As someone who spends their days immersed in the weird world of Nintendo, at times I can't decide whether the current online climate is entertaining, frustrating or baffling. Perhaps a mix of all three. I'm referring, of course, to the ongoing obsession with Nintendo NX, with a lot of vocal online followers of the big N caring about little else and evidently shunning the idea that 'good things come to those who wait'.
In some respects, only one thing about Nintendo's strategy with NX is surprising - the long wait for a reveal of the concept. We've gone over some pros and cons of this already; standout reasons include the positives that hype continues to build and Nintendo can potentially go all-out with intense marketing over a short period. Negatives include the increasing likelihood of genuine leaks, and the fact that fans are getting frustrated.
That secrecy, assuming the company does hit its planned March 2017 release, is the notable change from the norm. Nintendo may have drawn inspiration from major technology companies outside of the gaming bubble, where the reveal-to-release process happens over a relatively short time. It's certainly not common in gaming hardware, apart from examples such as mid-generation iterations - the New Nintendo 3DS, Xbox One S and PS4 Pro were all given short turnarounds from their announcements to appearing on store shelves. The fact it's not common practice with a 'new generation' of hardware may explain why some vocal online fans are losing their minds, packing comments sections on Nintendo's social media posts with constant "where's NX" remarks.
Looking at recent examples, Nintendo's approach to revealing hardware hasn't always been consistent, varying from quick turnarounds to longer waits.
Sticking to the current generation, the 3DS was first confirmed (formally) in a terse, dull investor relations statement in March 2010. Rumours had abounded of a DS successor for a while beforehand, and the brief statement revealed glasses-free 3D and backward compatibility as features. It was then a relatively short wait before the 3DS had its full unveiling in June 2010 that year at E3; ahead of its March 2011 release there were major media events a couple of months before, along with consumer demo 'tours' shortly before release.
It was a quick turnaround overall, though that was arguably a problem. The system launched in time for Nintendo's end of year finances but was half-baked, lacking a killer app at launch and missing key features like the eShop. It was the Summer and beyond before it picked up speed, and by then tanking sales prompted a hefty price cut and some major releases to save the day in the Holiday season of 2011. The release schedule was clearly planned by Nintendo to boost year-end profits, to be blunt about it, and it wasn't an unparalleled success.
The Wii U had a longer road to stores. It was April 2011 that 'Project Cafe' rumours hit the web, and later that month Nintendo confirmed it would show its new hardware at E3. It did so, but the reveal didn't go particularly well due to sloppy messaging and that Wii U branding; while the fact it was a new console seemed clear to me, a lot of online comment seemed unsure of whether it was actually a tablet-style add-on for Wii. No matter what you though of that misconception at the time, it was Nintendo's mistake to be vague enough for that to happen.
After that we knew of the core concept, and occasionally Nintendo discussed more specifics, mainly in interviews or investor Q & As. Into early 2012 details were coming out about the new - at the time - Nintendo Network ID, while early buzz around third-party support was strong. It was then confirmed for a late 2012 release, with a major showcase given at E3 that year, in which games and the final form of the GamePad - in particular - were the focus. A late August event then confirmed more games and a launch date / price. While the wait had been longer since it was first seen at E3 2011, the steady march to release kept fans largely 'in the loop'. It was a different approach to that seen with the 3DS, and the hardware was more 'ready' at launch, but the system failed to take off due to a variety of factors.
Back to NX, former company President Satoru Iwata first mentioned it in early 2015 as part of a press conference in which the partnership with DeNA was announced. The reasoning for the mention was made clear - Nintendo had just performed a U-turn to confirm that it was going to invest heavily in mobile apps and games, and was moving to reassure fans that it wasn't stepping away from the hardware market.
As proof that Nintendo maintains strong enthusiasm for the dedicated game system business, let me confirm that Nintendo is currently developing a dedicated game platform with a brand-new concept under the development codename "NX." It is too early to elaborate on the details of this project, but we hope to share more information with you next year.
That was entirely understandable, and importantly the messaging was specific; for context, the Wii U was barely 2.5 years old at this point, so Nintendo was confirming it as something for the future to ease worries around the shift towards mobile. The problem, though, was that Wii U was in dire straights, so even though 3DS was selling well the home console was already struggling for momentum. For a system with dwindling sales and a declining output of games, it was an early dismissal; a 'successor' - as many instinctively saw it - was on the cards already.
The problem in 2016 has been the lack of communication from Nintendo - that secrecy we referenced earlier on. In the first half of this year, as 3DS sales declined and the Wii U continued its grim run, an assumption was made that Nintendo would go big on the system at E3. Instead, initial announced plans were underwhelming in the extreme, with one day dedicated to what we now know as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on Wii U, with a short statement saying the NX (and its version of that very game) would not feature. Eventually Nintendo added more Treehouse demonstration sessions to its live streams from E3, though the new system was absent as expected.
From that point to now Nintendo has given no real indication of when we'll see NX, only confirming in its annual report that it's still aiming to release it in March 2017. The fear, of course, is that silence means a delay is coming, while the optimist's view is what we've mentioned before - a switch in tactics. Either way, Nintendo has left a vacuum with no information. The outcome, of course, are 'leaks', rumours and shenanigans online.
Reports with particular meat came in July 2016, which are often referenced as the Eurogamer rumours. For our part we've covered those and others where we've trusted the source and/or been able to cross-check details with others, though naturally even leaks that seem solid may be from out-dated demo kits, or have misunderstandings thrown in. There have been lots of rumours we've ignored, however, because we can't find backup details to reinforce them. I've seen 'NX is getting announced tomorrow / this week as a surprise' rumours so many times in the past month that it's like being in an episode of Quantum Leap. Again, it's entertaining, frustrating and baffling all at once.
Officially, details are slim. There are positive comments from the likes of Ubisoft, The Pokémon Company saying "the NX is trying to change the concept of what it means to be a home console device or a hand-held device", and a handful of confirmed games such as Breath of the Wild, a 2017 'main' Sonic release and Just Dance 2017. We know it'll play major games and have buttons, then.
It's all an odd state of affairs considering the fact Nintendo will be fully aware of the frustration among some of its followers. Yet wait we must, hoping that it's all part of a brilliant plan to get everyone excited ahead of a release in around five months time. If the long silence and mystery is finally broken by an announcement of a delay, there'll be no defending Nintendo from the fury of its fans.