At the end of last week Nintendo released the official translations of Satoru Iwata's most recent investor Q & A, giving us an insight into Nintendo's current standing with that audience and providing some useful teases of information on what's to come. These meetings are intriguing as, in a sense, they provide Nintendo's management an opportunity to defend the company's performance, and clarify how it plans to return to substantial profitability in this financial year.
Of the stories to emerge, one in particular seemed to catch the eye of news and game-hungry Nintendo fans. When quizzed about the relatively 'safe' lineup of Wii U titles shown off during E3 2013 — featuring ideas that are fresh variations on established and successful franchises — Satoru Iwata made the following intriguing comments.
At the start of the E3 show this year, we announced our Wii U software lineup until 2014 mainly through Nintendo Direct, rather than holding a large-scale presentation as we did in previous years. However, we did not announce all of the games to be released during this period. Most of those who are interested in E3 are video game fans that are eager for information on so-called traditional games and we had a lot of information to be disclosed to such people. Therefore, we first tried to inform consumers of the software lineup to relieve those who might think that they should have waited to buy Wii U until more games were released or those who might be concerned whether the software lineup will be really be enriched in the future. On the other hand, when it comes to brand-new types of games, we have to announce them not too far in advance of the actual release dates in order to have a strong impact in the market and minimize the chance of others introducing similar or competing products. We are working on new types of games, but we would like to announce them much closer to their actual release timings for this reason.
We would like as many people as possible to pick up, experience and enjoy our video games. It is important to let people who originally had no interest in games, find themselves enjoying Wii U in their living room every day. We must also satisfy avid video game fans. When it comes to Wii, as “Wii Sports” spread throughout the world at a sensational speed, some misunderstood that all Wii could do is enable them to play games by moving the Wii Remote. With Wii U, therefore, we planned to satisfy existing video game fans first and provide new surprises later. But, just as you pointed out, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the consumers to be impressed by improvements in graphics alone, so we would like to seek different ways to make an impression on consumers.
Perhaps the most encouraging parts of that answer are that there are unannounced titles expected in the coming period, possibly before the end of the year, and an assurance that they're innovative enough that the company doesn't want to announce them too soon for fear of being copied by rivals. So what could this mean?
We certainly have to hope, firstly, that this is a statement that will come through with tangible and exciting products, rather than a line to appease investors with minimal pay-off; only time will tell. It's natural to be cautious when told of exciting and innovative titles if you're of a "see it to believe it" persuasion, but as optimists we can certainly fantasize about what Satoru Iwata could mean, in terms of innovation that will sell the concept of the system. We don't think we're talking new F-Zero or Star Fox here, but ideas that Nintendo would promote as unique to Wii U or, at the very least, better on Wii U in the eyes of general, uncommitted consumers.
We'd hope that, of what's to come, at least some of these ideas will be eShop releases. To date Nintendo has published exactly zero download-only titles on its latest online platform — New Super Luigi U, let's not forget, is DLC for a retail title and has a standalone disc on the way. On the other hand Nintendo has been fairly active on the 3DS eShop, showing off the system in various ways with 3D Classics and titles designed to use the hardware's functionality, whether 3D block puzzles in Fallblox / Crashmo or gyro sensor-controlled puzzling in Hydroventure: Spin Cycle / Fluidity. In some way or another these games do things that weren't possible in the same way on the DS family of systems, while offering less expensive gaming for those willing to explore the store.
In terms of the Wii U eShop, the ongoing silence to date suggests that if Pokémon Scramble U is to come to the West — it surely will — it may be targeted for a similar release period to Pokémon X & Y. The biggest gimmick of that title is that the NFC sensor on the GamePad will recognise accompanying figurines to bring additional 'mon into the game; not exactly unique or brand new, admittedly, as Skylanders and the upcoming Disney Infinity have established the collectible-toy-as-in-game-DLC idea already. Beyond that, the eShop is the ideal ground for experimentation, especially with the system opening up to smaller developers.
We've heard in earlier months that Nintendo is supporting Unity — which isn't unique — but also a Web Framework to make life easier for web developers, and supposedly a tool that allows relatively quick and professional conversion of smartphone / tablet games to the system. In the Investor Q & A Satoru Iwata cautiously stated that the company was yet to find a way to work with "a vast number of individual developers", but was open to external support. That doesn't mean the company hasn't opened the doors to some, even if the masses decidedly won't be turning around games for Wii U right away. It's here that the interpretation of "brand new types of games" is interesting, as Nintendo may attempt to be the first home console to offer games typically found on mobile platforms on the TV and GamePad, offering an intuitive option in the home with that touch screen / physical controls combination. Systems such as the Android-based Ouya are available, of course, but Nintendo would likely seek a different approach if it were to open up that kind of market and encourage developers that, previously, may not have opted for a home console release.
Aside from eShop games and the potential output from the Nintendo Web Framework, however, Nintendo will likely reserve any big guns or experiences it deems as "system sellers" for the retail domain. In this respect Nintendo is tough to second-guess. Back in 2004/2005 the idea of a Remote-style motion controller surely had plenty scratching their heads in terms of how it'd be used effectively, and one of the company's strengths in the past decade has been its ability to surprise. Let's not forget that the Wii U GamePad has already been used in clever ways, with examples in Nintendo Land, Game & Wario and, in all likelihood, Wii Party U designed to show consumers why they have to have a GamePad in their lives. There are plenty of "experiences" on offer, so perhaps we'll see a change in how they're packaged.
Nintendo has already confirmed that free-to-play and other business models are on the agenda, so we're left to wonder whether snippets of Wii U fun will appear in retailers as download cards, or inexpensive discs that connect to an integrated store to access more content at small additional costs: think of the Tank! Tank! Tank! eShop DLC model, but less clunky and with mini-games. We've seen the GamePad used for off-TV, asynchronous multiplayer, dual screen single-player gaming, motion controls and most things besides, so perhaps it's all about how those experiences are shared and sold to consumers. Rather than a $60 Wii Party U retail disc with everything includes, maybe it could be a $10 disc with a structured $50 worth of content to choose from.
With Nintendo, it's hard to say what it's hinting at with new experiences that'll give Wii U its Wii Sports moment. As Iwata-san said, E3 was for gamers that want a HD Zelda, platforming and more Mario that's new but ultimately familiar, and we can only wonder what these unannounced projects could be. GamePad-only games, new collections of mini-games sold in a different way, interactive novel or movie experiences, a slew of experimental titles on the eShop? Nintendo's pulled some surprises before, so who can say whether it'll hit the mark with something fresh enough to make rivals jealous of the idea, or whether it'll be more of the same with a different ribbon tied on. As we said early in this article, we don't think the likes of Star Fox will be the mass-selling innovation targeting a non-E3 audience, so don't hold your breaths on that score.
This is a topic with few answers right now, but lots of possibilities. As a result it'll be the subject of our second Your View article this coming weekend, where we publish the opinions and ideas of the Nintendo Life community. To that end we've set up a new thread in our community forum where you will have a chance to have your voice heard in that feature; it'll be open until 10pm UK time / 5pm Eastern on Thursday 11th July, at which stage it'll be locked. By all means sound off in the comments below as always, but if you want an opportunity to have your comments posted in that feature, head on over to the forum thread.