In a rather surprising move, Nintendo has announced that it plans to introduce a brand new game console as early as next year. The catch? The new console will be specifically targeted at emerging markets, such as China and India, and lower-income gamers. With a rapidly growing middle class in these countries — especially in China — with lots of money to spend on entertainment, this is a very savvy move for Nintendo. It remains to be seen how much this move will impact the company’s western gaming efforts and the losing battle against the Xbox One and PS4.
Just yesterday, during Nintendo’s anemic quarterly earnings call, it appeared that the Japanese video game company was happy to sit back and take a slow-and-steady approach with the Wii U and 3DS consoles. The company said it planned to set up a new “health” division, but that was about it. Seemingly, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata was keeping something up his sleeve (other than bananas).
Speaking to a number of reporters in Tokyo yesterday, Iwata said the company will develop and release an entirely new console, possibly as early as next year. This new console will be targeted squarely at developing markets, and it won’t just be a cheaper version of the Wii U or 3DS. “We want to make new things, with new thinking rather than a cheaper version of what we currently have,” Iwata told Bloomberg. “The product and price balance must be made from scratch.”
The Xbox One will soon be available in China — and it seems Nintendo also wants a piece of that juicy pie, too.
While Nintendo is undoubtedly targeting the full set of BRIC countries — just like every other big company in the world at the moment — China, with its rapidly growing, lots-of-expendable-income middle class, is surely the primary target of this new console. It isn’t a coincidence that just last week, following a lift of a 13-year ban on international consoles, Microsoft would begin selling the Xbox One in China. Microsoft though, as far as we’re aware, will be selling essentially the same Xbox One console that it sells in western markets, presumably at a similar price point. Speaking to Reuters, Iwata said that “for us, Microsoft’s approach wouldn’t work.”
I think it’s a very, very smart move for Nintendo to push into emerging markets with a cheap console. After all, the company’s core strength is creating awesome games — and if Nintendo has proven anything, it’s that you don’t need expensive hardware to create fun and compelling gaming experiences. It’s easy to see how a $50 console — with a bunch of first-party Mario, Zelda, and Metroid games — could take the developing world by storm, netting Nintendo hundreds of millions of new customers, much in the same way that the Wii’s innovative motion controls cast the gaming net much wider than it had ever been before.
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What does this mean back home in the west? Probably not a whole lot. Nintendo has never shown much interest in competing directly with Microsoft and Sony. For better or worse, the company likes to do its own thing. There could potentially be some crossover between the company’s current consoles and this new cheaper device — but if anything, games will probably flow from the Wii U/3DS to the new console, rather than vice versa.
There is another particularly nasty possibility: This new console could pull Nintendo’s attention away from the west. It’s possible that Nintendo is working on two next-gen consoles at the same time, but unlikely. With Nintendo yet again skipping its E3 keynote this year, and this new console aiming for a 2015/2016 release window, it might be a long time before the Wii U is replaced — especially if the new console takes off in the meantime. After all, Nintendo will follow the money: If it’s selling just a couple of million Wii Us in the west, but hundreds of millions of cheaper consoles (and games) in the BRIC countries, you probably shouldn’t hold out for a new Zelda title or Pokemon MMO.