Mario Kart's release window was narrowed down during a Nintendo corporate strategy event today, during which CEO Satoru Iwata discussed the company's plans for the future, including some startling digital service plans.
The most concrete news out of the event is that Mario Kart 8 is coming to Wii U in May, a more specific window than its previous "northern spring 2014" launch.
In general, Iwata said Nintendo isn't looking to do a Sega by changing its strategy of selling hardware and software - something many arm chair analysts have suggested - and reiterated that Nintendo won't be bringing games to mobile devices. However, it has learned lessons from the past, and will continue research and development on hardware in the future. Nintendo needs to identify opportunities and create new markets, the executive added.
Saving the Wii U
As for the Wii U, its weakness is the Game Pad, he admitted; consumers believe it's a Wii add-on, and Nintendo can't afford to cut the price. Software to justify the hardware is thin on the ground. As an example, the Game Pad's NFC reader functionality has been neglected, Iwata said, with just one game taking advantage of it.
Games that show off what the Game Pad can do are Nintendo's highest priority, Iwata said, and confirmed that new titles in this vein will be announced this year via Nintendo Direct. The company hope to fast-track their release, too. Mario Kart 8 is one such title.
An upcoming firmware update will make the Wii U Game Pad fire up much faster, hopefully encouraging users to use it more frequently. In addition, the DS's library of Virtual Console titles is coming to Wii U.
In a later Q&A, Iwata said that the Wii U is not expected to be a big financial driver in the coming financial year - the 3DS will do that - but that Wii U software will contribute to turning the console's fortunes around longterm.
Regarding software, veteran designer Shigeru Miyamoto told questioners that the Wii U was impacted by a lack of key franchises, but that he believes the issue has been resolved. That's not to say the Wii U it out of hot water in that regard, he added; although games like Super Mario 3D World earned strong reviews, single-player experiences are unsatisfying and users are not communicating about games they enjoy.
Interestingly, Miyamoto said that he believes Nintendo franchises can be evolved in a more "stable" manner by working with third-party developers; he may mean more frequent releases, as fans often decry the lack of a Zelda or Mario at key periods.
Miyamoto concluded that the Wii U had a release drought in 2013, and that NintendoLand, a title designed to showcase the console's strengths, failed to do so. Iwata indicated his agreement regarding the lack of release in the console first full calendar year.
Nintendo Network as a platform
Iwata said Nintendo wants to change its understanding of platform, separating it from hardware like the 3DS and Wii U, Something like EA's Origin ID or a PSN log-in, Nintendo wants its Nintendo Network ID to extend to other hardware like smartphones - although not, Iwata reiterated yet again, because Nintendo is bringing its games to mobile. Instead, Nintendo wants to establish relations with smartphone users on the devices they are already familiar with.
In a Q&A following the briefing, Iwata said Nintendo's smartphone services aren't about making money, but about communicating with them.
Nintendo hopes that what it provides through this service won't just be advertising; it has to be fun and clever, so that people want to view it and engage with it.
In the Q&A following the presentation, Nintendo made some very interesting comments on this subject. Iwata said that Nintendo must emulate Android and Apple's single architecture across various iDevices, so that handhelds and portables no longer exist in separate ecosystems, but are like brother and sister.
Nintendo on demand
According to tweets out of the event Iwata said that Nintendo is considering launching an on-demand service sometime this year. Such a service would be tied to Nintendo ID, not device. No mention of this services was found in the official English transcript, however, so it may have been a misinterpreaiton of Nintendo's more vague discussion of the Nintendo Network ID platform.
Nevertheless, Iwat's NNIS platform talk segqued suspiciously into talk of using smartphones to open games to a much wider audience This would allow Nintendo to make games in general cheaper; Iwata even suggested lowering the pice of a game for users who play it with friends.
It doesn't sound like Nintendo's plans are concrete, though; Iwata said the company will experiment on Wii U first. Nintendo also hopes to expand into emerging markets by 2015, Iwata said, although it understands its usual premium pricing won't work in many territories.
Nintendo's "quality of life" platform
The company also wants to move beyond just entertainment and into helping improve quality of life. Wearable devices are possible, Iwata said, but Nintendo wants to leapfrog that trend to have users structuring a healthy day-to-day life, as enabled by non-wearable Nintendo devices - presumably handhelds, consoles and the Nintendo Network platform, accessible via your smartphone.
There are synergies between a games platform and a quality of life platform, Iwata added. The quality of life platform will roll out in 2015, and will be integrated with games. Details of this business plan will be announced later in 2014, with profits expected in FY 2016.
Miyamoto plans to build a flagship title for this new kind of platform, he said during the Q&A.
During the core presentation, Iwata briefly mentioned that Nintendo is changing its attitude to licensing IP, and may seek a partner to help it expand its reach. In the US, merchandising is increasing aggressively, he added.
When queried on the subject, Iwata said the company will be more flexible about licensing character IP, but won't license everything - it doesn't want to undermine or introduce competition to its own products, of course.
Nintendo is already in licensing discussions, he added, and although it has not set a firm budget it expects to begin making a profit from this in the not so distant future.
Assuring investors Nintendo wouldn't emulate Sanrio by spamming its characters on everything, Iwata said licensing may include things like official wallpapers for mobile devices.
A full English transcript of the event is available here.