2017 is here, which means a fresh start and looking forward with optimism. Many also take the chance to set New Year's resolutions, goals for improving on what's come before. Nintendo, undoubtedly, has some of its own.
There's plenty to be excited about for Nintendo's upcoming year and no doubt the company is gearing up to make the most of its opportunities; new hardware and projects are on the way, and it bodes well for fans.
To suit the season, then, we've picked out five key areas that are important for Nintendo in 2017; at least from our point of view. Let's get to it.
Start Fast With the Nintendo Switch
The Nintendo Switch is going to have its most notable unveiling on 12th-13th January, depending on your timezone - there'll be a live video presentation, likely packed with details, and then members of the press and public will be going hands on in the hours after that stream. We can't wait to share our thoughts on Nintendo's next generation of hardware.
That January reveal will likely be heavy on detail, as off the back of the event we'll also likely see a swath of formalised pre-orders and retail listings. A release date and pricing seem like solid bets, along with details on what the console will have to offer - its broader features, eShop, Virtual Console, user interface and network features, and so on; a decent chunk of launch day games will likely also be shown off. Some surprises and specifics may be held off for a subsequent 'Direct' closer to the March release, but with the system due so soon a significant amount of information is likely to be with us in less than two weeks time.
Most will surely agree that, from that presentation on to the launch 'window', Nintendo needs to be aggressive and at full speed in promoting and selling the system. That fast momentum needs to run through the opening 6-9 months from launch, ideally up to the Holiday season 2017 (when Microsoft's 'Scorpio' is likely to also arrive). What's required, ultimately, is a line-up of games - first-party and those from early third-party partners - that fill out the bulk of 2017 with consistent, well-paced quality. Nintendo will surely have learnt these lessons from its past couple of hardware releases.
The 3DS struggled after its launch week, saved a few months later by a drastic price cut and key game releases towards the end of 2011. The Wii U lost significant momentum after launch sales, like we saw with the 3DS, but the rescue never truly came, while some key game releases took too long to arrive as Nintendo grappled with HD development projects. With Nintendo's now improved skill-set and those lessons in mind, it should have plans to avoid similar mistakes. Certainly a lot of the 'leaks' and rumours that seem likely to be accurate - at least to some degree - do suggest that Nintendo is ready to hit the ground running. A mix of new games, remasters and ports, along with a rumoured Pokémon main-series release in the Holiday season (expected this year), for example, could be vital.
Lots of factors will be important with Switch - its pricing and bundles, successfully pitching the concept to the public, developer support - but a good start from Nintendo will be to learn from those 3DS and Wii U launch mistakes. We're optimistic at this stage that the big N will give the Switch a good chance of success; here's hoping that the company delivers.
Keep the 3DS Active as a Budget Device
There's been a bit of an odd vibe around the 3DS recently. Seemingly caught out by increased sales brought on by Black Friday and the release of Pokémon Sun and Moon, there have been stock shortages in some places, with limited bundles and options in some areas of the US as one example. This seems likely to be a case of Nintendo being over-cautious and mis-managing stock and demand (more on that in a separate point further down this article) rather than a genuine phasing out of the system. With Nintendo there are often mixed messages - some notable releases are still on the way and the system had a Direct in the Autumn / Fall talking up the portable's 2017, while on the flipside official sales estimates were kept modest even with arrival of Sun and Moon.
It'll be interesting to see what happens; some have already written the portable's obituary - prematurely, in this writer's opinion - but we are yet to see how ambitious Nintendo is for the system's role into the second half of 2017, in particular. There's certainly content that could be localised out of Japan, and of course potentially unannounced games, but the system has certainly aged from a technical viewpoint; how much further can it go?
Well, it need not be completely finished yet. As the frenzy around the limited-stock Black Friday New Nintendo 3DS in the US showed, plenty like the idea of grabbing the system at a cheap price. The Pokémon factor was significant, yes, but there's room to re-position the portable, especially now the hype around Game Freak's latest release will start to fade. It can be Nintendo's fun budget option, an older system with a lot of great games waiting to be explored.
A permanent price drop and a continuing shift in marketing can do this. We've already seen promotions around the portable focus on evergreen and classic 3DS games, and the 2DS has continued to go down in price. The New Nintendo 3DS is due a permanent price cut, though, as a full price unit is now stretching credibility in a market with aggressively priced tablets and consoles. With some key releases, a packed pre-existing catalogue and a budget price point, the 3DS could still have a role to play right through 2017. The question is whether Nintendo is eager to try it out.
Master Mobile and Learn from Miitomo and Super Mario Run Mistakes
The biggest 'Nintendo' mobile success of the year only had minimal input (and actual financial returns) from the Kyoto-based company, as Pokémon GO went viral in the Summer of 2016 - in reality it's a Niantic game, first and foremost. Miitomo, on the other hand, ultimately fell short as Nintendo's debut effort on iOS and Android. Though arguably full of potential, the question-driven social Mii concept struggled to take off beyond an initial surge of interest, while investors were no doubt disappointed by its limited monetisation. Subsequent updates have improved the experience, but those changes have arguably been too little, too late to attract a sizeable and consistent audience.
