Nintendo has a console buried deep in the vaults of their headquarters over in Kyoto, Japan. Its codename is the Nintendo NX, and it was mentioned ever so slightly to get people talking. As such, gaming enthusiast websites have taken it upon themselves to speculate heavily about this device, its features and its potential gimmicks. Personally, when I see the NX, I feel a bit uncomfortable, as if the console might be the final straw that breaks the camel’s back. Looking at the NX means looking at some of the current patterns that Nintendo is following right now. The first major pattern to start investigating is their online infrastructure approach.
Nintendo’s online system is a mystery to understand. This system was introduced back during the release of the Nintendo DS in 2004 and still exists even in late 2015, with minor improvements to the overall idea. It is over ten years old and one of the more irritating aspects in the 3DS’ online mode, as you would have to send a player your friend code. In order to play with them, you have to add their stream of digits, something that is too time consuming. The lack of essential features such as voice chat or a more streamlined messenger that suits a more modern era is one part how Nintendo lacks essential features,, and it shows in games such as Splatoon. Despite selling an enormous amount of copies, making it one of the must-have games for the Nintendo Wii U, the drought of games for the Wii U in 2015 makes for a much lesser impact. Despite being a shooter that can stand up to the likes of Call of Duty or Halo, its lack of communicative features makes it a lot more difficult to play effectively. While the online communities of the mentioned titles are known to be vicious and uncouth, and though I understand that Nintendo wants to maintain a family-friendly image, it becomes a bit baffling to see that this offer is not given to players.
Another major weakness in the online infrastructure is its lack of overall structure and organization. Even in 2015, 10 years later, the system has a very messy appeal to it and friend codes still exist. The eShop was released with the Nintendo DSi and it felt disorganized and clunky. Accessing different menus was painful, and things were strewn about randomly. The 3DS shop feels the same way, with items being categorized randomly and relying on a scrolling list. The 3DS also utilizes an SD card with a completely different system for size management. It made an even more baffling decision with the New Nintendo 3DS, which swapped the popular SD card to a micro SD card format, hidden underneath the back faceplate. While the memory card size remains in megabytes/gigabytes, applications on the eShop are determined by a number of blocks. This is just as bad as the United States living on the Imperial system of units while the world modernized on the metric system.
A potential issue worth investigating that could be discussed is the police state feeling that Nintendo wants its players to feel. While this could elicit responses such as “This system is kid friendly, it needs to be,” I think Nintendo is losing players in its older age group with such measures. A lot of the core Nintendo audience has grown up and it is sad to see that Nintendo is not growing up with them. When using the Miiverse community or just the online in general, there lies censorship, but what makes things laughable is that the censors are relatively easily bypassed; for instance, by adding in accent marks to terms, or using derivations of letters the safeguards are easily broken. The online infrastructure, to an older player such as myself, feels old and dated and so restrictive that it is not a surprise that people are flooding onto other systems. Furthermore, Nintendo recently revamped the Miiverse community and placed more restrictions on it. While it cleaned up the Nintendo-approved social media feed, it felt more restrictive.
On a related point, does anyone else feel that the Nintendo 3DS online in general is just not up to par as it was on the DS systems? Online games are sparse to find as of late, relying more on StreetPass and SpotPass, aspects that are downright weak for those who live in sheltered communities with little interaction. I live in a relatively large city, but not a ton of people have access to the more powerful aspects of social gaming as it can be observed in Japan, where a lot of potential travel occurs via metro or by walking to destinations. In fact, the only time I really got people together on my StreetPass was when I was at E3 this year, where loads of gamers and fans had a 3DS console. Games that should have had online are limited to local multiplayer, such as Fire Emblem: Awakening, or Star Fox 64 3D. It feels that with each generation Nintendo gets lazier and lazier and fails to meet the demands of its audience, and this hurts coming from a Nintendo fan, who respects the gaming giant for what they are capable of in terms of their intellectual properties and its vast successes.
With their online infrastructure, what about the NX? It seems that while I may have gone off on a long-winded deviation, the result is the opposite. I believe that the Nintendo NX will sell worse than the Nintendo Wii U because Nintendo has failed to accept the modern age of gaming. Given that friend codes are still alive and kicking with little changes a decade later bodes poorly. Not only that, Nintendo lost its president recently, referencing of course to the untimely passing of Satoru Iwata, but brought about a successor earlier today. The loss of Nintendo, or even more accurately, one of the gaming industry’s biggest visionaries, makes this decision a difficult one. The NX is still locked behind the big vaults of Nintendo’s headquarters, but the man who gave the company a direction, a man who understood his audience, has gone. And the upset is that Satoru Iwata may have been the one trying to pioneer change, fighting a long uphill battle against the board of directors who have been cut off from the modern age.
The Nintendo Board of Directors is one of the prime factors holding the great company back from embracing its successes. Are they still incredibly successful? Yes, they are, and even if the NX were to catastrophically fail, the company still has enough money to feed itself for the next several generations. But the Board is filled with very traditional, very old-fashioned players. Players that have not grasped the digital age. And what makes this situation worse is that in order for plans to be ratified, it requires a vast majority. Thinking outside of the box is looked down upon. The Kyoto-based company is known for its hierarchy and is notorious for its safeguarded approach to gaming. They’re not a Japanese-based group, they’re a Kyoto-based one. There is actually quite a difference. Risk taking is not exactly lauded, and it tells of a society where everyone is a power and nobody is a decision maker; at the same time everyone has the power to veto decisions. The Nintendo game is one of attrition that involves laying lots of groundwork and making sure that the power is firmly and evidently on your side before continuing. This kind of board is what might end up holding the full might of the NX from reaching its potential, and it is such a shame.
Nintendo’s ancient model of online gaming and their lack of a true visionary leading them are signs of a struggle for Nintendo. With the announcement of a successor in Tatsumi Kimishima, a business man through and through, albeit one with a rather impressive resume, the direction of Nintendo is entirely up in the air but may bode worse as businessmen follow the money. The tepid response of their 2015 E3 conference is something even worse to look at. Will these straws be what breaks the back of the camel, and cause Nintendo to lose its traction in the video games industry?