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10 Things I hope Nintendo will announce for the WII U at E3 2012
I am on record as a pretty strong believer in the death of the console. I believe that new platforms such as browsers, tablets and smartphones that offer convenience will dominate the future games market, with consoles either vanishing or taking up a much smaller part of the market, satisfying a niche core audience.
The wild card is Nintendo. They have a strong track record of innovation, of zigging when others zag, of looking for a Blue Ocean in which to compete. Any time I am asked to comment on what Nintendo will do next, I say:
“It is a brave analyst who bets against Nintendo”
So in a spirit of positivity, I am going to stick my neck out and set out the things that I hope Nintendo will do to make sure that the Wii U is an enormous success. Some of them are already announced, others are what I would like to see.
Of course the most likely prediction to come true is that Nintendo will surprise us all. Again.
(Note that I have been very focused on client work for the past six months, and may have missed some Nintendo announcements. This is intended to be a comprehensive list, not just the new things I would like to see.)
1. A great UI
Apple gets this right time and again. They make simplicity at the heart of everything they do. (Simplicity for the consumer, anyway). Contrast the experience of using an iPhone or iPad with the horrific navigation SNAFU that is the Xbox Dashboard, or the PlayStation one, or the Nintendo one.
Make it easy and accessible for everyone to use. They will buy more things if Nintendo does.
2. A user-friendly online store
Nintendo has spent a long time pretending that the Internet does not exist. There are signs that is waking up, and the announcement that Nintendo-published titles will be available day and date as digital downloads is great news. I want to see an easy-to-navigate store which makes it easy for consumers to find high quality content.
3. A light touch to curation
Now I’m getting into the realm of fantasy. I would like the Wii U to embrace a light touch to the selection of content in the store. I’d like the principle to be “if you can make it work on our platform, you can publish it on our platform, unless you break these clear, transparent rules.” That will enable developers to experiment with the technology and the platform to make cool, interesting, innovative games. I’d like Nintendo to focus on filtering, not curation.
I think Nintendo is unlikely to let this happen.
4. A social graph, preferably an existing one
One of the joys of the Internet is that we can share more than we ever have done before. When a game is popular, it can sweep through the cyberverse incredibly fast. Of course, Zynga’s spamming of the Facebook feed means that the viral channels on the browser are basically shut down, and they never really existed on mobile. Virality is about good old fashioned word-of-mouth.
So I hope that Nintendo can announce a way to harness virality on a global scale, either via an existing social graph, or by making a new one, or both. Existing console attempts at social graphs have been weak, but with a tablet interface, rather than a six-axis controller, to smooth human-to-human interaction, I have hopes for this one.
5. Embracing free
The partner to virality is “free”. If you want something to spread fast, it has to be good, easy to share and easy to experience. If the only way to experience something is to pay out £30 for the privilege, it will never spread fast.
I would like Nintendo to announce that it will embrace free-to-play. That it will backtrack on Iwata’s GDC 2011 speech where he assumed that because something was free, it was necessarily rubbish. That it will accept a business model where most people get to experience a game for free, but a small proportion will find things that they truly value in it, and pay for those things.
Not holding my breath for this one.
6. Make the living room social once more
The Wii gained enormous success by making games a social activity, one that can be enjoyed by all the family. It suffered when it turned out that for many families, this became a gimmick, a toy to be brought out at Christmas and family occasions, rather than a permanent addition to their entertainment landscape.
I hope that Nintendo will show us how the Wii U can be used to connect an older generation with their grandchildren, or for twenty-somethings at a party, or a group of kids after school. I hope they will show us that Nintendo has a vision for “in-room social” that is more than Wii Sports.
We’ve all already got Wii Sports.
7. Multiple cost-effective controllers
Part of making the living room more social is having multiple controllers. I’d like to see how the Wii U supports multiple tablets, or even 3DSs. I’d like the prices of multiple controllers to be realistic. I’d like it to be possible to imagine bringing your own Wii U tablet round to someone’s house, bringing with it your characters, or in-app purchases, or save games, or Wii Cash, or whatever.
Make the most of the portability of the tablet.
8. Being affordable
Nintendo has said that it will not announce the price of the product until later this year. Nevertheless, for the Wii U to be a success, it has to be cheap. I think an iPad is the desirable Christmas present in 2012. Nintendo needs to undercut the price of Apple products massively to build an installed base, because I don’t think there is much pent-up demand for a current-generation console, even with the Wii U’s tablet controller. Nintendo will need to buy its way to mass market acceptance.
9. Good games
Of course this matters, but in some ways, it’s less interesting to me. Nintendo has its fans, which means there are lots of people who will buy the Wii U just to get the latest Mario, or Zelda, or whatever.
I’m not so interested in that. Those customers are in the bag. It’s what it offers to someone like me, who has no interest in Mario or Zelda, but who owns a PS3, and a Wii, and an iPad, and an iPhone and has two kids under 4, both of whom are much more interested in the Apple products than the consoles.
So let’s have some interesting games that are not just Nintendo staples.
10. Or make it clear that this is a Nintendo product for Nintendo whales
There is another strategy that Nintendo could follow. It has legions of fans who love everything that Nintendo does, and always have done. It has its own community (a term I use loosely here) that it could mobilise to make a fabulous business just by selling its own products to them. Nintendo could go for a “true-fan” strategy itself, aiming to be less of a platform play and more of a content business that happens to sell the hardware on which to run its content.
The difficulty of this strategy comes in enticing new audiences into your fold, rather than relying on franchises many of which are 20 years old or more. In the end, I think that there is a real danger that this is the route that Nintendo will end up taking: making digital an afterthought; fighting against free-to-play; conceding the mass market to the smartphone and the tablet.
I don’t want Nintendo to do this. I would rather it learned from best of the mobile world, rather than railed against it. I do think that this is quite a likely strategy for Nintendo though, and we’ll know more by this time next week.
And I will almost be certainly be surprised by something that Nintendo announces that no one was expecting.
(What do you want to see? Let me and the rest of the GAMESbrief audience know in the comments)