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Nintendo’s isolation is its best shot at success

This post has been edited by the GamesBeat staff. Opinions by GamesBeat community writers do not necessarily reflect those of the staff.
Editor's Note from Rob Savillo:
Michael argues that Nintendo needs to stay unique in order to remain competitive against superior hardware from Sony and Microsoft. Do you think that be enough to propel the Wii U forward?

On Wednesday, Nintendo announced that they will no longer be holding large press conferences at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the game industry’s biggest trade show, instead opting to use Nintendo Direct to reach out to fans and journalists.

This is heartbreaking.

I do enjoy the Nintendo Directs. They’re easy, they offer a steady stream of first-hand news throughout the year, and they’re fun. They are one of the better ideas to surface out of Nintendo recently. But the company’s departure from years of memorable E3 presentations also feels eerily bittersweet. It’s akin to the emotions you feel when moving away from home — there’s that optimistic look to the future, but it’s simultaneously offset by a melancholic awareness that a significant part of your life is about to end.

But while I and other old Nintendo fans continue to sob over Nintendo’s announcement, it’s still a good choice for the company. Yes, it’s isolating itself from the standard console market and culture to which we have all grown accustomed. Yes, it is choosing to blaze its own path. Hell, it might even be doing this because it thinks its announcements won’t compare to Sony and Microsoft’s.  But you know what? Isolation is exactly what Nintendo should do.

Nintendo took a huge risk with the Wii. The company bypassed the standard upgrade in hardware to focus on a low-price point and a unique experience, and it subsequently isolated itself from third-party developers and a major portion of the gaming population. Despite this isolation, Nintendo has still sold more Wii systems than any other game console on the market.

Global hardware totalsThe Wii U, though, won’t have the same league of soccer moms and casual gamers to support it as the Wii did. Much of that demographic has moved on to smartphones and tablets, so Nintendo will need to do something else. But what?

Well Nintendo has already done it, and that’s happening now with the 3DS handheld.

The 3DS is kind of an enigma. It — along with its predecessor, the DS — is unlike anything else in the market. Many of its features sound like gimmicks. Like the Wii U, the 3DS doesn’t even match the competition’s hardware. But that still hasn’t stopped the 3DS from selling nearly 26 million more units than its big black counterpart, the PlayStation Vita, on top of gaining leagues of third-party support and basically defying everything that we would usually expect. In other words, the 3DS is an isolated anomaly of success. Would it be as popular if it conformed to the hardware and controls present in the Vita? No.

Of course, nobody buys a 3DS because it has a novel 3D effect, and, of course, no one buys it because it has two screens, and so on. People buy it to play new Zelda, Pokémon, Mario, and Metroid games. They buy it to play the unique third-party games. It’s the Nintendo experience they are after, which is something you can’t find anywhere else. But the Nintendo experience has now evolved to include these innovations that have changed the games we know and love in new and exciting ways. It is now an experience defined by isolation and its effects.

The problem the Wii U faces is that Nintendo is isolating itself but isn’t producing this unique experience. Or if Nintendo is, it’s not doing a very good job. Yes, the Wii U’s lack of success is largely due to the console’s newness, but I fear that it may actually be part of a larger trend from what I saw on the Wii. That console didn’t offer the Nintendo experience as much or as well as it should have, with Nintendo releasing too many underwhelming games (Wii Music, anyone?) as well as iterations of its in-house games that haven’t really advanced much (Skyward Sword is excellent , but it’s not radically different from the more-than-a-decade-old Ocarina of Time).

Skyward Sword

Above: Hm, this looks familiar … .

Image Credit: Nintendo

Maybe E3 will change this. I certainly hope it does. But so far, Nintendo hasn’t taken advantage of its isolation as it does with its handhelds. It needs to refocus on developing games that don’t just employ the innovations of its system alone as gimmicks but also are fun and deep games by themselves. This means developing more games like Super Mario 3D Land — a platformer that uses the 3DS’s 3D in a way that enhances an already-fun experience full of depth (pun intended) — and less like Nintendo Land, which, though fun, focuses too much on showcasing the Wii U’s features and lacks the magical experiences found in primary Nintendo titles.

The Wii U could not realistically use a secondary tablet-screen with a console that matched Sony and Microsoft’s upcoming hardware and still sell for a reasonable price. Nintendo knew this. It also should know that by isolating itself, the company will in effect bypass the hardware-intensive games that other next-generation consoles will have, such as future open-world games. But the PlayStation 4 and next Xbox will also have near-identical experiences, providing Nintendo with the opportunity to distinguish itself in a way that only its isolation can.

So come on Nintendo, you have the talent and the resources. You’ve even done it with the 3DS already. Show us why isolation is your trump card.


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