You’ve likely read dozens of different editorials this past month predicting what the future might bring for Nintendo.
Some said it must expand onto smartphones. Others insisted that new IP is the key. Or that a Wii U price cut is essential. A few even still believe that the problem Wii U is facing is still rooted in marketing.
None of them said that the company’s salvation may come in an expansion away from the video games market.
But that is what president Satoru Iwata has told investors, outlining plans to launch a health-focused QOL Platform (Quality of Life) that "takes on the challenge of expanding into a new business area" and "extends the definition of entertainment".
The most crucial aspect here is that QOL will operate independently from Nintendo’s video games business.
It seems that last year’s move to unify Nintendo’s home and handheld gaming divisions was not in fact the first step toward the launch of a new machine that combines the strengths of 3DS and Wii U. It now looks as if it was simply consolidation of its gaming activities into a single unit that could eventually become just one of many.
Iwata’s explanation was vague, referring to QOS as a "hardware-software platform business" that “improves people's QOL in enjoyable ways”, adding that while the company will “continue to devote its energy” into dedicated video games platforms, QOS will be its “first step into a new business area”. QOS will focus on non-wearable tech at a time when Iwata believes its potential competitors are still focusing on wearable tech.
But what of games? Well, despite a host of contradictory reports from both within and outside Nintendo, the company WILL be launching some sort of smartphone games service in the year ahead.
Iwata says the company will "start a new service that enables us to connect with our consumers on a continuous basis on smart devices within this year" although what this service will entail remains to be seen.
"Let me emphasize that this does not mean simply supplying Nintendo games on smart devices," he said. "Taking advantage of smart devices means connecting with all consumers, including those who do not own Nintendo's video game systems, through smart devices and communicating the value of our entertainment offerings, thus encouraging more people to participate in Nintendo platforms."
A “small, select team” of developers will be tasked with running the smartphone service. Iwata also specified that he “has not given any restrictions to the development team, even not ruling out the possibility of making games or using our game characters." So maybe games then? Who knows.
So what about the elephant in the room? Iwata offered no immediate solution to the Wii U problem, but did rule out one thing – a price cut.
Astonishingly, he still argued that marketing could hold the key to saving Nintendo’s £250 machine, pledging that marketing efforts will be increased.
He also vowed to make better use of the console’s GamePad controller.
"Under the current situation where the company has to report an operating loss, simply executing a price reduction as a way to defuse the situation is not an option," he claimed. "In the short-term, Nintendo will focus on thoroughly enriching the value of the most significant feature of Wii U, the Wii U GamePad.”
Perhaps the most encouraging statement was confirmation of plans to license out Nintendo characters top more developers, therefore increasing the Wii u’s software library.
But with time ticking on the console, is that too little too late?
Regardless of the specifics, however, it is likely that the markets will take some comfort from Iwata’s acknowledgement of the gravity of the situation and suggestion of what are some genuinely new opportunities and ideas for the firm. How gamers will react to the strategy is somewhat harder to predict.