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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Nintendo Direct time! What to expect from Thursday's show and from 2015 for the big N

Opinion by Matt S. 

Nintendo is hosting its first Nintendo Direct web video of the year, at 1am on Thursday the 15th (for Australians, your time will be different depending on your region). Outside of a vague mention that it will focus on autumn 2015 Wii U and 3DS releases (spring for those in the northern hemisphere), there's no real hint to what we'll see.

It's likely we'll also get at least a hint of what to expect from the Nintendo further down the 2015 pipeline in addition to the autumn releases, though, and if nothing else the first Direct of the year is a good opportunity to think about where Nintendo stands and what to expect from it in the year ahead.

So that's exactly what I'm going to do now. Here are some thoughts for what we might see from Nintendo through the New Year.

Let's start by considering what we do know about Nintendo right now:

1) The Wii U is still not exactly setting the charts alight, despite the end of 2014 being a massive quarter for game releases, including Bayonetta 2, Super Smash Bros., Hyrule Warriors, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, and DLC for Mario Kart 8.

2) Nintendo is in the process of rolling out a new 3DS model worldwide.

Related reading: Our review of the New Nintendo 3DS.

3) Nintendo is investing in what it calls the Quality of Life platform.

In that context there's a couple of things that I think are likely outcomes:

1) Nintendo will ease up on the ongoing Wii U game development. There's a big Zelda game on the horizon and a sequel to Xenoblade Chronicles, of course, as well as a couple of experimental or new games such as Splatoon and Yoshi's Wooly World. There's also a small handful of games that are being produced for the console from third parties that Nintendo is publishing, such as Tamonobu Itagaki's interesting-looking Devil Third. But there's a point where a company will accept that it is not going to be able to turn proverbial poop into strawberry ice cream (I mean this in terms of sales, not quality - I love my Wii U), and I suspect that Nintendo is going to push forward the production of its next generation of hardware, and with that in mind it will start moving development resources to that console, cutting its losses with its current console. We might not see that new console announced until right at the end of next year (if not in 2016), but Nintendo will want to make sure that it has a strong launch that time around.

2) Because of this, I have to wonder if we're going to see SMT Vs. Fire Emblem on the Wii U. A game that was announced to be in development years ago, but not so much as a screenshot since, it is possible that the game is vaporware (remembering that SEGA acquired Atlus after that game was announced and therefore may have pulled out of development of the game). An alternative possibility is that development of the game has been moved over to a console that Nintendo (and SEGA) expect to be more popular than the Wii U. Similarly I suspect Nintendo won't be interested in investing in localising riskier games such as Fatal Frame 5 (and it is Nintendo holding localisation of that game up, not the developer, Koei Tecmo). Fingers crossed I'm wrong there, but if Nintendo is starting to look at its next console, a low margin game like a survival horror title might not be seen as worthwhile from a cost benefit point of view.

3) On the other hand, Nintendo needs to support its new 3DS hardware, so we should see plenty of games designed for it. Given that there's already a confirmed port of Majora's Mask and Xenoblade Chronicles on the way, I think the New 3DS is going to be a breath of fresh air for the handheld market this year.

4) Last year Nintendo said something curious which I think is going to have major ramifications in the years ahead. It said that it was looking to form more partnerships with other game developers and give them access to its IP to create exclusive games for its consoles. This has been something Nintendo has been angling towards for a couple of years now, with Koei Tecmo having access to Zelda and Metroid and Square Enix producing the likes of Fortune Street and Mario Sports Mix. In a bid to get more exclusive games produced for its consoles, I suspect we'll see this strategy expand further, and that means we'll start to see some creative things done with Nintendo franchises indeed.

5) While Nintendo is insisting that the Quality of Life strategy will not impact on its games business, but it has to have an impact. I've seen no indication that Nintendo has gone on a complete hiring spree to acquire new talent to work on the Quality of Life, and that means that there is almost certainly resources that have been diverted to it. This is why I suspect Nintendo is so keen to get third parties to play with its IPs - so it can keep the same rate of releases up with while using less internal resources on them. Naturally we will see the Quality of Life platform start to make its way to market this year, and that's exciting to see Nintendo turn its hand to non-gaming technology.

None of the above are predictions, of course (unless they come true and then I demand you all call me 'oracle Matt'). Rather they're an analysis of what we've seen in recent years from Nintendo, and what little it has let on about its future strategy. Regardless of how all the above pan out, it's going to be a fascinating year for the company... and boy am I glad I invested in the New 3DS, because if I was to make a prediction, it would be that that console is going to have a huge year.

- Matt S. 
Editor-in-Chief
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld
Nintendo Direct time! What to expect from Thursday's show and from 2015 for the big N
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