Earlier this week TIME shared an intriguing interview with Nintendo President Tatsumi Kimishima, and one of the topics raised regarded the NX and the fact it won't be the 'next' in the Wii / Wii U line of systems. That's been reasonably clear for quite some time, as comments around the new hardware (to be revealed in 2016) have spoken of innovative approaches and new ideas. Nevertheless it was a clear statement of intent from Kimishima-san, which suggests that the 'Wii family' will be just two systems old when it draws to a close.
First off, below is the relevant segment from that interview:
We talked about the transition from Wii hardware to the Wii U hardware and how difficult it is to explain to the consumer base what is different and new about the new hardware. It's difficult to convince them to switch from their current platform to the next platform. That being said, I can assure you we're not building the next version of Wii or Wii U. It's something unique and different. It's something where we have to move away from those platforms in order to make it something that will appeal to our consumer base.
Before we get onto the NX and why we think a new name away from the Wii brand will be wise, let's first acknowledge that this is a natural state of affairs for the company. While the Xbox and PlayStation brands have largely followed simple naming conventions - albeit the Xbox One branding has been criticised and teased - Nintendo's longevity has naturally brought far more evolution. Sticking with Western names the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System), SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) and Nintendo 64 were all part of a consistent brand, though it's easy to quibble over the inclusion of N64. Ultimately 'Nintendo' was the key brand.
Though the name of the next home console was officially the Nintendo GameCube, in popular culture it was broadly known as 'the' GameCube; after the N64 had seen a loss of market share it was a concerted pitch at rebranding that didn't pay off in raw sales. The appearance of the hardware was divisive (along with that carry handle), and it had the misfortune of sharing shelf-space with the all-conquering PS2. As Nintendo's poorest-selling home console to date it was ditched, conceptually, when the Wii arrived.
Of course, the same happened with the Game Boy brand. From 1989 until 2004 Game Boy was the portable brand for Nintendo, skipping past the Virtual Boy which flopped on release. The name evolved with add-ons such as Color and Advance, with the latter being its own generation and the former being a more minor iteration, but it was the name. So when DS was unveiled it was a surprise, with the form factor and name prompting suggestions prior to release that it could be a mistake to move away from the familiar portable identity. At the time Nintendo suggested the Game Boy would live on, but when pre-release concerns over the DS made way for success in stores (especially when the DS Lite arrived) the Game Boy name faded away.
The Wii and DS represented complete gaming rebrands from Nintendo, and also combined to create a new kind of gaming - we like to call it accessible as a positive here at Nintendo Life, some call it 'casual' as a negative term (though that could be used as a positive term, too). With the touchscreen at the core of the DS and motion controls leading the Wii's revolution (some wish it had been called the Revolution), a whole new audience leapt in, with the two hardware families combined selling over 255 million units in the last generation. Just let that number digest for a moment - 255 million. That's a successful rebranding exercise if ever we've seen one.
Of course, much credit for that quite rightly goes to Satoru Iwata. In his heartfelt tribute at The Game Awards, Nintendo of America President Reggie-Fils Aime emphasized that Iwata-san's fearlessness and belief in the concept trumped all that scoffed at the DS or Wii before launch.
Beyond his resumé I can add another signature point: the man was fearless. Remember how you first felt when you heard the name 'Wii'? Or remember what was said when you found out about Nintendogs? Or Brain Age? Or a dual-screened portable device? You may have been puzzled but he already knew - he had already heard the criticisms internally. But he always championed an idea he believed in, and we all benefited.
As was the case in the past with its early home consoles and the Game Boy family, success led to evolution rather than revolution. The 3DS continued the DS path and Wii U took the Wii brand forward, yet both have struggled to achieve the same degree of success. It's our belief that, aside from a poor launch, the 3DS has done about as well as can be expected in this era of smartphones and tablets flooding the market and shaking up on-the-go gaming. The Wii U, meanwhile, has failed to take off in any meaningful way, struggling since launch and falling well behind PS4 and Xbox One. We've written about some reasons for this many times before, but the facts are clear regardless.
Let's be clear - we'll argue all day that the DS and Wii, and their focus on creating new audiences, were the right call at the time. This writer knows a gamer that had never owned systems until they fell in love with a DSi, and they've since continued playing games on 3DS and Wii U. There's arguably not much Nintendo could have done about the rise of smartphones sucking away a lot of the DS (and maybe Wii) markets, but the success of that generation introduced many millions to the company's games and earned monster profits that have sustained the business since.
There are sometimes claims that Nintendo 'lost' a segment of the market that went with PS3 and Xbox 360 as preferred systems in the last generation (though plenty owned more than one system), but hadn't that segment already started to be lost? The GameCube struggled, and each new arrival in the Game Boy series generally sold less than the last, with the Advance not matching the first Game Boy 'family'. Nintendo had to evolve to survive, and the Wii and DS brands served that purpose, with the 3DS since doing well in a far tougher, more crowded market.
Yet, clearly, the same rules apply now as they did prior to those Satoru Iwata-led rebrands that began over a decade ago. The gaming world has changed almost beyond recognition in the past five years, and once again Nintendo needs to rip up the script and recapture the general public - as Kimishima-san's comments at the start of the article indicate, that seems to be on the agenda for 2016.
Appealing to a broad audience of dedicated gamers and more occasional participants now necessitates a different approach than that taken with the Wii and DS. It'll be difficult to find that magic formula, but naturally Nintendo will give it a go; we certainly won't be ruling out the potential for another smash-hit platform as the company can often surprise and delight.
Brand will be key, of course, and nowadays the Wii name doesn't have the clout and desirability that it did between 2006 and 2009, in particular. It's a name more-readily associated now with the troubles of Wii U and, tellingly, of negative connotations such as the hijacking of 'casual' as a critical term in public discourse. Many of the strengths of Wii that made it a success were used as means to talk down its successor, by some, and as that system failed to excite many Wii owners to upgrade it represented a decline in the brand. Fans of the Wii U - including this writer and no doubt many reading these words - may feel this is unfair, but that ultimately matters little against hard facts and sales figures.
So, just as the Wii and DS were new 'pillars' that excited a fresh audience, Nintendo's next system will strive to do the same and establish a fresh console identity for the company. We're pretty sure - especially more so since Kimishima-san's TIME interview - that NX won't be the name used; it's a codename, just like Café and Revolution were in the past. It'll be a new era.
The Wii family will surely end with the Wii U, then. It's the right time to move on. Yet in years to come we think history will be kind to that particular brand - the Wii that revolutionised the gaming world, and the Wii U which delivered outstanding games despite its struggles.
It should be a fond farewell, followed by an optimistic look to the future.