The idea of Nintendo going the route of Sega and getting out of the console business in favor producing multiplatform software is one that has been a topic of discussion for a while, but with the recent news of Nintendo’s quite miserable current state of affairs in regards to Wii U sales and overall profits, the idea is being discussed among gamers even more. There’s no getting around it, with the alterations to their end of fiscal year projections, it’s clear Nintendo isn’t in a great situation. The Wii U is doing alarmingly poor and will likely be passed by the PS4 and Xbox One in terms of unit sales quite soon, which is even more concerning given that it had a one year head start. Things are going so rough for Nintendo that CEO Satoru Iwata actually mentioned considering new business structures, which many think may hint at the possibility of Nintendo going third party.
Now, there’s no point in speculating about whether or not Nintendo will actually get out of the hardware business and go third party like Sega did. There’s no way to know and, despite the rough financial report, they aren’t anywhere near the point of no return for drastic steps like that. No, what I want to get into is whether or not Nintendo going third party would actually be as good as many people seem to think it will be. The majority of people hoping for this outcome seem to be individuals that want to play Nintendo games but don’t actually want to buy Nintendo hardware, and it’s easy to see why. Nintendo consoles are pretty much only good for playing Nintendo games given their long standing troubles attracting third party development, and it’s a tough proposition for most gamers to spend hundreds of dollars on a system to play a handful of games a year.
While there’s no doubt that going third party would drastically increase Nintendo’s software sales, allowing more people access to their games, I’m not so sure it would necessarily be the best thing for the industry. For one thing, Nintendo is a constant innovator in the hardware space, and honestly Microsoft and Sony follow their lead more often than they forge their own path. Nintendo may not make the best decisions in regards to things that would attract third parties (such as parity in system horsepower or input options), but they also attempt things that are more often than not imitated by their competition. So much of what has become standard in the video game hardware business was pioneered by Nintendo, and even things that they didn’t execute on perfectly (like motion controls and second screen integration) have been copied and iterated on by the competition. There’s way to know if Nintendo would come up with something else in the future that could become the standard, but given their history it’s certainly possible, and if they got out of hardware that could never happen.
Another thing to consider is that Nintendo games are inherently tied to the platform they are released on. More than any other first party developer, Nintendo uses their knowledge of the hardware and its capabilities to create games that take full of advantage of the console they are on. Just look at first party games on any of Nintendo’s systems and compare them to third party games; the difference is vast. Not only does Nintendo make the most technologically out their hardware, but they also use the various unique aspects of the system in ways no one else can. If Nintendo started developing their games for multiple systems, they would likely still be good, but some of that Nintendo magic would be lost. There’s also the fact that Nintendo games don’t exactly mesh with the types of games the majority of gamers on Xbox and Playstation typically play. Perhaps Nintendo games may appeal somewhat to the Playstation audience, but I can’t really see the shooter/sports/racing focused gamers that make up much of the Xbox audience really flocking to Kirby or Pikmin.
In the end it’s hard to really say how a third party Nintendo would really affect the industry, but as a life long Nintendo fan, it would seem wrong if they weren’t making hardware. If you ask me, Nintendo should be putting their focus on making sure their hardware is at least on par with the competition first and foremost. The Wii U has a lot to offer, but the fact that it is technologically incapable of running games targeted for XONE and PS4 is a big reason for its struggles. I would love to see Nintendo return to prominence within the industry, but I don’t think going third party would be the way for them to do that.