It’s becoming more and more apparent that Nintendo is trying something new with how they handle their hardware business. While creating the next generation of Nintendo hardware, Iwata looked at iOS and Android as inspiration (Q&A #5). He noted that porting from Wii to 3DS or 3DS to Wii U currently requires a lot of effort so it’s not something that’s worth doing in most cases causing software shortages in some cases. If the development ecosystem was more like iOS or Android they could release a game on several different devices without too much effort. This does not mean Nintendo is creating a single device being hybrid console, in fact Nintendo could potentially release 3 or more form factors while being able to supply enough software for all without having to radically increase the size of its development houses. If they pull this off well, it could mean great things for Nintendo’s future systems.
Currently, to get a decent amount of software as a Nintendo only fan you would need to purchase both their console and their handheld. As Emily Rogers wrote in her recent blog post this also results in redundancies in Nintendo’s output. They need to create two different versions of Mario Kart, two different Mario games, two different Zelda games, two different Smash bros games, two diffe-…you get the point. This means Nintendo would either leave their fans dissatisfied, or casual fans would only pick up one system over the other. In their most recent generation, for example, a fan could feel satisfied with just a 3DS since they got installments of their favorite NIntendo games on a system that costs over $100 less. While a shared library would seem to make this just as bad, if not worse, it really doesn’t if you look at the situation closely. When Nintendo makes a game they needed to decide where to put it. It would sell better on the 3DS, but they needed to support the Wii U as well. With a shared library this wouldn’t be the case, they can support two+ systems without having serious droughts and maximizing software sales in case one system underperforms. They just need one system to do well and they’ll be fine instead of facing serious hardships if another Wii U situation happens again.
In terms of the rate of software output on a given platform and the total variety of software this should show a massive improvement. As mentioned previously, Nintendo’s software output is fairly redundant if you own two devices. With a shared library they no longer have to go and rush out a game to pad out the library of a system and the freed up resources could be put towards long term support of the games (as a service like Splatoon, DLC like in MK8) or just new original games. For example, the lack of an Animal Crossing game on the Wii U likely resulted in Splatoon alongside those AC spinoffs which was of great benefit last year. Not having to make two different Mario Kart games could result in the freed up teams making a new F-Zero game or DLC. The most obvious part would be just the general increase of software per given platform. Let’s say that on average their console output per year is 8 games and their handheld output is 12 games per year, so if they combined their output it should result in around 15+ games per year per system. Imagine even the first half of this year and its output despite being a transitional period on a single system. Having Bravely Second, Hyrule Warriors Legends, Zero Time Dilema, Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, Pokken, Fire Emblem Fates, Mirage Sessions #FE, Twilight Princess HD, Kirby Planet Robobot, Final Fantasy Explorers, and Star Fox Zero along with some other small digital within 6 months titles without having to buy two systems.
This is a crucial decision they had to make, one that I don’t see them being able to continue without. It was very difficult to provide software for their platforms on the Wii U and 3DS, another generational leap with the same issues would have proven disastrous otherwise. Their console development would be very expensive especially if the sales weren’t there to justify producing games and even their portable games would see a fairly large increase in budget if the power goes from PS2 era to 360 era similarly to Sony’s Playstation Vita. The japanese devs that made games for the PSP didn’t come back in a lot of cases due to the increased cost of developing for the platform and the limited install base, but if developers create their games with the console ports in mind it should be considerably more attractive to them (look at PSV games getting PS4 ports). This can also be the return of mid tier games if they charge the same as 3DS games or slightly higher making smaller games like Star Fox, Chibi Robo, and many 3rd party Japanese games easier to sell with more varied pricing methods.
The biggest potential issue with a shared library is less games fully taking advantage of the power of the console. Of course, something I didn’t mention is that not all games on NX will be playable on both systems, exclusives will likely occur with the likes of 3rd party AAA multiplatform games and maybe the occasional 1st party game like Zelda or Xenoblade. In most cases with 1st party software you’ll see them being playable on both systems meaning they’ll have to be built around the handheld. This wouldn’t mean much for certain games. The NSMB games, for example, would likely not suffer much by the limitations, neither would games like Donkey Kong Country Tropical freeze. The biggest issue Nintendo will need to manage is how to make these games more palatable for the home console consumer. Lower prices would be good, as would cross buy (something I believe to be crucial), but Nintendo likely needs to do more with their games instead of just releasing a 540p game on a modern home console.
4k or VR?
It would prove to be very beneficial if Nintendo attempts to create their with one of these two selling points, both being big buzzwords even if the games wouldn’t be the most technically advanced looking games in the market. Both are very difficult to do, VR requires simpler looking games with limited scope to work properly and you can’t make a big budget, cutting edge game run decently in 4k. Being based off of a simpler looking game with strong art direction could make one of these two doable with the NX depending on how powerful they want to make the home console. If VR headsets take off they can provide a lot of VR experiences with a low barrier of entry, same for 4k television. These are just two examples of how they could take advantage of their simpler looking portable games but make it more valuable for the console owner.
They could very well always just go 1080p 60fps, which would honestly be good enough based off of HD screenshots of 3DS games:
Smash could be the best case scenario sharing assets easily between the two while still being essentially the same thing. Smash ended up being a massive success for Nintendo as well. Honestly either of these would work, but hopefully Nintendo puts in the extra effort on their first party offerings