Jumping The Gun

I’m really getting tired of the constant influx of new hardware and the overriding need to be first to the market at the moment. All companies are guilty of this to some degree, but today I’m talking specifically about my good friend Nintendo, who, even after years of contrary evidence, seem to think getting to the marketplace first will guarantee success. You’d think, after the substantial losses the Wii U has incurred over the past two years, they’d have learned this isn’t the case.

The Wii, which I imagine they hold up as their example of things done properly, was lucky. A shot in the dark, pure and simple. It happened to find a niche market, one normally filled by older systems, Facebook games and mobile gaming. I’m talking about the casual gamer here. And before I go any further, let’s define what I mean by “casual.” I don’t want to get further down the line and have an Inigo Montoya moment.

There are two common definitions for “casual gamers.” There’s the casual gamer who likes gaming, but just doesn’t have much free time to enjoy their hobby. That’s me. I enjoy all types of games on both consoles and PC, but generally only manage to set aside a few hours a week to play – much less than the average “hardcore” gamer.

The second definition is the one most people think of when they say “casual gamer,” and it’s often said with as much derision and venom as possible. It’s the person who opts for the simpler, less competitive games. Or doesn’t play games in a competitive fashion. Here we are talking about Farmville, or Mario. The exact audience the Wii caters to.

Is there anything wrong with this niche or the people who occupy it? Of course not. They had a consumer-based need which hadn’t been filled and I severely doubt they even knew they had the need ’til they saw the product. However, what Nintendo has failed to realize is by catering to this group they have, inadvertently I’m sure, chosen a side. The types of games they create, coupled with their mind-bogglingly small third party library, has only served to isolate them from the larger gaming community. They only draw attention when some nostalgia-filled release comes down the pipe. Majora’s Mask I’m looking at you.

Then they released the Wii U. This console, which led the charge into the most recent console generation, was just about on par with the Xbox 360 and the PS3. In other words, it was old technology. A relic of a bygone era. It was hobbled out of the starting gate, but not just by its hardware (which, frankly, would have likely been enough to kill it anyway). No, Nintendo handicapped the system further by deciding to target the same audience which they had in the previous generation.

The trouble here is the audience themselves. Their Wii still works. They are getting the few hours a week of fun out of it they want, and so have no reason at all to switch or upgrade. By cornering the market last time, Nintendo has become their own worst enemy and toughest competition. I believe this was the impetus behind last week’s announcement they were already knee-deep in a new console development cycle. Don’t get me wrong, I’m certain Microsoft and Sony are as well. They’d be foolish not to be. But, it’s also foolish to play your cards out so early in the generation. It’s just getting started.

Think about this for a moment. The Wii U already had anemic sales. How would you react, as the potential consumer, if you were told you could buy the current hardware now or, wait a year or so be on Nintendo’s bleeding edge? And add in Nintendo’s announcement that Zelda Wii U is no longer being released in 2015. So, in the same week, two parts of the company announce a new console and the delay of a flagship title. Seems more than a little suspicious, and this is where consumers need to be careful. I can see Zelda being pushed back right to the Nintendo NX launch.

There is an argument to be made here Nintendo’s just trying to win back the “hardcore” audience with this upcoming console. But, if their track record is to be believed, the NX will be nothing more than a catch-up – a crutch designed to keep an increasingly irrelevant company relevant in a world where they should have died out ages ago and moved on to making software for one of the other two giants.

Also, all this attention on the NX begs the question, “What happens to their current audience?” Will they be forgotten in a quest to secure a fan base which has, by and large, moved on? Or, will Nintendo keep supporting the Wii U in an attempt to move Wii owners into the current generation. You have to wonder how many development cycles and teams the company can sustain before they begin to look like the hardware version of Square-Enix.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, these companies aren’t out to do you any favours. They exist to do what any company does: make money. The choice rests with you. When and how do you spend your hard earned cash?

Personally, I’d wait. Let them make the first move this time. Be convinced of your purchase before you make it and, as always, don’t pre-order. Make them work as hard for their money as you had to in the first place.

Jumping The Gun

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