2014 is drawing to a close, ending another year of fun, frustration, innovation and madness in the world of Nintendo. Once again the Kyoto company went its own way, which is a strength and weakness in any given circumstances. The 3DS continued to sell in highly respectable numbers, though may track below 2013, while the Wii U had terrific games but - in terms of known sales at the time of writing - not equivalent sales. No matter how you slice and dice statistics that are out in the wild to date, it's been out-performed by both the PS4 - which was the year's big overall winner - and the Xbox One. Momentum has been improved for the Wii U, which is pleasing, but the numbers aren't particularly rousing.
It's to Nintendo's credit that it is, so far in this financial year, returning profits despite sales struggling to improve; the 3DS remains the bedrock for the company, keeping it stable despite issues in the home console space. While business realities are disappointing, though, there's been a greater sense of spirit and optimism around Nintendo. 2014 brought some excellent games and related sales successes - relative to the lows of 2013 - and the company has already lined up a solid batch of content to take us through decent sections of the coming year. With more announcements sure to come soon along with the arrival of the New Nintendo 3DS - date TBC - in Europe and North America, the company should be able to keep some buzz going throughout the next 12 months.
With hardware and games coming, along with details on the sleep sensor what will eventually be the first QoL (Quality of Life) product, there's plenty on the big N's plate. That said, we've decided to identify five key areas where we think Nintendo can - realistically - do better. These are some logical changes, some more ambitious than the rest, that we believe could be beneficial; Nintendo's big-wigs know perfectly well how to run a business, of course, but that doesn't mean that consumer opinion can't be useful.
Below are some New Year's resolutions that we'd like Nintendo to consider.
Build the Brand on Social Platforms
Nintendo has already started to make strides in this area, so this is more about continuing the decent work we've seen in 2014. The company's approach at E3 was fantastic, shunning the live media presentation in favour of an entertaining digital event, staging a high-profile Super Smash Bros. Invitational and delighting dedicated fans with hour after hour of live streaming from the Nintendo Treehouse team. Nintendo of America, in particular, ran a few excellent - and lengthy - live streams in 2014. In addition, we've seen the beginnings of more interesting and regular video content from the company's various YouTube channels.
A key area to improve is YouTube. Late in the year Shigeru Miyamoto and Bill Trinen appeared on popular YouTube channels - with millions of subscribers each - such as Rosanna Pansino and iJustine; there's also an upcoming appearance with Smosh Games. While not to everyone's taste, YouTube is a powerful part of modern consumer media, with channels commanding millions of subscriptions and hundreds of thousands of views (often millions) for each and every video. This is where a lot of people go for their entertainment, and Nintendo has been left behind as brands such as Minecraft have dominated Let's Plays, while Sony and Microsoft's systems and available games seem dominant in comparison to the big N's.
Nintendo's made big mistakes with YouTube, and as recently as mid-2013 it was enforcing draconian IP rights and demanding money from adverts. We can argue all we like about whether that approach is justifiable, but the fact is that the content providers have the power through their audience; don't court their revenues, but encourage them to cover Nintendo games. We certainly don't condone the skullduggery of paid-for content that isn't marked as such, but simply lifting limits and being relaxed about YouTube can go a long way. As for Twitter, Facebook et al, the approach has already been much improved; the company's accounts can still lighten up a little and bring more individual personality to the fore, but they've been moving in the right direction.
Be Bold With Pricing, Products and Stock at Retail
To be blunt, stock and distribution of the most desired Wii U products - in particular - in the Holiday season have been almost unacceptable. There wasn't enough amiibo stock for demand, and even worse Nintendo's communications around the problems were of little use, while a number of those eager Smash Bros. fans that wanted a GameCube Controller Adapter were left disappointed. While markets like the US have shown signs of positive sales despite some stock problems, meanwhile, the UK has seemingly reverted back to being both one of the biggest markets in Europe and a weak spot for the company; the software top 40 in the country was grisly reading in December.
In 2013 Nintendo was badly burned by having a lot of shipped Wii U systems that it couldn't shift; an overloaded and unwanted inventory was partially blamed for losses, and in one quarter the European Wii U hardware sales were actually a negative - in other words, more stock was returned by retailers than actually sold in shops. As mentioned above, Nintendo's done impressive work in 2014 in making profits without actually boosting sales in a big way, no doubt being savvy in not over-manufacturing, focusing on the 32GB Wii U models and so on. A problem, though, particularly in the Black Friday period, was that Nintendo was caught on its heels as Microsoft in particular targeted consumers with huge incentives and price cuts. The Wii U was still the least expensive console, but not to the degree that the Wii was in its early pomp.
As Nintendo learned with the 3DS, it's not a brand that can command premium tech-prices; once the portable's price was slashed in Fall 2011 and games arrived, it flew off the shelves. The Wii U, missing the majority of third-party blockbusters and technologically behind its rivals - in terms of graphics and multi-tasking power - simply has to be a budget machine. Nintendo's systems triumphed in the Wii / DS era for a variety of reasons, but reasonable pricing undoubtedly played a role. Those on the fence may find it easier to accept the limited third-party retail library on Wii U if it's a cheaper, more naturally impulsive buy. So yes, an official price cut to Wii levels is what we'd suggest.
