What does the future hold for Mario and co.? (pic: Nintendo)
Speculating about Nintendo doesn’t so much require industry knowledge as it does a crystal ball. No matter how much you may think you know about gaming, it has always been pointless trying to predict them and that highlights one of their key strengths. That unpredictability is a result of their willingness to experiment and take risks, which sometimes works out beyond all expectations and sometimes… doesn’t.
You could argue that hardware like the Virtual Boy and Wii U were more folly than calculated risk, but the fact remains that it’s impossible to know what Nintendo will do at any given moment. Their next console – the mythical Switch 2 – will probably be functionally similar to the current Switch, but with more horsepower and maybe a new gimmick or two, but it could just as easily be something completely different.
There’s nothing unusual about that, since you could say similar things about all their previous console reveals, but assuming that the announcement comes in the next few months, it will be while the video games industry as a whole is in turmoil, in terms of the rising costs of development and the uncertainties over subscription services and the practicalities of streaming.
Although Nintendo has been hinting (without providing any details or numbers) that recent games, such as Zelda: Tears Of The Kingdom, have proven unusually expensive to develop much of their success relies on the fact that, unlike Sony and Microsoft, their games are not $200+ million monsters that risk dire consequences if they underperform, let alone fail.
One very obvious way in which Nintendo keep costs down is through the fact that their last three consoles have been purposefully underpowered and often incapable of running the same games as their PlayStation and Xbox counterparts. But each generation this becomes less true and if the Switch 2 is more powerful – and it must surely be at least a little – then that means more money and people will be needed to make its games.
That will have a natural effect on profits, as well as the speed at which Nintendo can release new games. Apart from the years affected by the pandemic, Nintendo has done remarkably well to keep up a steady release schedule for the Switch, in terms of both quantity and quality. This was no doubt a result of not having to support a separate portable console at the same time, but that benefit will begin to erode if they have to start throwing money and developers at a project to get up to the graphics standards of even just the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Nintendo’s oft spoken desire to keep the Switch going for as long as possible will be in large part because it represents a sweet spot in terms of graphical potential and the length of time needed to make a high-quality game. Pushing beyond that safety zone, in order to incorporate more complex graphics, is likely to be a much bigger risk than many fans realise.
Zelda: Tears Of The Kingdom – how much more money is Nintendo willing to spend on individual games? (Picture: Nintendo)
In the context of the constant job cuts of the last year, that are predicted to continue for the next two, it seems PlayStation and Xbox may already have crossed a line that they cannot retreat from. But even if Nintendo has identified this problem, by watching from the sidelines, what is their answer, if they want to avoid springing the same trap? To ensure that their consoles are never more powerful than the current Switch?
And what of streaming and going multiformat, the two elements which both Microsoft and, according to their own CEO, Sony seem to see as the future of gaming itself? Nintendo has had some small experiments with streaming on the Switch, but they certainly don’t have access to the massive worldwide data centres that Microsoft does, so for that at least they’ll have to team up with someone else – and that sort of interdependent relationship is something Nintendo is infamously uncomfortable with.
Streaming won’t be a major factor for a few years yet, and Nintendo seems to be doing fine with its modest subscription offerings, but what of the sudden fashion for claiming that PC and mobile are just as important, if not more so, than bespoke gaming hardware?
Nintendo’s experiments with mobile gaming were always made with a clear distaste for the medium, and only happened at all because of the failure of the Wii U. As soon as it was clear the Switch had been a hit they quickly seemed to lose interest, and as long ago as 2020 indicated that the experiment is essentially over.
The Palworld Pokémon mod is Nintendo’s worst nightmare (Picture: ToastedShoes)
The idea of a modern Zelda or Mario game appearing on PC seems impossible to imagine for a legion of different reasons, including the fact that exclusive first party games are almost the sole reason most people buy Nintendo consoles. Not only that but Nintendo, unlike others, design hardware and software in tandem, specific games having influenced the design of the console they appear on since at least the days of the Nintendo 64.
Even more minor issues, like the idea of fan-made mods, are likely to have Nintendo recoiling in horror, at the mere thought of not having complete control over the hardware their games appear on.
But if that’s the reality of the market now, or at least in the coming years, will they have any choice but to embrace it? Faced with the prospect of releasing new games on PC and mobile would Nintendo rather just give up and go back to making playing cards or will they be atypically pragmatic, as they were with their first mobile experiment?
Microsoft has been wanting to buy Nintendo for decades but is the industry now at a point where Nintendo needs outside help to compete? And if that’s true does that make Microsoft the obvious suitor, given Sony never seems to have forgiven them for the SNES CD-ROM.
The last time Nintendo teamed up with a rival it lead to the birth of PlayStaiton (Picture: Terry Diebold)
There we take you into a realm of speculation that Nintendo themselves is probably still pondering. They might be perfectly willing to experiment with hardware and software, in a way Microsoft and Sony would never contemplate, but they will be desperate to keep the foundations of their business exactly as it has always been, with their games appearing on their own propriety hardware and no other.
At some point though they have to announce their plans publicly and, as with anything to do with Nintendo, it’s very hard to predict when that will happen. But it’s beginning to seem like rumours of a Nintendo Direct in February will not be proven true.
The traditional February event was expected to focus on the Switch’s current line-up, but on Wednesday Nintendo released both an extended look at Princess Peach: Showdown! (the biggest non-remaster currently on Nintendo’s schedules) and a release date for the Splatoon 3 single-player DLC.
You would’ve assumed these would be the centrepieces in a February Direct but that now seems redundant, increasing the chances that the next time Nintendo has a preview showcase it will be for the Switch 2 itself.
Nintendo, more than anyone else, will know that there are problems in the industry that not only cannot be solved by making a more powerful console, but which are exacerbated by doing so.
That’s something that Xbox and PlayStation have always failed to acknowledge, but it will be the foremost thought in Nintendo’s mind at the moment, as they contemplate an unknowable future where none of the usual assumptions about the games industry – many of which they established – can be taken for granted.
Nintendo don’t just want to survive the oncoming storm they want to thrive in it, and it is going to be fascinating to see how they make that attempt…
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