An update has been appended to the bottom of this article.
Though confirmed details on Nintendo's new console (codenamed NX) remain scarce, we now know that Nintendo plans to put the device on the market across the globe next March. This info comes from an earnings statement released for investors tonight, in which Nintendo has made public some of its plans for the next year.
Specific info on the NX is still slim, with the document simply referring to the NX as "a brand new concept" and reaffirming that the company's "unique software-led hardware-software integrated business" would be the "core" focus for the company. In other words, though Nintendo is exploring mobile games, toys-to-life, and other uses for its IP, expect console games to be the backbone even once the NX releases.
That said, the earnings statement did also detail Nintendo's plans in those arenas, too. According to the statement, Nintendo is planning to continue to release apps for smart devices, "to further expand [Amiibo] sales by offering new gaming experiences," and to offer theme park attractions featuring Nintendo characters. In a section attempting to justify the increased leveraging of Nintendo IP in non-game content.
With the belief in our mission to put smiles on people's faces around the world through products and services, we have followed our basic strategy of expanding the gaming population by offering products that can be enjoyed by everyone regardless of age, gender or gaming experience. We now want to take this mission a step further by increasing the number of people who have access to Nintendo’s intellectual property (Nintendo IP). We are actively offering Nintendo IP in a variety of different ways so that not only current players of our video games but all consumers - including those who used to play but currently do not and even those who have never played our video games before - will also come in contact with Nintendo IP.
On one hand, I appreciate Nintendo's stated interest in inclusivity. On the other, it feels like a really cleaned up way of saying "Oh boy, we really need to reach beyond the normal demographic and sell more stuff."
That read makes a lot of sense when you take a look at the financial side of this report. Life to date, Nintendo has sold 12.8 million Wii U units, which isn't a favorable comparison next to the PS4's 35M+ or the Xbox One's 19M+ units sold. With standout software sales from Splatoon (4.27 million units) and Super Mario Maker (3.52 million units), this year's Wii U performance isn't necessarily grim, but it does illustrate the limited scope of the Wii U's success. And while Nintendo is hopeful that Pokemon Sun/Moon, Kirby Robobot, and Metroid Prime: Federation Force will carry the 3DS in 2016, I'm a more than a little skeptical. So, I understand why the company would be looking for new sources of income. And when Miitomo, the company's first mobile app, has already brought in 16.5 billion yen (around $148M USD) in profit, it's easy to see why Nintendo wants to expand in that new direction.
You can find the whole earnings report here and can expect Nintendo to follow up with its usual investor briefing in the next day or so.
UPDATE: A post made by Nintendo UK's and tweets made by multiple divisions of the company have brought additional information to light about Nintendo's 2016 plans.
Chief among this information is that next game in the Legend of Zelda franchise has officially been delayed out of 2016 so that the developers can further polish the game. When it launches in 2017, it will launch simultaneously for Wii U and NX. Nintendo says that both versions of the games have been developed "in tandem."
You can expect to see more about the new Zelda at E3... and little else. The Nintendo UK post states that:
This June, Nintendo will focus its attentions on the upcoming game in The Legend of Zelda series. The Wii U version of the game will be playable for the first time on the E3 show floor, and it will be the only playable game Nintendo presents at the show, in order to provide attendees a complete immersion. Additional information about Nintendo’s E3 plans will be announced in the future.
In case you're wondering, yes, this means that the NX will not be at E3 in any capacity. Nintendo states that it "will not make an appearance at the upcoming E3 video game trade show in Los Angeles in June and will be unveiled later this year."
Over the past few months, I've been very excited to see what the future holds for Nintendo, but its hard not to see their handling of all of this as an unforced error. The initial earnings report is a practical necessity, since Nintendo is obligated to give its investors a heads up about its major plans for the year. And I understand that there are development realities, and sometimes you just don't have the positive news to bring to your fans like you'd like to. Sometimes console cycles don't line up neatly with press cycles, I get that.
But it was a real misstep for Nintendo not to present a crisp, fun, Nintendo-like message to consumers around this new information. Instead, they needed to dig through articles like this one, different social media feeds, and the report itself to piece together NIntendo's plan. It all makes a sharp contrast to the bright and funny Nintendo Directs that we've grown used to over the last few years.
I know I've been harping on this a lot lately, but it's important: Messaging matters. We saw it at the initial announcement of the Xbox One, where poorly thought out phrases and responses and badly explained console features became a weight around Microsoft's neck. We've seen it this year, as PlayStation fans give voice to their anxieties about the PS4 Neo. The lesson is: When you're doing something that you know your fans are going to react negatively to, get out front of it. Reassure them of a larger plan, explain the reasons for the bad news, and focus in on the positive. Without smart, on-brand messaging, many will imagine the worst--and once you've lost that fight, the rest becomes so much harder.