Sunday, May 31, 2015

The NX, Amiibos, and the Future

I must apologize for I have been remiss in updating this blog. The last time I made an update was in the glow of last year's highly successful post-E3 glow.

A year on, Mario Maker is still on the way so jury is still out (although I'm excited), Zelda has been delayed, and Amiibos as it turned out, was a huge success, selling well over 10 million units in less than seven months on the market, and it didn't even hit all the markets at the same time.

There has been a lot of other announcements in the interceding months. The biggest of which is Nintendo's partnership with mobile developer DeNA to create a platform for mobile games.

With E3 2015 around the corner, excitement is once again in the air. So let's discuss the two things that definitely won't be discussed at E3

The NX Platform

Announced at the same time of the partnership with DeNA to enter the mobile market, this is, as company president Iwata explained a reveal in name only to confirm Nintendo remains comitted to the dedicated games market.

As such not much is known about this platform and there is considerable debate whether it will be a console to replace the Wii U (which isn't doing well) or a portable to replace the rapidly aging Nintendo 3DS, which is likely the company's core profit center, or alternatively, it has been suggested that the NX is a hybrid platform that bridges consoles/handheld and mobile gaming.

Whatever it is, the NX, when revealed next year will likely give us our first understanding of Nintendo's unified platform strategy. My personal view on this is that the hardware and the software needs to be highly scalable such that they can release the platform at a reasonable price in 2016, but produce higher tier versions in the future without creating a segmented market. This would likely require Nintendo to be more upfront with their development partners in terms of supply specification differences to each NX tier as to allow them to program scalability into their games and Nintendo's secretic (need to know) way of operating historically is what worries me to most. But let's hope for the best here.

Imagine being able to play NX-portable games on NX-home console seamlessly, with the additional power of the console version allowing for games to be rendered at a higher resolution and or added effects. It could be as simple as the portable version being rendered at a lower resolution than the home version. Or texture quality being higher on home consoles. While each platform may and probably will have exclusives taking full advantage of each platform, this sort of home-mobile interoperability could prove helpful to skittish 3rd parties looking to maximize sales on the largest market possible. If they can access a unified home/portable market it would help the economics of their games

Furthermore, this scaleability would allow NX-2, 3, 4 and future iterations to take software from previous NX versions and not only run them, but run them with all the new features of the new NX platforms enabled.

The biggest roadblock to Nintendo's otherwise well-planned backwards compatability is that the platforms are largely not the same and backwards compatability is only achieved by including the previous generation's chipset inside the console (think Wii mode in Wii U or DS mode in 3DS); This means that the newer platforms reconfigures itself to become a Wii or a DS when running legacy titles, losing all its other functionality. I would love to post screenshots of DS games or share them on Miiverse, but nope, DS mode in 3DS shuts all those features down. Ditto for the Wii U in Wii mode.

Nintendo + DeNA

There isn't much to say here but Nintendo has confirmed no mobile related news will be revealed at E3, at the event is meant to be for core gaming announcements. With at least one mobile game under the DeNA/Nintendo partnership due out this year, one would expect a safe title, likely free-to-start with microtransactions. This is the least interesting bit (for me) of what Nintendo is doing but I could be converted if they can marry their need to mobile revenues with their current business in videogames and leverage both in a way that allows me to spend extra money on their mobile apps without feeling like I sold my soul.

Nintendo @ E3

Leveraging last year's highly successful 'Digital Event', Nintendo is back again with another Digital Event. Eschewing the stage managed and often dull/embarrassing live conferences, the company is looking to recapture the excitement from last E3 with a Nintendo World Championship in place of last year's Smash tournament.

Will it work? It remains to be seen, but early indications are good insofar as they have a much bigger slice of the public looking at them this time around. A quick point of comparison. Last year's Mega64 produced trailer announcing their digital event has 1.13 million views and 25k likes in the 12 months it has been on-line on Nintendo's own Youtube channel (this is not including mirrors, and views in other services, such as the eshop). In comparison, the trailer released less than a month ago announcing their Digital Event in June already has 1.5 million views on Youtube (in under 3 weeks) and 37k likes.

Their job will be straightforward, although not easy. Show lots of games, announce a few surprise games, throw in a few fan favourite Virtual Console releases (Mother 3 anyone?) and don't take their consumers for granted.

This won't alter Wii U's trajectory very much as the 3rd place platform, but it could mean entering their next hardware cycle as a relevant well-liked 'dark horse' instead of being a disliked 'has been'. And their continued support for the Wii U will most certainly mean a difference in sales that cumulatively could mean a much more profitable company going into a hardware refresh regardless of their placement in the console-warz epeen contest.

Before I go, a small note on Amiibos.

I understand the difficulty of manufacturing so many distinctly different character types and alloting enough units for each on a global basis. This makes shortages of popular Amiibo types inevitable. As much as the Amiibo craze has lifted the company's profile (at the very least among resellers) it is increasingly leading to frustration from consumers.

If proper supply allotment for each Amiibo type is a problem, Nintendo should at the very least institute a 're-order' program with Amazon and their retail partners allowing consumers to place an order for an out of stock Amiibo that Nintendo will then manufacture and ship out to consumers, thus reducing the risk of over supply of reprints.  Similarly, their pre-order programs should be expanded as a market-test to see which of their Amiibos would be relatively more popular.

As it stands, Amiibos are released in 'waves' and snatched up so fast that casual consumers who blinked would have missed out and there is then no way to guarantee a reprint down the line. Pre-orders are merely ways for Gamestop and Amazon to pre-sell their already alloted shipments, rather than polling consumer interest and adjusting supply as needed, further limiting Day 1 availability.

I want several legacy Amiibos but I don't want to pay scalpers with their 200-500% markup for one and frankly, after the relative ease of pre-ordering the Wave 1 and Wave 2 Amiibos last year (prior to the reseller market taking notice) it has been nigh impossible for me to easily get the Wave 3 and Wave 4 rare Amiibos. Fix this Nintendo and you'll have more of my money.