Be a Blackphone, Nintendo: Stay in the hardware game.
Update: As pointed out by GotGame reader David, the Wii U no longer uses friend codes; they’ve been replaced by the Nintendo Network ID. Also, long system update times can be avoided by keeping the system in standby and allowing overnight updates. I personally prefer to power down my console, and compare the length of the update times to length of system updates on a 360 or PC after a similar amount of inactivity, but his point on the friend codes is still valid!
I thought two things when I first played Mario Kart 8:
1. Wow, this game looks amazing. And plays amazing. This is an amazing game.
2. Damn, I really wish this wasn’t on the Wii U.
Now Nintendo, you’ve been in the hardware game forever, and to think of you “going the way of the Sega” doesn’t bring me joy. But I have to admit, my Wii U Gamepad was covered in a thick sheet of dust before I turned it on to download Mario Kart 8. And when I did, you confronted me with 2 hours worth of system updates.
(I hate those system updates, by the way. Waiting that long for an update really kills the excitement to play a game.)
Practically any problems that I have with you right now I can connect to the Wii U, Nintendo. The 3DS is riding high, the king of the dedicated portable market with virtually no serious competition. But the Wii U…the arcane friend code system (which the 3DS shares), lack of third-party support compared to other consoles, and serious lack of market penetration (meaning I don’t have friends to play with online) really holds me back from spending a lot of time with you. Now, I know that Super Smash Bros. Wii U is supposed to change the market penetration issue, and that Mario Kart 8 itself has already moved units off of shelves, but my real problem is that I love playing Nintendo games, and I want more people to experience them. If those games were on, say, the PS4, then I’d probably be racing my buddies in Mario Kart right now instead of writing this article.
But even though a big part of me feels this way, I think you’re doing the right thing by staying in the hardware game, Nintendo.
People tell me, “If Nintendo would just put Pokémon on a cell phone already they’d be drowning in money.” “They need to give up on the Wii U and just put their games on the XBox One or the PS4; you couldn’t keep their games on the shelves then.” And maybe both of those statements are right.
Then again, Sega doesn’t have its own hardware anymore. Now Sonic’s wearing a damned Watch_Dogs neckerchief.
You know what convinced me that you need to keep making hardware, Nintendo? An article I read on Fast Company this weekend about the Blackphone, a specially encrypted cell phone designed to keep users’ privacy by scrambling phone calls, text messages, data traffic, and more. In our modern mobile Internet world, one powered by “free” services (you pay for them with your personal information instead of your money), it’s just naturally assumed that there’s no other options for us as consumers. When it comes to smartphones, you either use Android and give all your data to Google, or you use iOS and give all your data to Apple. Free apps are littered with advertisements and Terms of Service agreements that monitor our actions and toss targeted ads our way, and it feels like there’s no alternative other than ditching the smartphone altogether. But the folks over at Silent Circle decided the market needed another option, so they got to work at making one.
Silent Circle got started in late 2012 by creating paid service apps for Android and iOS that provided encrypted email, subscriber-to-subscriber messaging, and more. But the team got behind an idea from a computer pioneer named Alan Kay who said that people who want to get serious about software need to make hardware. So Silent Circle did that, designing their own smartphone from the ground up. By creating their own handset, they don’t have to worry about working to HTC or Samsung or Apple or anyone else’s standards. With PrivatOS, a stripped down version of Android 4.4, they include all the paid services from their apps for free, plus they removed facets of Android they felt produced privacy vulnerabilities. By creating their own hardware, they shaped their world beyond what they could have done on anyone else’s device.
Nintendo, you’re the Silent Circle of the gaming industry right now. They weren’t making the impact they wanted by just making apps for other people’s phones, and you won’t make your own impact by playing on other people’s hardware. By working in the ecosystems of the 3DS and the Wii U, you control your brand, your own special game experience.
There’s no guarantee this plan will work forever; as mentioned in the FastCo article, just because people see the advantages of a particular system doesn’t mean they’ll adopt it. Many of us (particularly Americans) talk about our increasing concerns about digital privacy, government spying and more, and yet we continue to use our iPhones and GMail accounts without searching out better alternatives. It’s easier to go with the flow. The same goes for the gaming sphere; I already put plenty of time on my PS4, and I have to admit that my Wii U is sitting in a box collecting dust again.
So what I’m asking you to do, Nintendo, is keep giving me reasons to go against the flow. You already showed me during E3 this year that you’ve got plenty of games on the way that could do just that; the new Smash Bros. looks even more fun with each new video, and the new Zelda proved that the Wii U’s graphical prowess in ways other demos haven’t, just to name a couple of examples. Personally, I’m looking forward to the new Amiibo toys, the action figures with computer chips that store game data from the time I spend on the Wii U. I’m stoked about training them in Super Smash Bros. Wii U and then having Amiibo tournaments with friends. And you’ve got third-party games that look fun too; Bayonetta 2 in particular looks exciting (though I’ll buy absolutely anything Platinum Games touches because I know they’re a phenomenal studio), but Captain Toad, Kirby, Yoshi, and other Nintendo first-party franchises were the ones that carried the stage this year. Deliver on those titles, and I can better justify keeping my Wii U out of storage.
It’s going to be an uphill battle, Nintendo. You and I both know that. Maybe the time will come where you’ll start making mobile content, or maybe, eventually, you’ll have to give up on the hardware battle. But right now, like Silent Circle and the Blackphone, I think your battle is one worth fighting, one that we as consumers can respect if you just show us why we need to. The more diversity there is in the gaming space, the better the chances that us gamers will find just the kind of game that makes us feel at home with video games, whether it’s a Civilization, Starcraft, World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, Madden, or Mario. Sure, you might not dominate the gaming space, but it’s not always about being number one: it’s about serving the people and doing good.
Then again, you’ve probably known that all along.