Last night, or yesterday morning in Japan, Satoru Iwata gave a briefing in the wake of Nintendo's rather disappointing earnings report which revealed an operating loss and exceptionally lackluster performance from the Wii U. Iwata tried to reassure both fans and investors that all is well, while acknowledging that challenges remain ahead.
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There was a surprising amount of news made last night during Iwata’s remarks, good, bad and odd. Though they’re clearly trying to keep a lot of things secret for Nintendo Directs or E3, here’s what they had to say about a few key issues:
- Nintendo is not abandoning its hardware business, Iwata made that clear. I guess this is only “good” depending on your opinion on the topic, but most fans will likely be happy about it.
- Mario Kart 8 is being released in May. Not a firm date, but fans should be happy with a firm month, at least.
- Future games will put more of a priority on the Gamepad. Again, debatable, but I think it’s good Nintendo is attempting to utilize the thing that makes their console unique, and attempt to make the Gamepad worth the extra cost it tacks onto the Wii U. I’ve never been in favor of severing it from the system.
- Iwata says that in the future, their handheld and home console systems will function more like “brothers” than they do now. But he was not yet sure if they would be directly combined in some specific way. The first step of this “brothers” philosophy is a new on demand service tied to a player’s Nintendo ID, not their hardware.
- The DS Virtual Console is heading to Wii U, but there’s no timetable for that yet.
- Iwata admits that the Wii U will not drive profit for the coming year, and Nintendo will have to rely on handheld sales for that.
- When questioned about the lack of Wii U games, Iwata said “not that we’re trying to give excuses,” but pointed to Miyamoto who said there was a big technological leap between the Wii and Wii U they weren’t ready for. Given their competition, they really, really should have been ready for it.
- Release dates for a ton of other titles this year are still simply “2014,” including Super Smash Bros.
- No Wii U price cut. This seems like a necessarily step, but they’d likely take too steep a loss at this point.
- The market didn’t seem to be feeling the event overall, and Nintendo shares ended down over 4%.
- Iwata says they’re willing to license more Nintendo characters to outside parties. I’m assuming this means for 3rd party devs to work with Nintendo to make games for the Wii U and 3DS, not for like, merchandising rights or having their games go cross-console. This would result in more games from more franchises, but if they’re not being designed by Nintendo directly, their quality could suffer. Still, this may be necessary to speed up their release timetables.
- Nintendo is still being vague about their plans with mobile. Iwata says Nintendo will use smart devices to “make connections with customers.” But that definitely doesn’t seem like releasing games on smartphones or tablets, but rather some sort of system to drive users from those devices to Nintendo products. Without more details, it sounds like kind of a questionable proposition.
- Nintendo says that they’re going to be focusing on health and “enhancing the quality of life through entertainment.” Iwata spoke vaguely about “non-wearable” devices to monitor your health that don’t necessarily stay in your living room. There’s really no further indication about what this could be, but we’re supposed to hear more later this year, and whatever the product is, it will launch through March 2016 fiscal year. Vitality sensor flashbacks incoming.
So there you have it. The most interesting part of the presentation is Iwata’s teasing of these mysterious health “non-wearables.” Guesses from the Forbes office include everything from short-range mobile sensors to surgically implanted Wii controllers. What do you think Nintendo is planning here?
Iwata sounded genuinely sorry for the mistakes that have led to the company’s underperformance, but I’m not necessarily sure that anything said here is too revolutionary. Their mobile strategy still seems week if they’re making apps purely to be ads for their own handhelds. I can’t imagine something like a brief demo of a 3DS game would work, given the fact that a tablet controls totally different than a 3DS handheld, and for someone to pick up the game it would be $200+ for the system and $40 for the game. Kind of a hard sell.
And while Nintendo found some “health” success with Wii Sports and Wii Fit, focusing on some sort of health-based tech instead of the endless amounts of games they should be making seems risky. Nintendo already has their attention divided between software and two different hardware platforms. Do they really need to split their focus even further? I guess that depends on whatever it is they’re cooking up. It’s going to be an interesting E3.