That may not happen if Nintendo's already plotting for the Wii U's life to be short, but if its target is to reach - say - 2017, it needs to be cheaper. Nintendo will naturally do the financial calculations and make a call, but just like with the 3DS it seems that many may be happier to buy a Ninty system for its unique games if it feels more affordable. On top of this, Nintendo needs to make sure that its biggest products of 2015 - including more amiibo - are readily available and visible at retail. With so much competition in the marketplace Nintendo can't afford to mess consumers around with stock shortages.
Keep it About the Games
This isn't a suggestion that Nintendo forget about convenient apps to enhance the Wii U and 3DS, as they're certainly welcome; unfortunately our hopes for native Twitter and Facebook apps seem fanciful due to the presence of Miiverse, even though we're fans of Nintendo's bespoke network. Just recently Crunchyroll arrived in North America, for example, but 2014 helped Nintendo retrieve a bit of attention as it delivered some high-quality, polished and fun games. The company continued to make its point that its game experiences offer something unique in the market, and that helped to keep the 3DS relevant and - most importantly - shift the perception around Wii U. The home console gradually improved from being kicked while it was down to earning some respect for dodging the worst of 2014's trends; Nintendo's games weren't broken messes at launch, for one thing.
Encouragingly, Nintendo seems set to keep the focus on great games in the coming year, while highlighting the fact that they're distinctive and unique titles will be key. The confirmed Wii U line-up has a nice variety, though the 3DS docket is still pretty thin; we hope an early 2015 Direct will ease those lingering concerns.
Beyond retail, we hope that Nintendo will continue to find and support top-notch download experiences. Shovel Knight was a big win in 2014, ahead of its migration to PSN in 2015, while efforts from publishers and developers such as Curve, Ripstone, WayForward and a host of newcomers to Nintendo hardware delivered some genuine quality to the eShop platforms. There have been lows, which will inspire debate of their own, but let's not forget that 2014 was arguably the best year yet for the Wii U eShop, while there were also good moments on 3DS.
Take the Nintendo Network to the Cloud
We've said this many times, and Satoru Iwata acknowledged in a shareholder Q & A session that future hardware will likely see Nintendo Network IDs that are even more connected that before and not tied to hardware. Is it possible we'll still see cloud-based Nintendo Network IDs - at the consumer level, they clearly already are at Nintendo's system level - in this generation? We hope so.
Our optimism that this can happen is based on the fact that, assuming Nintendo aims to join the modern age with its network on future hardware, it may want to initialise it and learn about it in this generation. Shifting our IDs to the cloud on our current consoles would allow Nintendo to ride any issues and mistakes before implementing without the fuss in future. At the moment we're in an archaic situation where our content is tied to hardware - again, at a consumer level - requiring a fussy system-to-system transfer should we ever change units, or to even have multiple IDs should we, for example, have an account on a family member's system and then buy our own unit. It's bonkers, as no other major tech product or platform - PSN, Xbox, iOS, Android etc - follows this structure.
The logic to this old approach for Nintendo is simple, as it allows low maintenance, control and oversight over our digital content. It's outdated, however, and shifting systems or accessing content on another unit should be handled fairly and quickly via the cloud. Nintendo will finally do this, the question is in which generation will it take the plunge.
Give Incentives to Customers Old and New
We've banged this drum before, but the end of the Nintendo Network Premium promotion - providing eShop vouchers as rewards for Wii U eShop purchases - we now have an intriguing moment to wonder what Nintendo will do next. This year Satoru Iwata has spoken about providing loyal, high value Nintendo customers with incentives and rewards for spending their hard-earned money. That's great to hear, and now we wait and see what that actually means.
One potential option is a PlayStation Plus approach, in which a monthly subscription provides access to free downloads every month; it's a popular service and clearly works on a business level for Sony, though it's effectively compulsory on PS4 due to its necessity for online multiplayer. Sony seems to pay developers and publishers to include their games, giving those game makers the decision on whether to gamble on making more money in individual sales or to take a lump sum. For Nintendo, it would naturally come down to assessing pros and cons in terms of profit, though its various promotions that give away retail downloads (in Europe particularly) show that the company's not averse to encouraging us to pay more in exchange for some freebies.
Another option is an overall Nintendo Network ID equivalent to the Premium promotion. With eShop funds tied across Wii U and 3DS, and our purchases on both systems being tied to that single account, there is most definitely scope to implement a new promotion that rewards download purchases with points and eShop credit. If downloads on both systems contributed to one pot, there's obvious incentive for Nintendo gamers.
Beyond that, more individual promotions - buy game x and get y for a lower price - are welcome, as will be any system that serves as a thanks to those that buy Nintendo games and show loyalty. We all love a good deal, ultimately, and Nintendo should take advantage.
Those are some of our thoughts, but let us know what you think in the comments below.