Why The next Nintendo Console Will Be Digital-Only

There’s a lot of rumours circulating that Nintendo are going to announce a new console at this years E3 in June.

I am going to come right out with a bold statement. This will be the first major console to ditch optical and disc media drives and go fully digital.

What we think we know right now is this:

  • There will be a console but no idea on hardware.
  • It could be called Fusion DS/Fusion Terminal if it is two separate consoles.
  • Nintendo filed for patents last year for a new type of controller with interchangeable buttons. [clear]

So why would I bet all the coins in the Mushroom Kingdom that Nintendo will go full digital? (Insert Tropic Thunder inspired one liner here)

Well because it is blatantly obvious. isn’t it? Nintendo has been subverting the competition throughout the entirety of the last generation of consoles. The Wii was the first motion controller, which was something nobody really wanted to touch. They used very dated technology, even for the time, which certainly limited the scope of portability for many companies. The WiiU could be considered a partial flop for going with a slightly updated console with a screen built in to the controller, something Sony use their portable console for. Even their portable consoles, the DS/3DS have gone against the emerging market of mobile gaming and not really changed in years.

 

But what has really convinced me was what Nintendo boss Satoru Iwata said in February, that the next console would be taking ‘cues’ from Apple’s iOS platform. So let me lay out my belief.

Pretty much every major Nintendo release on both consoles has been available digitally. Nintendo’s biggest aim has been to create a society around its networking accessibility and avatars. The Mii’s have been paramount to that. One of the first things that the Wii did well, which it honestly doesn’t get enough credit for, is its digital store.

The Nintendo e-shop has been in full swing since the off with apps and classic games and a heavy bias on back catalogue emulation, something that is decreasing now with the industry wide argument over backward compatibility.

For the Wii, backward compatibility was easy, because of the hardware used, and paramount because it was quite close to the Gamecube. The latter console is now thirteen years old and practically irrelevant. Unless there’s a huge motion control element in the new console design, then it’s unlikely the new console would be backward compatible to the original Wii games, and quite frankly, there’s no reason it should be.

The e-shop has been a great success on both consoles and even your local retailer probably stocks more game code cards for Nintendo than physical games now. The physical element of game distribution has long been a crux for publishers and an expensive problem, given the digital infrastructure we have now. Nintendo posting continuous losses may force them to take the brave action and cut out the physical all together.

But another reason could be pressure from publishers. Developing games for the Wii/WiiU has always been a tricky task because the majority of the market was Xbox/PS3. The lack of power the Wii had means that creating a Wii version of a game requires further work and more expense in the creation phase. Plus the heavily family orientated nature of the consoles limits what can be successfully ported financially.

So in order to attract more publishers, and even attract indie game creators, removing the physical and costly aspect of game distribution could be a good move. Something that (get ready for that all important claw back to a previous point) Apple has been incredibly successful at. The iOS Apple App store has given rise to a whole new approach to game creation, programming, and distribution has effectively revolutionised the market, as iTunes did before it. This was even before the iPhone became the primary smartphone of choice. Even Android and Google Play are following the same format for their phones/tablets/etc. Nintendo already have a fantastic, easy to use, well-stocked e-store.

Of course historically, Nintendo have never shied away from risks. As both Sony and Microsoft didn’t go down the digital only route, although slim console versions might, the door is open for Nintendo to pave the way forward like the rebels they’ve always been. They’ve done it before and innovation is arguably more important to them in their ethos than the entertainment hub mentality of the Xbox One or the more gaming orientated ethos of local rivals Sony.

Let’s face it, unless Nintendo announce they are making a super computer to rival the highest end Steam console then there is no way they are going to compete with the Xbox One or PS4. And why should they when they can do something different, grab that slightly different hole in the market and do it in the most cost effective way that they can.

So, I firmly believe that any console, handheld or otherwise, will be digital only. There will be no optical disc or cartridge-based drive on either. And I don’t think anyone will complain about it. In all honesty, Microsoft and Sony are not in a position to lose their disc drives yet and the consumer voiced their concerns when it was touted. Nintendo are in the best position, not only to experiment but also to see if such a model legitimately works. For Nintendo, I think it will.

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