Today was a big day for Nintendo.
Following Iwata and other Nintendo board members taking significant pay cuts to atone for the company's recent troubles, all eyes were on today's investor briefing to see exactly how the troubled company was going to attempt to pick itself up from the troubles Wii U has wrought.
And the company didn't disappoint, either; the briefing brought with it an interesting selection of news -- including a few surprises -- that will play a key part of Nintendo's strategy in the coming months. Here's a round-up of what went on.
DS Games on Wii U
One might argue that the more logical place for DS games to go is 3DS, but since that platform already supports DS game cartridges, Nintendo presumably felt that bringing the handheld's library to Wii U's Virtual Console would be a better option in terms of expanding audience.
Details are sketchy on exactly how this will all work, since the only image released so far is of Brain Age running on the GamePad, with a virtual divide running down the center of the screen to simulate the split between the DS' two screens. This format will only prove practical for the relatively few vertical-format DS games, though -- Brain Age and Hotel Dusk spring to mind -- since using it for standard horizontal-split games would involve holding the GamePad vertically like an Atari Lynx playing Klax. And if you ever played Klax on the Atari Lynx, you'll know that it takes approximately five minutes for that hand position to become extremely uncomfortable. It would perhaps be better for the DS' top screen to be displayed on the TV and the touchscreen content to appear on the GamePad, but we'll have to wait and see if that's how it's going to work.
This has potential to bring a vast library of great games to players who prefer not to use handhelds for whatever reason, but it needs to be well-implemented in order to be a success -- and it also needs to have a decent library of titles available for download. The DS has a huge number of great games available -- Nintendo will need to ensure it releases new titles in a timely manner in order for this new feature of Virtual Console to be worthwhile. And with the company's historically quite slow rate of releasing games on Wii U's Virtual Console... well, it's hard not to be a little concerned. We shall see, though!
Wii U Gets a Quick-Start Function
It almost certainly won't sell any Wii U systems, but an update coming in early summer will allow you to pick a piece of software and a user to log in as on the GamePad before the Wii U system itself has finished booting up. In this way, you can "queue up" what you want to play, then leave the system to do its thing while it goes through its normal startup process. Perhaps go and make a cup of coffee or something.
It didn't look as if you'd be able to use the Quick-Start function to boot Wii games, which require the Wii U to boot normally, then boot the Wii's OS separately from the main menu.
Mario Kart 8 Coming in May
Not a lot more to say about that, really. Previously, we only had a somewhat ill-defined "spring" release, but now we know it's coming in May. Mike thought it looked rather good.
Nintendo and Quality of Life
Iwata said that Nintendo would be looking to expands its offerings with a new "quality of life" initiative through non-wearable devices and software to monitor your health. Further details are supposedly forthcoming later this year, and the initiative is set to launch in April of next year. The Wall Street Journal reported that the new initiative would not be based in the living room -- Nintendo already has three incarnations of Wii Fit to cover that -- so it will perhaps be 3DS related. Or perhaps it will be a new piece of tech altogether, like the Fit Meter or the oft-mocked Vitality Sensor.
Nintendo and Smart Devices
Iwata noted that the company would need to provide something "truly valuable that is unique to Nintendo" in order to draw attention to its presence on devices such as smartphones and tablets. Iwata was open to the idea that Nintendo needed to "achieve greater ties" with its customers through use of these popular devices, and noted that a "small, select team of developers" would be put to work on the task.
"I have not given any restrictions to the development team," said Iwata, "even not ruling out the possibility of making games or using our game characters.
"However," he clarified, fending off the inevitable 'Mario Coming to iPhone' headlines before they appeared, "if you report that we will release Mario on smart devices, it would be a completely misleading statement."
Instead, Iwata plans to release applications on smart devices that will "attract consumer attention and communicate the value of our entertainment offerings." Given Iwata's other comments, it sounds as if these will take the form of interactive advertising of some description -- perhaps even short, simple advergames making use of Nintendo's immediately recognizable characters. A Mario-themed minigame designed to promote Super Mario 3D World? Perhaps; we'll have to wait and see: "I would encourage you to see how our approach yields results," said Iwata.
Nintendo Network ID will also be brought to mobile platforms. It's Nintendo's intention to unify Nintendo Network ID across mobile and all its own future dedicated devices, and to provide access to services such as the eShop from locations other than Nintendo consoles. This will also hopefully mean the end of tying purchases to a device instead of an account. According to a tweet by analyst David Gibson, who was watching the presentation, it also sounds as if there will be some sort of variable pricing model in place, where the "more users [who] play [a] game, the lower the price." Interesting!
Expect More Crossovers
The upcoming Hyrule Warriors from Tecmo Koei is just the first example of Nintendo being more lenient in licensing its properties to other developers. It appears that we should expect more spin-off, crossover games using Nintendo characters and properties in the near future -- though no other examples were given as part of the presentation.
Alongside crossover games, Nintendo is looking at being more flexible in terms of merchandise based on its character IP. In the past, Iwata noted that Nintendo had taken a "passive" approach towards licensing characters and IP, ensuring that Nintendo characters only appeared in carefully selected games -- and that he believed this had created "fortunate circumstances" in terms of how well-regarded Nintendo characters are. The change in policy going forward will be dependent on Nintendo and the third party not being in direct competition -- and there being the possibility of a "win-win" relationship between the two of them.
"By moving forward with such activities globally, we aim to increase customer exposure to Nintendo characters by making them appear in places other than on video game platforms," Iwata said. This is something we thought might be a good idea, too.
The Problem with Wii U...
...is that people still don't recognize the GamePad is a necessary component for the console, and are still, in some cases, under the mistaken assumption that it's an accessory for the Wii. Cutting the price is not an option, as Nintendo is already selling the Wii U at a loss, and neither is the company willing to drop the GamePad altogether -- with many of its most popular, well-received games reliant on it, they'd be foolish to, anyway.
Instead, the company is keen to shift focus into more games that actually take advantage of the GamePad's unique features rather than simply mirroring the screen display or, as in the case of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, ignoring it altogether. Iwata apparently wants to "change the definition of the platform" and seemingly bring 3DS and Wii U closer together rather than treating them as completely separate platforms. The recent integration of MiiVerse into the 3DS OS could be seen as the first step in this process -- wouldn't it be nice if we saw more cross-platform features such as Virtual Console purchases working on multiple Nintendo devices?
We'll also see more in the way of NFC connectivity with the GamePad from E3 onwards this year; currently, Pokémon Rumble U is the only title to take advantage of this built-in feature of the GamePad.