Talking Point: With Calls for Nintendo to Follow the Crowd, It Faces a Dilemma

Sony's Vita TV joins the noise of huge releases and lots of consoles

It's been a busy week of opinions on Nintendo, the Wii U and the 3DS. Whether you agree with some, disagree or are simply baffled by it all, it seems that games industry figures are only too happy to queue up and say what Nintendo should be doing to remain a key player in the industry. The viewpoints put forth are often those heard already; Nintendo should publish games on other formats including smartphones, it should cut and run from the Wii U, it should ensure third-party parity in the home console space by matching up, technologically, with the Xbox One and PS3, and so on.

Nintendo's faced calls to evolve or step out of the game on other occasions, of course, no doubt when the GameCube was a struggling third in its generation, before the DS sold all those units and it was considered by some to be gimmicky and underpowered, ditto with the Wii. With the DS and Wii generation Nintendo's concepts won through, but question marks arose again when the 3DS endured a poor start; a drastic price cut and a lot of games later its evolved from a 'doomed' handheld to the saving grace of the company, racking up sales and helping the company to record a profit for the last financial year. In its place on the rack now is the Wii U, which has also endured a disappointing opening period and is relying on a similar bounce-back; the same noises that declared the 3DS dead on arrival are now following the Wii U around, with the slightly extended struggles of the home console to date losing some retailer faith, into the bargain.

Of course, predicting the survival of the 3DS in mid-2011 was full of ifs, buts and maybes, and that's the case now with Wii U. To an extent that applies to those down on the system's prospects, of course, as the marketplace doesn't always pay attention to what writers and web communities think will happen; the priorities of the masses don't always tie in with what enthusiasts think is important. Nintendo as always is seeking to tap into its loyal fanbase while also delivering franchises and experiences clearly suitable for families and those that still love local multiplayer above all. The upcoming lineup has many of the staples and favourites that defined the Wii era, with much emphasis on games with Mario in the title and, we suspect, Wii Fit U.

What Nintendo isn't offering, beyond a few high-profile multi-platform games from Ubisoft and a SEGA exclusive or two, is the must-have platform for major FPS games, a home for the hugely lucrative marketing machine of Grand Theft Auto V — though that's just on PS3 and Xbox 360, to date — or anything from EA. What those exclusions mean is that Nintendo has to go off its own strengths almost exclusively, banking on its own approach, style of content and audience to carve itself a market among the waves of noise from other platforms.

And there's so much noise. It's that noise that has some arguing the case that for Nintendo to forge a long term future it should jump in on these markets and franchises from which its excluded, whatever the cost. The counter-argument is that doing that, joining in with the others to compete on those territories, could be disastrous — surely part of Nintendo's appeal, to its fans, families and its potential audience — is that its design and game philosophies are so different from others. Nintendo's exclusives aren't moody, narrative driven action adventures with first or third-person shooting; they're cornea-burning experiences packed with colour, or party games, or fitness programmes. Give up that identity, and would Nintendo simply lose its only edge?

And then we've had Sony's most recent reveals, to date only confirmed for Japan but likely to arrive worldwide. It's releasing a cheaper Vita model, which may boost the system, and it's showed off a lot of cross-platform and sharing functionality, a key part of the PS4 messaging. Perhaps the most surprising reveal was the PS Vita TV, bringing Sony into the micro-console arena; it'll be rather inexpensive (potentially under $100 without a DualShock controller or memory card) and will play Vita game cards as well as the PSN content available on that platform. In some ways it's a peculiar device, grinding the handheld down into a tiny box that lets you play its games on the TV, and it's tapping into the area of the market that arguably kicked off in earnest with the high-profile but — to our knowledge — not hugely successful Ouya. The Android device promised the chance to play Android games on a TV, and Sony is essentially offering the same with its Vita. How much of a difference Sony's brand can have on the micro-console concept is for anyone to guess.

We feel any declarations of Vita TV being the best idea since sliced bread should be tempered by the unproven nature of the micro console market, while it may cause brand confusion. There are fears that games reliant on touch controls won't be available on the Vita TV, with Eurogamer reporting the absence in the compatibility list of big-hitters such as Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Gravity Rush. We'd suggest that anyone accusing Nintendo of risky branding that can baffle consumers should consider the same terms for Sony, with store shelves potentially holding PS3, PS4, PS Vita and PS Vita TV side by side, and good odds on some buying the TV box and incompatible Vita games without understanding the difference. Nintendo's had branding issues currently and potentially in the future with Wii U, Wii, 3DS, 2DS, and DSi to name some, but it's clearly not alone. If the 2DS had actually allowed TV play, like the 1DS spoof, we're also unsure of whether it'd be hailed around the web as a bold move or a rather goofy idea.

Time will tell on the fortunes of Nintendo and its many competitors, but with so many products on the marketplace this Holiday season there will be some calls that Nintendo needs to evolve, step away from offering a conventional home console, produce something with greater media power (such as the One and PS4), or simply explore different models and ideas. Perhaps Nintendo needs less expensive, web-based home micro consoles, maybe its market in the pricier console market is largely lost, and it's possible that the 3DS is the last hurrah before the dedicated handheld space is sacrificed — or perhaps Nintendo will succeed carrying on in its own terms.

What we do have, arguably, is one of the most turbulent, unstable periods the games industry has faced in a long time. We're not only being bombarded with multiple platforms, but entirely new business models that are striving to prove themselves as the next big thing. Nintendo's doing its own thing, and it's exceptionally difficult to project whether that will be a policy rewarded in the years to come. There are too many unproven models, alternative markets and products out there to definitively say what's coming next.

Where do you stand in this? Do you think Nintendo needs to consider a fresh approach in the coming years, should it stick to its guns with the Wii U and 3DS in anticipation of proving that those models still work? Is it all too confusing to predict? Sound off in the polls and comments below.

Do you think Nintendo should shake up its console approach? (469 votes)

No, it's fine. Give it time and the existing approaches (Wii U & 3DS) will do well

37%

It's hard to say, but I do think the Wii U will "survive"

33%

Maybe, it's hard to tell with so many systems and ideas floating around

6%

I think so, the Wii U may struggle to make an impact with so many competing products

11%

Definitely, Nintendo needs to revamp its console business urgently

10%

I have no idea

1%

None of the above

1%

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What do you consider to be "the future" in consoles, for Nintendo and others? (418 votes)

The current model, as per the Wii U, will remain the main approach

34%

Always online systems with DRM, like the Xbox One before its u-turns

6%

Inexpensive micro-consoles primarily focused on downloads

3%

Consoles and portables are the same hardware, you just switch between TV and on-the-go

38%

How would I know?

14%

None of the above

5%

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