What Is Nintendo's New Console Team Working On Next?
From a handheld/home console mix, to a 3DS replacement and smartphones - what could Nintendo's newly-unified dev teams be working on next?
Published on Feb 6, 2013
Nintendo is changing. The company that brought Mario, Zelda, DS and Wii to the world is going through some of the toughest years in its 100-year-plus history.
With Nintendo Japan President Satoru Iwata’s announcement last week that the company is unifying its handheld and home console development divisions and a recent u-turn on free-to-play, it’s a transitional time for the gaming giant.
Iwata announced last week: “What we are saying is that we would like to integrate software development methods, operating systems, and built-in software and software assets for each platform.
“This means that if we manage to integrate our platforms successfully, we may in fact be able to make more platforms.
"At the moment, we only have our current handheld devices and home consoles because if we tried to make more platforms, our development resources would be spread too thinly.”
But what could that now-unified dev team now be working on or prototyping behind closed doors? We sift through the rumours and read between the lines to see where the company could head next.
A ‘Third Pillar’ 3DS Replacement
Nintendo DS was announced a ‘third pillar’ console, not intended to replace the legendary Gameboy brand but as a risky experiment with two screens.
Satoru Iwata said in 2004 when the DS was revealed: “"We have developed Nintendo DS based upon a completely different concept from existing game devices in order to provide players with a unique entertainment experience for the 21st century.”
Of course, the DS then went on to become the best-selling console of all time and any rumours of a mega-powerful, single screen ‘Gameboy Evolution’ quietly disappeared into the ether.
Fast forward to 2013, and DS’ successor has taken a lot of work to get off the ground and despite price cuts, a host of colours and the XL version, the console has still only sold 29.4million in just under two years according to Nintendo’s latest financial results.
Not terrible sales by any means – and certainly far beyond Sony’s PS Vita - but it’s fair to say the handheld hasn’t caught fire like the original DS.
It’s possible Nintendo is readying a new handheld with a radically different direction to market alongside 3DS.
Perhaps the system could return to a one-screen setup and focus on only digital sales.
In fact, Nintendo’s experimentation with 3DS game pricing on the eShop is evidence the company is flirting with the idea of going digital-only at some point in the near future and is weighing up how to price games on a dedicated device - a decision critical to a digital-only handheld.
If successful, the 3DS could be slowly retired, like the Gameboy line.
A Nintendo Phone & Free Smartphone Titles
Nintendo has consistently stated it has no desire to move into making phones, nor put its best IPs on other companies’ devices. However, Pokemon has bucked this trend twice.
The Japan-exclusive Pokemon Say Tap? released to both Android and iOS devices last year, while an official Pokedex app hit iPhone and iPad was released in Japan in November, priced £1.30.
Both were developed by Nintendo-owned subsidiary Creatures Inc., which suggests a willingness by Nintendo to at least let its second-party devs flirt with new platforms.
Indeed, Nintendo announced last month that it will bring Miiverse onto mobiles, allowing gamers on iPhones and Android devices to tap into Wii U's social network on the go.
This shows the company is thinking about phone developments and how existing mobiles can bolster Wii U and 3DS games.
The firm has also shown an interest in ‘cheap-to-play’ and free-to-play titles – the kind suited to mobile gaming.
Iwata told Japanese newspaper Nikkei (translated by Neogaf) that new IPs could benefit from new ways to sell which have been ‘freed up’.
Iwata said: "For new titles with no established base, if, in the process of development, we found it to suit the free-to-play model, we might follow that route, or we might do something like 'cheap-to-play’.”
"Our sales methods have been freed up and I have no desire to extinguish that freedom.
“If we were to release something like that, it is not a betrayal but the birth of an interesting idea through our new found freedom, that's all.
“I am not talking about changing how we sell Mario or Pokémon."
This suggests Nintendo is open to the idea of experimenting with new franchises with a different business model.
Mario and Pokemon’s main-line titles could continue to be sold on Nintendo’s traditional platforms, but Iwata is suggesting the company could experiment with new IP.
Rest assured, Nintendo would never kill off its dedicated gaming lines completely.
Iwata told a conference this week: “Our stance is that dedicated gaming platforms will not die out and we are determined to create a future where they will not."
A Unified Handheld/Home Console
Nintendo recently merged its handheld and home console divisions but stated this doesn’t mean the company will create one catch-all console.
Iwata said: “In terms of our platform integration, as I explained to you a short while ago, we are not saying that we are planning to integrate our platforms into one.”
This means Nintendo isn’t looking to replace Wii U and 3DS with one machine. After all, for a business which is built around selling two lines of consoles, killing them both with one box would be incredibly high-risk.
But risks are what Nintendo take. The one thing DS, Wii and Wii U have in common is an absurdly high risk factor compared to other consoles.
With both teams working together, there’s nothing to say Nintendo couldn’t create a third machine which has elements of handheld and home console but doesn’t replace either.
Imagine a handheld with more power than 3DS, but with no 3D and a single screen, with a decent bulk of power (not quite as much as Wii U) and wireless HDMI output for a TV, full of games priced about £1-10; almost like a Nintendo Ouya.
It could complement other machines by attempting to capture a different sector of the market, packed with Brain Training titles, Wii Fit workout packs and other 'casual' titles.
Of course, this idea might never see the light of day. But Nintendo has piles of prototypes in its vault; Gameboys with 3D screens, a GameCube with a TV-screen add-on for 3D, a giant star button controller – all of which were toyed with. The smart money says Nintendo is at least considering it.