With Nintendo reporting a loss of $456 million dollars last year, armchair-CEOs have once again begun clamoring for Nintendo to “get out of the hardware business” and start making games for iOS, Android, and PCs. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating:
This is the wrong solution.
Nintendo is not Sega, the last great console-maker to exit the business and focus solely on software (something which has led to rather pronounced decline in the quality of games from their studios, though correlation or causation depends on the data, which remains scant). But, they do need to either create hardware capable of playing the games that “core” gamers want (such as Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, Elder Scrolls, etc.) with all the bells and whistles and fancy lighting and super-pixels or whatever, or else aim for mass-market appeal with devices that cost less monies, increasing the likelihood of families being interested in purchasing them for the home.
The Wii was a smash hit because it was cheaper than the competition and it provided a gameplay experience that was easy-to-learn and encouraged community (not in the online way that Xbox Live does, but in the actual face-to-face way). The Wii U is a step backward from that, thanks to its higher price tag and poorer selection of games. The Wii may not have had all the shooters and hardcore action games that the last-gen systems had, but it got pretty much everything else and massive numbers of other great games that embraced the physical nature of its control system (Boom Blox is a prime example of this).
Nintendo makes amazing games, it’s true, but what allows them to do so is the fact that they control the entire experience, just like Apple does with OS X and the Mac or iOS and the iPhone/iPad. But people don’t buy game systems the same way they buy computers and smartphones, and most casual gamers aren’t compelled to upgrade to the new system when the old one still works fine for everything they used it for (Wii Sports, Netflix, Virtual Console).
But putting their greatest assets (in this case: Mario, Link, Samus, and Kirby) onto other people’s platforms will reduce them to a shell of what they are now. You won’t see amazing games like Super Mario Galaxy on those systems, because Nintendo won’t have the advantage of developing the hardware and software in tandem to create new and unique gaming experiences.
What we want Nintendo to do and what Nintendo needs to do are not the same thing. I’d love to play Zelda on my iPhone, but not at the cost of the most influential gaming house the world has ever known. Instead, I want Nintendo to focus on creating affordable systems and valuable software. Let us buy Virtual Console games on the Wii U and play them on the 3DS (and vice-versa). Provide us the opportunity to purchase games once for all the systems we own (instead of requiring us to buy three copies of one game so that we can play it with our kids). Bring us new, big Mario and Zelda games every few years, but also give us more games like NES Remix that provide incredible gameplay at prices that scream “Value!”
If Nintendo can stop trying to retake the number one spot and instead focus on providing the best games at a price people are willing to pay, they’ll do well for themselves. But to throw all their control away to make a quick buck on iOS and Android is a fool’s errand.
In your future (“you” being the iOS/Android cage-rattlers), customers will clamor over every release of a classic title they loved to play until Nintendo runs out of classic titles. And they will run out of classic titles eventually, because they won’t be making another new title worthy of becoming a classic.