Nintendo crammed a ton into its latest Nintendo Direct presentation, almost to the point of absurdity. There's much to think about here, but what are the big lessons that Nintendo seems to be learning?
The company is doing a great job of ramping up amiibo integration, and the addition of near-field communication to the New 3DS XL hardware is a big part of that initiative. Adding amiibo support to existing games, including Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker and the 3DS version of Super Smash Bros., is also a big step in the right direction.
Code Name: STEAM has been confirmed to have support for the toys, including the ability to import Fire Emblem characters. Don't worry, Nintendo is making more Marth toys! There's a reason for this push, and it benefits both Nintendo and the retailers.
These toys are low-cost to make with a high margin at retail, and they're collectible as hell. This is just the thing Nintendo needs as it fights back to profitability, and seeing it go all-in and make amiibo more or less a necessary purchase for serious fans of these games is a great way to make both shareholders and retailers happy. Who doesn't want something that's inexpensive to produce but provides a $14 add-on purchase for new and existing games? It's a gold mine. The implementation of using your toy across different games is kind of lacking, however.
The amiibo line is not the only place Nintendo may be focusing on add-ons and profit.
Launching the new 3DS with a variety of games, bundles and of course a custom design to promote a Zelda game is old hat, but the decision to leave the AC adapter out of the package is just short of maddening. Almost everyone reading this will already have one, sure, but can you imagine picking up one of these systems as a gift and then realizing that there's no way to charge it? This is another way to give retailers an add-on purchase, yes, but it seems incredibly stingy.
It's also not new; the original 3DS XL didn't come with a charger. I guess this is something we're going to have to get used to. Remember that retailers don't make much money, if any, from stocking and selling hardware. Being able to offer a charging cable as an add-on, along with those high-margin amiibo toys, is going to make Nintendo an easy bet this holiday season.
The future is now!
There are other pieces of evidence that show Nintendo is learning about life in 2015. When you buy a copy of Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars on the Wii U, you'll get a key for the game on the 3DS, and vice versa. Trying to get people used to the idea that Nintendo is selling one ecosystem is smart, but let's see how many other games support cross-buy before we get too excited. A unified account system, which every other system on the planet enjoys, is still nowhere in sight for Nintendo.
There are other good things, here, and they're pretty important. Nintendo selling Wii games directly to players on the eShop and allowing you to launch those games without going into the cumbersome Wii Mode on the Wii U are both great, and one of Nintendo's biggest strengths is its back catalog of games.
This is a great way to monetize those games, and launching with Super Mario Galaxy 2, one of the Wii's best games, is a great start. It's also another push into high-margin products: With no physical product to mail, and no retailer taking a cut, that $20 purchase price for Mario Galaxy 2 goes right to Nintendo.
Downloading Wii games is also going to remind us, over and over, that the Wii U's 32 GB of internal storage is a tiny amount. Nintendo needs to up the hard drive size, and telling players to buy a third-party external hard drive isn't the best solution. Nintendo knows the money is in digital sales, but it just can't seem to get the entirety of its product line ready for that future.
You want another high-margin item? Get Nintendo-branded hard drives into stores, perhaps with custom content packed in.
Other moves are a bit more clumsy. Let's also take a step back and realize that Nintendo is also finally moving into the free-to-play match-3 genre, complete with energy mechanics. There was a time I was hoping Nintendo's love of polish and pure enjoyment would rub off on the free-to-play industry, and I kind of feel like this is going in the wrong direction. Still, it's an experiment, and how well or poorly it does will likely decide Nintendo's movement in that area for the future.
But hey, who cares? The Majora's Mask New 3DS XL bundle is already sold out at GameStop. The amiibo toys will continue to fly off the shelves, and Nintendo is more than ready to tie them into each major game as tightly as possible moving forward.
This is Nintendo's play moving into 2015: Focus on the games, which look great so far, and push those plastic toys. They need to stay in profitability and avoid any more quarters in the red. This is not the most innovative strategy, but it should get the job done.