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Expectations mount for NX in 2016

Less and less time remains before the putative year-end launch for Nintendo's latest; is a console launch in this window even possible, let alone desirable?

Last year, it was loose lips in the supply chain for console manufacture, now it's seemingly loose lips within Nintendo's own marketing department, but there's a common thread to every leak or rumour that spreads about the platform holder these days - they all point to a late 2016 launch for the company's next console platform, codenamed NX.

The numbers Nintendo was said to be targeting for NX that were floated around from sources at overseas parts suppliers checked out pretty well. Similarly, the more recent marketing leak has lent significant credibility by being on the money regarding the now-announced Pokemon Sun and Moon titles. It's all still in the realm of rumour - a dedicated faker could have done the maths required to arrive at plausible manufacturing numbers for NX, just as we did when we dissected the claims; someone with knowledge of a soon-to-be-announced Pokemon game could have tacked on fake information about an upcoming console in order to troll gaming forums. It happens.

"A rapid build-up and launch for the NX would give the company a blow-out Christmas, since Nintendo platforms pretty much always do well at launch"

Besides, in the skeptics' corner, there are some solid reasons to question the 2016 launch window. For a start, there's the simple fact that we know nothing about NX. It's already March, and all we know is a codename and some vague, hand-waving stuff about the console bridging home and handheld paradigms. That's pretty much it. Assuming a November launch, that would leave Nintendo with a grand total of eight months to unveil, explain, market and promote an entire new console launch - even assuming that they were to start that process tomorrow. It's not impossible, of course; that eight months would encompass E3, GamesCom, Tokyo Games Show and as many Nintendo Direct shows as the company wanted, so getting the message out there is plausible... But bear in mind that this is also the year in which Nintendo's mobile gaming partnership with DeNA will bear its first fruit, and while I maintain that the company views that as a support to its console business, not a replacement for it, it's reasonable to be dubious of the idea that it would willingly completely overshadow the marketing of those games with a blitz of promotion for a new console.

There's also the simple matter of history to consider. Nintendo has never, as far as I can recall or uncover, announced a console in the same calendar year that it released it. The pattern for its systems' pre-launch promotion has been fairly consistent since the turn of the millennium; a slow build-up from the reveal of hardware to further details and the introduction of software, with a launch often as much as 18 months after the unveiling. Compressing that into eight months (or seven, or six) might be possible, but it would be totally outside the pattern of what Nintendo has done up until now with its consoles.

On the other hand, Nintendo is in a pretty unique situation right now. It has a new CEO who, although he's essentially pledged to follow the path Iwata set the company upon, will also have his own way of doing things and his own vision for the firm. It also has an absolute albatross in the form of the Wii U, which has not been saved from commercial disaster even by successful, acclaimed games like Splatoon and Super Mario Maker - and, almost uniquely for the company, it faces giving the Wii U an early bath at the same time that its all-conquering handheld platform, the 3DS (which has done very well despite not matching sales of its predecessor, the DS) is also slowing down significantly. Nintendo does face entering 2016 without a particularly strong handheld or home console platform and only the 3DS' installed base to keep things ticking over - which might be a significant impetus to speed things up on the introduction of something new.

Let's think in more details about the factors that would be involved in launching the NX by the end of the year. It would absolutely have benefits; perhaps the most clear one is that it would prevent 2016 being a "wasted" holiday season for Nintendo. The flatlining Wii U and the rapidly slowing 3DS suggest that without the introduction of a new platform this year, holiday 2016 will likely be Nintendo's worst for many years - arguably not something Kimishima will want on his report card so early in his tenure. A rapid build-up and launch for the NX would give the company a blow-out Christmas, since Nintendo platforms pretty much always do well at launch - and of course, this would also place NX in the window to receive a prettied-up port of the upcoming Zelda title for Wii U at the same time as the Wii U version itself launches, a mirror of the very successful strategy the company used for Twilight Princess across the GameCube and Wii a couple of hardware generations ago. Even if the game isn't totally exclusive to NX, a Zelda game at launch would be an enormous boon for the new platform and a great way to ensure a solid holiday season.

