With the Wii U look set to sell less units that the GameCube and the 3DS falling short of the commercial performance of its immediate predecessor the DS, many industry analysts have characterised Nintendo as a company in decline. However, former Xbox boss Robbie Bach - who spent 22 years at Microsoft and a decade leading its games hardware division - feels that anyone writing off the Japanese firm is doing so prematurely, and without considering the incredible appeal of its catalogue of properties.
Bach cites the incredible impact of the Wii as one of the major reasons why Nintendo should never, ever be considered done and dusted. With the Xbox 360, Bach explains that Microsoft was almost entirely focused on beating Sony as Nintendo was seen as a spent force after the lackluster performance of the GameCube, but he and his team got a nasty shock:
I'm one of the people that won't ever count Nintendo out. During our development of Xbox 360 we focused pretty heavily on Sony and PlayStation 3 and the Wii was a complete surprise, so the first 18 months of our launch was a real challenge.
Although it boasted weaker specifications and lacked HD output, the console introduced motion control to gamers and managed to beat Sony and Microsoft's consoles in that particular hardware cycle, selling over 100 million units worldwide.
However, its successor, the Wii U, has struggled to emulate the same success. The 3DS - while dominating this handheld console cycle - is a long way off matching the sales of the original DS, too.
Bach feels that Nintendo needs to either look at pushing its games to more platforms - which, you could argue, it is doing via its smartphone deal with DeNA - or find that magical Wii-like system which can bring back the good times:
That market has become a lot more challenging because of smartphones, and their Wii U console frankly hasn't caught on as well as they would like. So you have a fabulous and amazing creative company that had incredible franchises, but doesn't have a strong platform right now to develop for. That's a tricky thing for them to navigate. They're going to have to figure out either how to expand the number of platforms that they develop for, which would be a major change and would be risky, or they have to get into a cycle where their own Nintendo platforms evolve in a way that enables their games to get better coverage.
However, Bach makes the important point that unlike its rivals, Nintendo can explore other avenues in order to generate revenue and remain relevant - the impressive success of amiibo being one such example:
This does speak to something about Nintendo that's different than Sony or Microsoft. Sony is a consumer electronics company and Microsoft is a digital PC electronics company. Nintendo—with great respect and pride—is a toy company, and always has been. That's why their franchises on the game side are so powerful. There may be an opportunity there for them to invest in what is essentially a core attribute of what they do (toys), and it may create an opportunity for the company that's unique and separates them from Microsoft and Sony.
What do you make of Bach's comments? Let us know by posting a comment below.
Thanks to Ryan Millar for the tip!