While the early sales for Nintendo’s Wii U haven’t been horrible, it certainly hasn’t come out of the gates strong in the way that the original Wii did (though we don’t expect them to start handing people a free Wii U any time soon). With Nintendo struggling through the last few years with the Wii, the slow uptake of their new system has left people wondering if Nintendo could possibly turn into a software only developer much in the same way that Sega did. It may still be early to be looking at such a drastic change, but Xbox/Playstation fanboys have long fantasized about having the Nintendo franchises on their more powerful, online-capable systems.
There are some distinct advantages to seeing Nintendo leave the home console market. It’s no secret that Nintendo spent the last generation way behind its peers on the technology front, and they will once again be doing that this gen with the next Xbox and PS4 far out-spec’ing the Wii U. That was perhaps a bigger deal last generation when gamers were stuck with SD versions of their favorite Nintendo franchises, but it will still be something to consider moving forward.
Another advantage to a software oriented Nintendo is that it would open first party games up to the much more robust online networks of the other platforms. While a step forward from the Wii, the Wii U’s online network still leaves a lot to be desired. One can’t help but think of the frustrating times that came along with trying to play the Wii versions of Super Smash Brothers and Mario Kart online, when compared to playing games online with friends on the other consoles. Nintendo shoots for making friend-friendly consoles, and it would be nice if that extending to playing with friends online as well.
It’s not all rosy, however. A lot of people feel that Sega lost its motivation when it went software only, and fear the same will happen to Nintendo. There have been very few good Sega games since the company left the hardware arena, and Sonic has all but disappeared from the gaming landscape. Surely Mario wouldn’t suffer the same fate, but many don’t want to risk the magic being lost in any capacity.
Realistically though, the entire notion is still far off. The first week Wii U sales lagged behind the sales of the original Wii, but still topped both the XBox 360 and PS3 in their inaugural week in existence. Things have only gotten worse since then, with Nintendo recently adjusting their quarterly sales estimates from 5.5 million down to 4 million. 3DS sales have been somewhat disappointing during the handheld’s lifecycle as well.
However, one very important piece of information is that, unlike other consoles, the Wii U is not being sold at a loss. This gives NIntendo a bit more flexibility and allows them to handle somewhat disappointing sales better. Additionally, their older consoles (especially in the handheld market) continue to move fast and the software moves with them. Lastly, the company has a ton of cash reserves built up from the early success of both the Wii and DS Lite.
While unlikely, it is still possible, however, that 5 years from now we’ll be playing Mario and Zelda games on Microsoft and Sony consoles with greater processing power and better online functionality. The real win here, however, would be if Nintendo were one day able to get their online system and graphical fidelity up to par to match the other consoles, eliminating some gamer’s desire to see the company go software only.