"Perhaps a short, intense few months of promotion is actually a marketing advantage over a year or more of drawn-out arguments regarding the merits of a still-vapourware device"

It's definitely a short period of time, though, and the window in which Nintendo can announce the console is probably quite limited. It's highly unlikely that it would wait for E3 to unveil its plans; much as turning up with a brand new console to the show would be a very effective way to "win" E3, it's probably more sensible to unveil some aspects of the device, at least, in a Nintendo event well ahead of the show. Indeed, if NX details aren't revealed to some degree either this month or next, I suspect a 2016 launch can be said to be entirely off the cards - although I wouldn't actually put money on that, since if we're talking about reducing the pre-launch promotion window from 18 months to 8 or 7 months, why on earth not make it six, or five, or four?

In fact, it might be more instructive to think about that window in terms of how other devices manage it. Consoles are actually quite unusual in having a lengthy, protracted period where everyone is talking about them, everyone is showing off software for them, but nobody can buy them. Compare that to smartphones or tablets, which are generally available to buy within a matter of days or weeks after they're first unveiled. That short lead time doesn't seem to stop Apple's devoted fans from camping out to buy a new iPhone; perhaps a short lead time for a console might actually spur fans to excitement, rather than denying the new system a build-up? If the NX console is really a complex concept that it takes people a while to get their head around, then perhaps that will be problematic - you don't want to launch a device that hardly anyone actually understands yet - but if it's merely an interesting twist on the familiar, then perhaps a short, intense few months of promotion is actually a marketing advantage over a year or more of drawn-out arguments regarding the merits of a still-vapourware device.

Whatever Nintendo actually plans for the NX, it will represent a very dramatic choice for the company. A 2016 launch will be an aggressive strategy that overturns its previous approach to console launches and suggests dramatic reforms under Kimishima's guidance. Pushing its launch out into next year, though, will leave the company facing a bleak holiday season with an ailing, albeit still popular, handheld device and a home console that's almost totally dead in the water - and even with the prospect of a Zelda swan song on the Wii U, that will be a bitter pill to swallow for Nintendo. The company is, in some regards, painted into a corner - no matter what it does next, it'll require a very different Nintendo difference.

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Latest comments (20)

Emmanuel Dorée Studying Software Engineering, Open University9 months ago
Nintendo has never, as far as I can recall or uncover, announced a console in the same calendar year that it released it.
Nntendo DS was revealed at E3 2004 and launched in November 2004
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Daniel Hughes PhD Researcher, Bangor University9 months ago
Emmanuel is correct, and it's worth remembering 2004 was the last time Nintendo was under this kind of transitional pressure. GBA wasn't declining rapidly the way 3DS is, but GameCube was performing poorly and the hype around PSP had sent Nintendo's stock into the doldrums in 2003, being the first serious (and the most serious) handheld rival Nintendo had face in over a decade, coming from a company whose monopoly on the home console market was near-unprecedented.

So far Nintendo have two very strong cards in play for the end of 2016: Zelda and Pokemon Sun/Moon. Regardless of what system they launch on, Zelda will sell 4-5 million copies, and Pokemon 10-15 million. If they add some kind of NX launch to that, and they have mobile games taking off, they could be in a strong position. If Zelda is cross-platform, expect it to sell in excess of 5 million copies. Personally I have huge doubts over how well Nintendo can communicate what NX is and why consumers should be excited. Despite odd triumphs (like Nintendo Direct, or their E3 2014 broadcast), Nintendo's PR and messaging is often confused and quite slow. A lot, I think, will depend on just how strong a networked platform NX is.
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Pär Villner Journalist, Reset Media9 months ago
The DS was ANNOUNCED on January 20. It was SHOWN at E3.
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Show all comments (20)
Daniel Hughes PhD Researcher, Bangor University9 months ago
@ Par, the NX was announced on March 17th, 2015. The point is information about what DS actually was (other than a "new game device" or a "third pillar"), such as technical specifications, interfaces, software etc, were only made public at the E3 unveiling. The parallels with NX hold. We've known about it for almost 12 months now, without knowing what it is, what it will do, how we will use it, or what we will play on it. That still leaves a potentially short window between the full reveal and launch, which is very much comparable with DS's unveiling in 2004.
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Pär Villner Journalist, Reset Media9 months ago
We're getting into semantics here, but on January 20, it was revealed that DS would have two screens, which was clearly the most important thing with the console. About NX, on the other hand, we know almost nothing at this point (edit: not even if it will be a console in the traditional sense). So there is a clear difference.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Pär Villner on 4th March 2016 2:02pm

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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.9 months ago
Daniel, they did announce tech specs in January along with, as Par noted, the whole concept of the system - two screens.

