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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Nintendo NX will release in March 2017, and that is a mistake


Opinion by Matt S.

Nintendo has announced the launch date of its Wii U successor (and, we suspect, a home console that also has a portable element and is therefore successor to the 3DS). The NX will release in March 2017, as we were told at an investor’s briefing today.

That wasn’t the only bit of news. Other key nuggets to emerge from the briefing include the following:

- The Legend of Zelda, the original, open world Zelda game that was in development for the Wii U, has been pushed back to March 2017 as well. Presumably to coincide with a NX version of the game to be ready at launch.
- That same Zelda game will be the only playable game Nintendo is bringing to E3 this year in a playable form, and the NX will not be making a show at the event, either.
- On the mobile side of things we can look forward to games based on Fire Emblem and Animal Crossing, which are actively in development now.

Unfortunately for Nintendo, these bits of information are not particularly inspiring, with the exception of the mobile releases, of all things.

The release date of the NX is the biggest issue. The Wii U is well on its way out; Nintendo’s expected global sales of the thing through to the end FY17 is something like 800,000, which is of course very low indeed. By not releasing the NX this year, Nintendo is completely conceding the Christmas holiday period as a lost cause, and that is a very, very costly thing to concede. With no marquee game to help eke some performance out of the Wii U in sales (Zelda was in theory going to be that game but it is, again, delayed to the same date as the NX launch), Nintendo is not going to have anything to show for the same holiday period where Sony will be shifting VR units like hotcakes.

It’s a mistake, to be frank. But I suspect that it’s a mistake of necessity, as Nintendo simply does not have the NX far enough along in development and will be rushing to production. Why do I say that? The no-show at E3.

E3 is a critical event for the games industry because it extends beyond the games industry. Mainstream publications and interest groups from outside the industry attend that one, and that makes it an event of central importance to gaming devices in attracting mainstream attention. Showing up with just one game - no matter how good that game turns out to be - will turn out to be a PR disaster for Nintendo, especially considering Sony has its VR on the horizon and a lot of attention is already going to be directed that way, and Microsoft knows that it needs to push something big to compete. Those two are almost guaranteed to have big shows this year, leaving Nintendo right in the lurch.

Nintendo knows of the importance of that show, which is why it has always participated in some fashion, even as it ignores other events like Tokyo Game Show in its homeland. Couple this with the fact that E3 is going to be the only E3 that Nintendo has to show off the NX before it is due for release. This indicates that the company would have shown the console off if they had a reliable expectation that it would be ready by June, else it would be there, and that in turn suggests Nintendo is going to be working to incredibly tight deadlines in order to reach that March 2017 release date.

Because of the no-show at E3, it looks like the NX will be revealed through a Nintendo Direct. Now, Nintendo Directs have proven to be a marketing win for Nintendo, but there are problems with this approach. Directs are very insular exercises, by which I mean that Nintendo is largely reaching out to its own, existing, audience through them. Gaming publications might cover them, but the mainstream media does not, for the overwhelming part. But Nintendo doesn’t need to worry about its own audience – they already bought the Wii U. It wasn’t enough. They're going to buy the NX too. It's not going to be enough. Nintendo needs to find a way back into the mainstream conversation, and that simply can’t happen if it’s focusing its marketing efforts on its faithful.

The good news for Nintendo is in its choices of franchises for upcoming mobile games. Casual simulations about collecting stuff (Animal Crossing), and light tactical RPGs (Fire Emblem), will work well on mobile platforms, and both genres have been proven to be relatively easy to monetise already. Don’t be surprised if Nintendo makes a big push with those games this year; they represent its best chances of really padding out revenue, and building a presence in the mainstream, in the leadup to the NX release.

- Matt S. 
Editor-in-Chief
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld
The Nintendo NX will release in March 2017, and that is a mistake
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