Until this week Nintendo's strategy for the future was particularly vague, especially in the area of smart devices. The company's supposed dedicated Mii-based app had been in the works for quite some time and had been due in 2014, but was delayed into this year with talk of finding the right solution for moving onto phones and tablets. We now know that such comments from the latter part of 2014 were likely code for "we're working on a major corporate partnership with DeNA", but that's a secret Nintendo kept particularly well.
In the course of a short presentation Nintendo took a bold step in its smart device policies; yet Satoru Iwata was absolutely right when he said it wasn't a reverse in course, as previously briefings had said that games and core IPs weren't ruled out for these platforms. That said, the scale of the deal and what it can mean are important - DeNA acquired Nintendo stock, but the equivalent transaction the other way saw the big N become the second-largest shareholder of its partner. This is a serious exchange of money, not to mention the fact that Nintendo will have a notable say in DeNA's work not just through the partnership, but in owning 10% of the company.
The tease of the separate Nintendo NX - whatever it is - and the news that DeNA will do a lot of the infrastructure and heavy-lifting on a Membership programme that'll replace Club Nintendo, both represent a sense of major news that's still business-as-usual. Of course Nintendo's working on hardware, it always is, and our instincts that it'll be a unified platform may end up being wrong - it could just be a natural successor to just one of the 3DS or Wii U. As for the Club Nintendo successor, it's notable that a company with DeNA's experience is involved, yes, but we knew this was coming regardless.
The game-changer that we know about, at least, is that "aggressive" move into smart devices. We'd anticipated a decent but - frankly - unremarkable app this year from Nintendo, and the company's inexperience in that particular market may have showed. A lot of language had been about building brand awareness and communications through smart devices, and while that's still present this week's focus is also emphasizing that game projects will be a major factor. The 'game' has changed, and Nintendo is now going to be balancing its own hardware and dedicated games with an active expansion onto smartphones and tablets. It could be a triumph or a disaster, and whichever way it goes there'll be bumps in the road and some dedicated fans will simply disapprove.
That latter point is the key focus of this editorial. To break into first-person, my own initial attempt at arguing - in a Talking Point - that the Nintendo and DeNA deal is a smart move was typically difficult to write, and as a result wasn't as cohesive as I'd like. Part of the challenge is that, all of a sudden, the Nintendo horizon is looking rather different. We're looking at a future of Nintendo IP becoming increasingly prevalent on phones, and have those other major changes - in hardware and a cross-platform Club Nintendo replacement - on the way. The 'Nintendo way', of having a portable and home console on the market with a variety of games to enjoy, is seemingly being shifted. It feels like the recent trend of Nintendo being a bit behind the times in online infrastructure, quaint and traditional in much of its month-to-month business approach, is melting away.
Nintendo may still be those things in the coming years, of course, but all the indications tell us that the company is keen to at least attempt major change. We've not even mentioned Quality of Life (QoL) yet, and when we think back this is typical of Satoru Iwata's leadership. When the GameCube struggled and Nintendo wanted to switch up how we play games, attracting a new audience, it struck gold with the DS and then the Wii. The company had changed direction and evolved, but in trying to repeat that success has seen monster profits fade with the 3DS and - particularly - the Wii U. The 3DS has succeeded against the odds, yes, but that and the Wii U have lost substantial market share as a duo, while areas such as smart devices grow exponentially. The Wii and DS serve as evidence that, inevitably, Nintendo will therefore react by evolving and changing.
What's different this time is that the evolution feels like it could be more dramatic. We're in a generation where the fundamental business model for Nintendo has struggled, and the company is now actively aiming to do something about it. What makes so many fans uncomfortable - I think - is that we're not sure what Nintendo will look like in a few years. It'll likely still be making many of the games we love on dedicated hardware, yes, but the wider picture of the company could be very different indeed.
As for Nintendo Life, it means a few things. On the one hand it's exciting. Speaking personally, it feels like Nintendo needs to shake itself up and, in the process, the wider industry. It's not competing in the same home console arena as Sony and Microsoft, in some respects, as the Wii U is wildly different in its library from the PS4 and Xbox One, while the 3DS is certainly dominant in the portable space. Nintendo, as a brand, has rapidly become somewhat disassociated from the triple-A blockbuster and graphical arms race in which Sony and Microsoft engage.
So with Nintendo stepping into uncharted territory there's a real buzz about seeing where it'll all lead. On a practical level, however, it also means we'll end up tackling 'mobile' more as time progresses. Being Nintendo-centric has allowed us to stay within a bubble, focused solely on the Wii U and 3DS worlds, essentially. By the time 2015 is out we'll have the name DeNA engrained in our psyche and, more than likely, will have actually reviewed and covered at least one Nintendo game on smart devices. It's quite a potential shift.
That's where the point of this editorial's headline comes in. As a site we need to accept that Nintendo's approaching some - more-than-likely - notable changes; we will have to adjust for it. That also applies to the Nintendo Life community and Nintendo fans in general, I'd suggest. No more will discussing mobile be 'irrelevant', and even if we don't all like the idea it's going to be a reality. Our job as a site is to react to what Nintendo's doing, but that's also the healthy thing to do as fans. We can rage against it as individuals all we like, but that won't change the fact. By engaging with what's happening, though, and by giving Nintendo's ventures a fair chance, we can play our own small part in sharing our feedback with the company itself. Saying "no to smart devices, full stop", though, isn't feedback that will count. The world is too big for Nintendo to ignore that market.
With that, then, we're in for a particularly intriguing but potentially controversial couple of years. Not everything will be to our individual tastes, but change will happen anyway. We'll be talking about Mario on phones as a reality, we'll be chewing over Nintendo's next hardware innovation and figuring out QoL; by the end of 2016 Nintendo, and sites like Nintendo Life that follow the company, could look rather different.
The train's leaving the station; I suggest we all hop on board.