Nintendo is betting on closer development of the Wii U console with its replacement for the 3DS, including faster cross-platform game coding, to turn the company around, with no plans to license characters like Mario out to third-party titles. The strategy for the next-gen handheld is to use Nintendo’s newly-combined home and handheld development teams and harmonize the architecture of each, making them “like brothers in a family of systems” CEO Satoru Iwata suggested. In fact, that “family” could end up growing significantly as a result, he predicts.
The comments, part of Nintendo’s investor briefing Q&A delivered in the aftermath of its dire financial results, center on the fact that historically the company has had to separately develop consoles intended for home or portable use. That had a knock-on effect to game development, making it very expensive and time-consuming to port titles between, say, Wii U and 3DS.
“Previously, our handheld video game devices and home video game consoles had to be developed separately as the technological requirements of each system, whether it was battery-powered or connected to a power supply, differed greatly,” Iwata pointed out, “leading to completely different architectures and, hence, divergent methods of software development.”
Iwata highlights the fact that the new strategy is only going to be possible with Nintendo’s new system, rather than retroactively to the 3DS. Nintendo won’t simply drop the Wii U’s hardware into a portable device, but the 3DS replacement will be designed in a way “that can absorb the Wii U architecture adequately.”
Instead, Nintendo will look to the example set by Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, where form-factors have proliferated without necessarily diluting the original effort needed to develop software. Neither faces a shortage of software, the Nintendo chief argues, because the way of programming for each is common across every device.
“Still, I am not sure if the form factor (the size and configuration of the hardware) will be integrated. In contrast, the number of form factors might increase. Currently, we can only provide two form factors because if we had three or four different architectures, we would face serious shortages of software on every platform. To cite a specific case, Apple is able to release smart devices with various form factors one after another because there is one way of programming adopted by all platforms. Apple has a common platform called iOS. Another example is Android. Though there are various models, Android does not face software shortages because there is one common way of programming on the Android platform that works with various models. The point is, Nintendo platforms should be like those two examples. Whether we will ultimately need just one device will be determined by what consumers demand in the future, and that is not something we know at the moment”
Nintendo doesn’t yet know whether that will mean several devices – rather than just a Wii U replacement and a 3DS replacement – sharing a common platform, with the CEO saying that will depend on the state of the market at the time. However, the company is upfront about acknowledging its shortage of titles for new systems, and recognizing that it’s an issue that needs to change.
What that won’t include, however, is handing out responsibility for developing titles involving Nintendo’s own key franchises to third-parties. Despite calls for a more flexible approach to characters like Mario, Iwata denies that would be in the company’s best interest over time.
“I do not envisage a scenario in which we would license Mario out to another company to make a Mario video game” he says, though Nintendo is still weighing the “digital area” only in ways that do not create games to compete with its own titles.
Iwata did not comment in-depth on how the Wii U competes – or fails to – with the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, despite calls by some that its replacement should be introduced sooner rather than later.