As of today, we absolutely nothing about NX other than the codename. It's not a 2016 device....or devices.

Some people say that Nintendo is making a mistake because they don't have enough going on in 2016 or 2017 for Wii U and 3DS so they need the NX now. But that's a very short sighted view. It's far more in Nintendo's interest to ensure a fantastic NX launch. If that means a 2017 release, then so be it. Far better to have a well prepared and successful launch than a rushed and failed launch.

In truth, the signs of a 2017 launch versus a 2016 launch have been broadcast for nearly a year.
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Connor Martin Aspiring game designer/tester 9 months ago
I never did understand this big hubbub about declining sales when there is a very rich player base on a system, I mean do you expect to sell like hot cakes in winter for 5 years straight? There reaches a point where anyone who wanted on has already got on & many others have already found their answer. The 3DS is healthy, very healthy actually in my eyes and wanting to sell more, More, MORE!!.......well you'll end up never reaching such lofty goals.
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Nick Parker Consultant 9 months ago
My grapevine says post April 2017 (not in 2016/2017 financial year) but maybe a little earlier in Japan.
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Bob Johnson Studying graphics design, Northern Arizona University9 months ago
It is possible but I'm not seeing the strong evidence. I see a lineup this year that is fairly strong on both platforms. I see the time frame between launch and reveal would be historically short. Same with (what would be) a 4 yr lifecycle for the Wii U.

I also see the Wii U had 2 strong new IP last year that are still receiving support and are still talked about.

Then you have Nintendo launching mobile games this year which is another distraction.

It is possible the NX could release in 2016. But I don't see evidence of it.
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Steve Peterson Marketing Consultant 9 months ago
Whether Nintendo launches NX this year or next, the most critical thing is to have strong first-party support. Nintendo should have learned from the Wii U that you can't have a year go by before you start getting regular titles based on key franchises... that has to happen at launch. A Zelda title is perfect for launch, but it better not be six months a year after that that we see a Mario title or a Mario Kart or other key franchises. The slow pace of Nintendo titles is a large part of why the Wii U is the worst-selling console in their history. Regardless of any hardware features or the price, without the best software Nintendo can bring out, on a regular basis, the NX is doomed.
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Dalibor Dimovski Editor-in-Chief, SideQuesting9 months ago
I didn't see it mentioned above, but didn't the PS4 and Xbox One launch in the same year they were announced? PS4 in late February, Xbox One in May, both in 2013? That gave the Xbox only 6 months to reveal (and then course correct) and launch new hardware. Both have had massive success.

In other words, there is plenty of recent history that would suggest revealing and launching a major gaming device within the same year isn't only plausible, it's almost beneficial these days.
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Art C. Jones Writer / Blogger 9 months ago
Based on the Wii U's performance, I'm really not sure what Nintendo can do to be successful in the next generation, but I doubt it is about software. The WiiU library included a Mario game on launch day and arguably the highest rated Mario Kart and Smash Bros games in each of those series histories. It included new IP that hit the mark in Splatoon, plenty of high quality party games, core-gamer focused exclusives (Bayonetta, ZombieU, Wonderful 101, Xenoblade), and the most original twist on Mario in a decade (Mario Maker). That doesn't even get top rated games like Super Mario 3D world, Donkey Kong Country and Pikmin 3 or exclusive (at least at launch) indie games like Shovel Knight and Affordable Space Adventures.

I don't think the WiiU has under-performed in the US and especially in Europe due to software exclusivity, originality or quality.

