. Nevertheless, allow me to give a few stabs at what I believe Nintendo will not do and feel more than free to disagree in the comments, as always.

Making a phone is something I keep hearing get bandied about by speculators ever since their push toward mobile and their partnership with DeNA. This is unlikely in the extreme, for a number of reasons. Entering the mobile phone market today is among the most “red ocean” of things Nintendo could possibly do right now, and it swings opposite to the direction the company has been going for years with simpler tech and simpler, broader focus of content. A phone with those kinds of design philosophies will not survive as companies like Samsung, Apple and HTC are in an outright arms race for better screens, better batteries, more processing power, slimmer profiles and so on. Nintendo has been trying to emphasize a “for all” dynamic that allows them to at least partly step away from that expensive upgrade race, so entering the mobile hardware market would be an unfit choice for their current trajectory. The easier shutdown of this idea is that their partnership with DeNA is in no way sufficient to become a phone hardware producer. A medium sized game and hardware producer partnering up with a tiny mobile game and web development company is not something that could stand toe to toe with corporations like Samsung.

Among the funnier rumors going around is that Nintendo will appoint Fils-Aimé to replace Iwata, citing ‘Western influence’ as a benefit.

Going third party is something I would actually not take out of the running, not considering their loosened grip on hardware tenability and their third party relations with the mobile market coming to the fore. This is hardly a revelation to anyone paying attention to the industry, and so talk of Nintendo going third party has been rampant. It was once said by someone at Nintendo, either Iwata or Yamauchi before him, that the company would go out of business before ceasing to be a first party hardware manufacturer, and in some respects it can be seen why this would be said. Nintendo makes a good deal of its profits from hardware, unlike their competitors who often sell their hardware at a loss until that hardware cycle is more than half over.

It is usually a good bet that other companies do not begin making healthy margins on their hardware until about the time we see them producing “slim” version of their systems. Nintendo, generally, makes at least some money on their hardware from launch day. Without that income, it would be that much harder for the company. This, however, would be made up by foregoing hardware costs all together should they join up exclusively with a hardware maker. At this point, I could honestly see them pairing up with either of the obvious options, despite the old bad blood between them and Sony. What I could not see is Nintendo floating in the third party ether, making software for multiple machine specs. Unless they added significantly to their development process, I do not see them making that move. They may be a stubborn company, but they are a smarter company than Sega was to repeat their old mistakes.

Dropping their expanded playerbase approach any time soon also seems entirely unlikely. The Nintendo of old that only made some of the best games, set some of the highest standards, is not as much gone as it is retired. The company occasionally steps out of retirement to give a firm crack at it like they used to, but they have largely resigned themselves to be about a broader appeal. Much as I do not like it, I think this business philosophy is deeply intrenched and will not end with Iwata. If there are any ideas at Nintendo that have risen to the top to be executed on, it can be assured that those ideas have been bubbling away on some back burner for years before being acted on. This move toward casual gaming is largely Iwata’s execution but it is not his sole idea. Among the candidates to replace him, each one of them has been a proponent of this movement at least as long as he has.

Who has this muppet? Nintendo? The Henson Company? If it's Nintendo, we'll never see it again.
Muppet Iwata will still be checking his bananas.

There may come a day when Nintendo shifts gears, at least the day may come in my dreams, but for the immediate future I do not expect any kind of dramatic reversal of their approach to games and the kind of players they wish to reach. Whatever the NX is, I am sure it will attempt to accommodate those kinds of players. My only hope is that it do so in a way more elegant than slapping a tablet in between a Wii Pro Controller.

If you have anything to add then feel free to write it down below! There are any number of opinions on what Nintendo should do and even plenty of opinions on what they have already done, so speak up! I know you have something to say!


  1. If you have anything to add then feel free to write it down below!

    Crumply buns.

  2. I haven’t listened yet, but I’m sure it’s a very enjoyable podcast.Very little gaming these last few weeks. Lots of travel. Mad Rice Lid out!

  3. I’m perfectly happy with WiiU and all the games on it (now; it took some time to get there). I have no interest in buying a PS4 nor have any plans to. Yet I am definitely not a casual gamer, and don’t feel like the WiiU is a console for casual gamers. So perhaps I don’t understand some of where this article is coming from. Why are people so fascinated with the idea of Nintendo becoming a third-party developer for Sony (moreso than Microsoft it seems) consoles? What do you mean by the paragraph with “The Nintendo of old that only made some of the best games, set some of the highest standards, is not as much gone as it is retired”? Because I think Nintendo have been making and supporting some very excellent games. So then why would they even need “a dramatic reversal of their approach to games”? Also, I don’t mind Nintendo’s push for mobile mow, since DeNA will be making those games (right?) so Nintendo’s development groups should be able to keep on doing what they do.

  4. I didn’t even post that comment on the right thread…

  5. @DA: Thanks for tuning in to the Mel PodcastEditorial!

    @Matt: I don’t think the Wii U is a strictly casual console. Even the original Wii wasn’t. The Wii U tried to straddle the line between casual and traditional (core) gaming and ended up pleasing very few in the process. Nevermind the fact that they apparently didn’t send out dev kits to third parties until too near to launch for them to come up with anything decent. It’s small wonder companies like EA bailed. (Say what you want about EA’s games, but their absence isn’t a good thing for any platform)

    And the idea about Nintendo moving third party is because hardware in general is getting difficult to maintain. Nintendo does well with software and part of the magic of that software is how it integrates with the hardware, but I would stop short of saying they couldn’t make something for pre-existing hardware made by another company.

    So, the reason I think it’s possible they might become a second party company for a place like Sony is because since the second half of the Wii, their home console business has been a bust. And excepting the initial boom of the Wii, their hardware has been in the doldrums since 1996. Even their handheld space is starting losing ground to mobile, hence the entrance into that market.

    Nintendo moved away from high-end specs because they couldn’t afford to keep up. It wasn’t until the Wii that they started under-specing their home consoles, so having another company take that R&D off their hands would help. Nintendo does it’s best work when it makes more traditional games. Most of its forays into motion control was misguided at best, unnecessary most of the time, and outright counter productive at worst.

    Which brings me to my point about their “retirement”. When I wrote that they occasionally “come out of retirement” I meant that they still produce solid traditional style games that really stand among their best games (Smash, Mario, Mario Kart, all on the Wii U), but they’re mired amidst many more casual overtures.

    It’s my speculation that Nintendo got priced out of the market when much larger companies like Sony and MS joined in and got traction. The major competition was no longer like-sized games companies like Sega, and so Nintendo was eventually forced to pick a different approach than the one they began with which, frankly, I maintain is their actual strong suit. Miyamoto can while away his time making games like Nintendogs, but we all know he’s entirely capable of making something more than that. They haven’t always been this “toy company” people equate them to being these days. I think they adopted that image more out of necessity than desire. There was a time they were very much a game company about making deep experiences and challenging experiences.

  6. And about the DeNA thing, Nintendo is making those games. DeNA is basically handling how they get put to market as well as helping develop their online infrastructure for their next console (and probably the Wii U going forward, as well).

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