Monday, February 3, 2014

Nintendo's Unified Hardware Division May be for a Nintendo OS

I know, I know, don't let me hear it. I've been absent from posting OC for months, then come full-force in January with nothing but Nintendo-related articles. Hell, if it weren't for my nickname, you'd think I was a fanboy. It's only because Nintendo is the only company of the Big Three that's making headlines with what they're doing internally.

Last year, Nintendo made headlines when they merged their handheld and console divisions into one, solitary unit. Rumors were a flurry about what Nintendo was doing with this, but nothing until now has shown up. Polygon's article today highlight an investor call from last week, in which Iwata stated it's become possible for Nintendo to "achieve a fair degree of architectural integration." Considering that the first article linked mentioned that the new building's projected completion was to be towards the end of last year, it's only good news that we're already hearing something.

What does this news mean, though? Think about how the experience is between your Wii U and 3DS, and the Nintendo Network. Done? Good.

There is none.

After years of Nintendo praising online connectivity, new innovations with ways to play with friends, or revitalizations into areas they are foreign, they still can't get the three pillars of their business to integrate. Nintendo Network - and the Miiverse, by extension - was a big step forward for Nintendo to finally come into the modern age of online connectivity. The eShop has come a long way for Nintendo to offer downloadable content, be it full games, demos, applications, it's there for what the Wii U is capable of. The Wii U and 3DS feel so different, despite them being (practically) the same goddamned thing. Even with the 3DS's update to include the Miiverse, I still feel like I'm in two completely different universes when I'm playing either one.

Iwata's investor call is another monstrous step forward for Nintendo's evolution. Nintendo has always been focused of doing something different, going as far back as the NES ("A directional pad and two buttons? WTF is this? Give me a joystick and one button, like a traditional game system!" - Every Atari owner in the 80s). He's hinted at one humongous evolution for a "traditional" home console manufacturer: a unified operating system that exists between platforms, repairing the fractured ecosystem.

Asides from the above quote, Iwata also gave us this quote: "If the transition of software from platform to platform can be made simpler, this will help solve the problem of game shortages in the launch periods of new platforms." This reminds me of two other, very popular platforms: iOS and Android. Across all of their devices, they operate on the same operating system, and their applications and games co-exist between the two, with some taking specific advantages of hardware advantages only available on certain devices. This would be one of the smartest things Nintendo can do - unifying the experience between home and handheld - and, quite possibly, their "next big thing."

Nintendo always wants to be different. They are, to an extent, the gaming industry's Apple. They have a niche, they do things no other company would dare to do, and their competition eats up what they've made popular and integrates it into their own lines. Sony is, quite possibly, the best example of this, dating as far back as the PlayStation's inception; that history is a completely different lesson all on it's own. What Nintendo could do here won't be hardware related, or controller related, but software related. By "pulling an Apple" and having one operating system across all platforms, this makes it easier to "continue the experience" across all platforms, and creating an actual Nintendo ecosystem. Not only does this benefit consumers by not having this fragmentation between devices that co-exist, but it's a wondrous feat to help with developers. A developer would no longer need to worry about "Cross-Buy" compatibility of your games - having developers build a completely second version of their game, and release it for free with absolutely no pay-back on their work - and build their game for one OS (with slight changes only for hardware advantages), and giving it the ability to work across multiple platforms without sacrificing too much deveopment time. Just look at any application or game you buy for your iPhone that works on your iPad. This is exactly what we're talking about. The biggest saving grace with the Nintendo OS? Drastically lower development costs for multi-plat games.

Unfortuantely, that dream may not come anytime soon, as Iwata went on to say that this unified experience is "only going to be able to start this with the next system," but also gave hope to the whole ordeal, saying that home and handheld systems will be "like brothers in a family of systems."

Will we see anything about this purported Nintendo OS at E3? Fucking hell, I hope so. We may even see some sort of hardware refresh. The 3DS is turning two, and is no where close to a full refresh. Maybe a 3DS lite? Possibly. We should, however, get a taste of what's to come. If anything, the biggest shocker of Nintendo's hardware cycle is possibly cutting it short and introducing a whole new handheld and home console mid-cycle.

Image: Valerie Kinney

Imagine a home console named Nintendo HD: it uses Nintendo's very name in the product. It was always "playing Nintendo" or "playing your Super Nintendo". You referred to it with their own name in it; it's called brand recognition. The Nintendo 64 was the last one, until they started calling it GameCube, then the Wii, and finally, the Wii U. The brand recognition was lost. Going back to using their strongest card - the word "Nintendo" itself - they should start by calling it exactly what it is: the Nintendo HD. I have absolutely no idea what they can do with the handhelds, but I don't have an R&D division with millions of dollars at my expense, but "DS" seems to be doing very well all on it's own (so did "GameBoy", but we saw what happened there). This mid-cycle refresh could be the best thing for Nintendo. Look at all the shit Honda got for the 2012 Civic refresh; fuck, Consumer Reports rated it so low, they couldn't even recommend it. It was lackluster, poorly designed, and not worth the money. They hightailed it to R&D, and brought out the 2013 Civic, which shat all over the 2012.

Nintendo could very well shake things up with a mid-cycle refresh for their handheld and home consoles (with probably a one year release difference, max), both rocking a unified Nintendo OS. If anyone can do something this fucking crazy, and, most importantly, pull it off, it's Nintendo.