Super Mario Run also had a mixed launch in December. Its initial exclusivity on iOS (with Android hopefully not far behind now) naturally frustrated some, while opinions have varied. We're fans of what it has to offer in exchange for its one-off charge, but poor messaging in the app led to plenty of confusion about what the unlock price delivers. Even if players know of the extra content on offer, it's still a challenge to succeed with a premium-priced app like Super Mario Run. On the one hand it set iOS App Store records and accumulated lots of downloads, but it'll be interesting to see whether it hits Nintendo's targets in terms of purchases and revenue.
Neither Nintendo release on mobile has been a sure-fire hit, then, with pros and cons for both. Both Fire Emblem and Animal Crossing apps are expected this year, however, and based on comments from the company at least one more title will come in 2017. Those two confirmed releases certainly have potential to fit the phone / tablet market well - strategy games (like Fire Emblem) are among the most successful and lucrative on iOS and Android, while the daily play of an IP like Animal Crossing is naturally well-suited to quick sessions.
Nintendo and DeNA are no doubt learning, and there are certainly mistakes to avoid. It's not just about mastering gameplay, which the companies arguably did with Super Mario Run, but it's also vital to get the user interface and setup of these games right on the money. If lessons have been learned, there could be a lot to look forward to on mobile in this year.
Go Big at E3 and Other Expos
Nintendo's had an interesting couple of years at E3. After a rather good 2014, the company stuck to a similar format in 2015 but had a tough outing, primarily due to key reveals proving unpopular with many of its most vocal online fans. In 2016 the company seemed to initially only plan its showcase for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (unnamed at that point), stepping back from its usual routine; there was an uproar online and the company then put on an extra day of live Nintendo Treehouse coverage to look at some other games. How much was pre-planned and how much was added after the initial E3 plan backlash is unclear, but in the end the company did arguably salvage its appearance.
Nonetheless it was still scaled back overall, and as it was still the 'NX' era it was only the Wii U version of the new Zelda title on show, while the Treehouse team gave a lot of focus to Pokemon GO and then 3DS games on its second day. It was a holding pattern, ultimately, as Nintendo didn't have much to show compared to its hardware rivals. In theory that shouldn't be the case this year - the Nintendo Switch will only be a few months old when E3 rolls around, so Nintendo has an opportunity to return to its more conventional approach - Digital Event, a 'live' event (an eSports format) and then three days of Treehouse demonstrations. There will surely be a lot to show off, and it's a chance for the company to grab as much media attention as possible, even if Microsoft may make a lot of noise with its new 'Scorpio' system.
Of course, the argument can be made that the impact of E3 is diminished; while partially true, it's still a major event that generates a lot of media coverage. Nintendo can also put plenty of focus on other major events and expos; it's an area where the company has typically been quite pro-active, but it cut back significantly in 2016. It's time to ramp back up to 2014/2015 levels, we'd suggest, in terms of attending expos and putting on smart events and showcases (like online streams) within those settings - both Nintendo of Europe and America, prior to 2016, were getting rather good at this.
With Switch coming onto the scene Nintendo should get back on the horse with expos around the world.
Be Bold and Meet Demand
In late 2016 this writer made the argument that Nintendo has become scared of its own shadow. The crux of the argument - which is certainly open to debate, as some believe the company is employing cynical stock tactics - is that painful failures and excessive manufacturing in 2011-2013 worried the company, as its stock and inventory grew with unsold systems (particularly with the Wii U). In the years since pretty much every 'special edition' or 'niche' product has been under-manufactured, with demand far outstripping supply to the frustration of fans and the delight of scalpers. 'Wave one' amiibo, various 'limited edition' games and 3DS models, and most recently the NES Mini are just some examples. To quote our previous analysis of the pattern - "Nintendo is almost a parody of itself. It announces a cool thing, everyone jokes they'll be rarer than unicorn droppings, and so it transpires."
It doesn't have to be that way, of course. A better balance is simply needed - business sense allied with confidence. Rather than produce a minimum level of stock and try to ramp up retrospectively after consumers have been left frustrated, be more ambitious. It's possible to satisfy demand without selling the farm and being reckless.
It's all a balancing act, and not necessarily an easy one; Nintendo's not the only company to struggle in this area. It's one of the worst and most consistent offenders, though, and whatever benefits under-supplying can bring are surely wiped out by the bad publicity and angry fans dissing the company on social media. Nintendo, frankly, has deserved a lot of the criticism it's had for under-stocking popular products.
Extra resources and ambition can fix that. Nintendo should ensure that everyone that wants a Switch can get one at launch. If there's a SNES Mini this year, which seems so likely, that should be stocked in solid numbers. Cut out the scalpers, ensure that consumers can buy the goodies they want, and back the products to shift off shelves. Don't let policies driven by failures from 2011-2013 prevent successes in 2017 and beyond.
Those are five 'resolutions' we think could serve Nintendo well in 2017. Let us know what you think in the comments.