Nintendo NX: Does the World Want Another Dedicated Portable?
If the reports about the Nintendo NX are true, are we even sure that the mainstream consumer wants another dedicate portable system?
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Today's big news is a report on the Nintendo NX, calling the system a dedicated portable console. The handheld, rumored to be powered by Nvidia's Tegra X1 system-on-a-chip, is meant to be played on the go, but retains a second configuration. The system can hook to your television, detaching the controllers to work like a home console. The portable nature is the aim though and the rumored system will have to trade off pure graphical power for battery efficiency.
The concept plays to Nintendo's strengths, allowing the company to focus its efforts on a single platform, rather than splitting time between home and portable systems. The rumored NX also leans on Nintendo's best area: its portable hardware has always outsold the home systems, usually by a large margin. In Nintendo's home region of Japan, focusing on a low-power portable system will probably pull in developers who lack the resources to create sprawling worlds on the PlayStation 4, but have already outgrown the limitations of the PlayStation Vita and Nintendo 3DS.
I'm looking forward to the Nintendo NX. A Nintendo portable is always a great time and with the NX being the company's sole focus, I expect some great things. I see it as a convergence of not only Nintendo development, but also the amazing work being done by third-parties on 3DS and Vita, and potentially, some of the mobile development being done by major publishers. If you love portable gaming, imagine not being pulled in two directions anymore. Sounds great!
Does the rest of the collective 'we' want another dedicated portable console though?
When the 3DS and Vita launched, we were a few years out from the start of the smartphone revolution. The 3DS was released in 2011, the same year Apple offered the iPhone 4S and rival Samsung gave Android owners the Galaxy S II. We've come a long way since then and smartphones are nearly ubiquitous now.
Many have a smartphone for things outside of gaming: surfing the web, checking email, messaging, tracking fitness, listening to music, and sometimes even making calls. The breadth of smartphone ownership means it's a good place for game developers to target. If someone already has a smartphone, then the only opportunity cost is the price or your game, which is frequently 'free'.
You can see the intelligence of targeting smartphones for gaming in the success of Pokemon Go. Part of the reason the game was able to spread as far as it did, so quickly, is because everyone already had a smartphone. There was no additional system to purchase. They didn't have to carry around another device to play. (Addendum: Unless you're hardcore, at which point you need a battery pack.) If you want to try Pokemon Go, it's only a few taps away, since you likely already have the platform in your pocket.
It's going to be hard for a dedicated portable console to compete with that. As I've pointed out before, the theory of "good enough" says that consumers will choose products that are good enough for their requirements. This extends to portable gaming. Mobile titles becoming increasingly more robust, but the cheaper, simpler experiences are good enough for many players. They aren't enthusiasts, they're just looking for something to play on the bus or train. Something to enjoy on vacation. Their games don't need super-deep gameplay systems or an amazing story, they just have to be fun.
The rise in smartphones is part of why we've gone from 154 million Nintendo DS's sold to only 58 million 3DS's sold. The latter is still a great goddamn number, but it's a far cry from what would be possible in a world without smartphones. If we take the report as the gospel truth, the Nintendo NX is a more traditional gaming experience. It doesn't seem like there's a real shot at the "blue ocean" Nintendo found with the Wii.
It feels like the Nintendo NX as listed in the rumor will be aimed at bringing together the audiences for the Wii U, the 3DS, and potentially the Vita. Nintendo can likely carve out some solid success in that area, especially given the fact that the NX will be the company's only system.
What the company will have on its hands won't compete directly with the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, but it doesn't have to. It just has to be successful for Nintendo. If the company can continue to create compelling portable experiences and pull in developers already making great games for 3DS, Vita, Android, and iOS, it may have something. And if it can draw in indie developers on Steam, it might be able to carve out a further section of the market.
The Nintendo NX might not be for everyone and Nintendo may not be able to recapture the 100+ million unit heights of the Wii, DS, or Game Boy, but there's a clear path forward here. A portable system with Nintendo's best, the ongoing work of existing Vita/3DS devs, and a heaping helpful of Steam indies on the go? That sounds flippin' amazing to me.