I expect the NX will live or die based on the hardware, much like the Wii did. The Wii did something that no-one was doing, that was original and changed gaming. Outside of something similar I think NX will struggle. Being on part with the other consoles graphically or network wise IS NOT and WILL NOT be a reason for a console purchase by a US audience who largely sees moving from Nintendo to MS/Sony a rite of passage that shows growing up as a gamer (this is my observation...I think the sentiment is rife with stupidity...but it doesn't change that it is a popular sentiment).

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Art C. Jones on 4th March 2016 5:59pm

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Carl Hudson Studying Computer Science, University of Adelaide9 months ago
Between the end of the month and twelve months away, anyone who has anything to do with VR is going to be going full-tilt, full-time vying for the attention ( and currency ) of every single gamer out there, across all media.

That doesn't seem like a good time to train any market in what has to be a device that is VERY different to succeed, especially in the highly competitive nov/dec launch window.

I would tend to agree with early / mid 2017 to have any chance of standing out, but if it costs more than the best selling VR headsets at that time (and isn't intriguingly innovative), good luck!
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.9 months ago
Carl:

VR - $800+
NX - ~$300
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Bob Johnson Studying graphics design, Northern Arizona University9 months ago
Based on the Wii U's performance, I'm really not sure what Nintendo can do to be successful in the next generation, but I doubt it is about software
I think you're right. The Gamepad meant the price was $100 higher. The Gamepad was seen as a crappy tablet that could only be used while next to the console. Then the use of wiimotes and the name confused customers who thought it looked and played like the Wii that they already had.

The hardware was the root of its problems.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 9 months ago
We should not forget that Nintendo is not making the console, they have AMD as their supplier. AMD is in the middle of a major switch in their architecture from Excavator to Zen. At the same time they will shrink from currently 28nm fab to 14nm.

If Nintendo wants some of the old 28nm tech from AMD, then they are ready to release in 2016. At least there wouldn't be a supply issue. However, if Nintendo wants 14nm Zen cores, then April 2017 sounds a lot more likely. Considering Nintendo likes small compact consoles, a 14nm processor with a better power to TDP ratio seems the better guess. Even when it comes to rumors of Microsoft refreshing their hardware, AMD Zen being able to create more processing power within the limits of the current heat design is probably at the core of it.
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Charles Herold Wii Games Guide, about.com9 months ago
If the NX console is really a complex concept that it takes people a while to get their head around, then perhaps that will be problematic - you don't want to launch a device that hardly anyone actually understands yet ...
Does anyone really ever understand Nintendo consoles before they actually launch? Isn't the tradition that the press says, "this is weird, I don't think it will work," the public is wary, and it's not until it launches (or later) that people either decide, hey that's a really good idea (Wii, DS) or decide they don't much like it after all (Wii U).

Do we really need a year to understand a new controller? Would the Wii have bombed if it had been announced two months before it came out? Would the Wii U have been a big hit if Nintendo had just spent an extra year talking it up?
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Adam Campbell Producer, Hopster9 months ago
Does anyone really ever understand Nintendo consoles before they actually launch?
Its past the point where Nintendo need to stop doing this. I hope and expect the messaging to be completely different this time round.
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Charles Herold Wii Games Guide, about.com9 months ago
I hope and expect the messaging to be completely different this time round.
One can always hope, but I've given up on concrete expectations of Nintendo. They do what they do
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Francisco Javier QA Manager, Zed Group9 months ago
For me, 3DS should still be holding a place in the industry for 2 or 3 years more. They should just put the correct price to the device so anyone could afford a New 3DS with it's great unique 3D tech for 120$. From that, the great catalog and adding mode new games would do the rest.

I have been checking the demos of some great games this year is reaching on the console, like Stella Glow or Bravely Default, and it's awesome. And add this to Fire Emblem, Pokemon... even the Metroid game and other that may come. The only thing that I'm missing on the 3DS are more portable oriented titles, like Showel Knight was. Rithmheaven is coming, but Nintendo needs more like that.

In terms of impact in sales and popularity, putting a Splatoon game on the 3DS could be a boom. So I think Nintendo has a lot of room there to continue getting strong sales from the 3DS and people enjoying it. The only problem with the 3DS is that the system does require unique development. With Unity 3D for the new 3DS they only half fixed the issue. They should put an free engine available to everyone and make possible to develop for the system withouth the expendive kits...
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