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The End of Nintendo?

Nintendo has had a good, magnificent run as a hardware player. They've become iconic as a symbol of video games. But now it seems the icon's time in the market has come to and end.

Johnathon Swift, Blogger

September 21, 2012

4 Min Read

Nintendo won't be making another home console after the Wii-U. If their successor to the 3DS isn't better than the 3DS they won't be making hardware at all.

This is because Nintendo, as a hardware maker, has proven unable to adapt to change. And in the rapidly changing and extremely high competition world of commercial video games this is the equivelant of being an animal unable to adapt to humans arriving in your land, and like the Dodo Nintendo will probably fall extremely quickly.

The reasoning behind this prediction is the Wii-U, and its own obvious lack of understanding of the current market. In two thousand and six Nintendo set out the Wii to target an audience most didn't know existed, that of the "casual" video game player. An audience that would enjoy, and pay for, video games that were quicker and more acccessible than those that focused on large, involved, and long term games.

And of course the audience was indeed there, and for a few short years Nintendo managed to dominate this audience to the tune of billions of dollars. It delivered a lower priced console, directly targeted in both games and physical design to be as easy and approachable as practicable.

But now Nintendo's blue waters and uncontested dominance is an area of what might be called a million piranha. The competition has come, and it has come with such staggering ferocity that it's surprising any real winners in this area even exist. The modern smartphone has been introduced, and is now in the hands of over half the US adult population and growing (similar stats in Europe and growin in other countries). And many consider a smartphone absolutely perfect for playing much the same flavor of games that the Wii provided.

And those million piranha? A seeming million one man game developers, hoping against hope that their mobile smartphone game will be the big hit of the month on the Android or iOS app store and they can retire. Of course the big sharks and other fish are out their too. Microsoft and Sony have been quick enough to catch onto this new market and try their own hands, as have companies such as EA and Zynga.

Meaning requiring an entirely separate purchase of a console to reach this market isn't going to work at all; not when the competition has become so absolutely cuthroat that giving your game away "for free" is a standard practice. Nor, I suspect, is a lot of any "middle" or "other" game market going to make it to the Wii-U.

And that's because Nintendo's platforms continue to be unapproachable. Nintendo has rather strict guidelines around who can and can't make games for their hardware, including high fees, long delays, little to no support, and other things to drive people away. The Wii-U shows no sign of stopping this practice nor even supporting the idea of stopping it physically. While Nintendo may have acknowledged digital distribution in marketing terms, the Wii-U's lack of physical storage (a mere 32 gigs) shows they've not acknowledged it in terms of hardware. Given that other platforms are accessible given a tiny yearly fee, or free and clear on the PC*, this clearly isn't a winning strategy for their platforms hosting the next League of Legends or Minecraft.

Nor is the Wii-U positioned to be cross platform compatible with Microsoft and Sony's upcoming consoles. Those big triple A titles are overdue for a differentiation from their currently stale hardware and the rapidly advancing power of tablets and phones. Both Sony and MS are set to deliver, and in order to deliver on the games end developers are going to need to take advantage of this. Which inevitably means leaving the Wii-U's comparatively vastly underpowered hardware in the dust.

I expect, certainly, games to keep coming out for the 360 and PS3 for a while yet; their install base is simply too enormous. And while the Wii-U can run those games, no ones going to buy a Wii-U to play them. Why would they, when they probably already have a PS3 or 360? (Wich are going to be cheaper than the Wii-U new). No, it's not going to be a pretty picture for the Wii-U. The 3DS has survived, and thrived, thanks to a relative lack of competition for games more involved than smartphone games still in a mobile space (Sony's problems are vast and myriad in this space). But the Wii-U has no such niche to hide in. The pirahna are coming from one side, the big sharks from the other; and the Wii-U is a confused fish that doesn't know where it is or where it wants to be.

*A strategy Apple, Microsoft, and even Google truly, desperately need to emulate with their more modern platforms. People have put up with viruses for decades for the sake of being able to get anything they wanted, and many, perhaps a majority, would do much the same again with tablets.

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