Based on reactions to yesterday’s news that I’ve seen lately, it’s clear that the mere fact that we know Nintendo’s next console is in development is causing a big stir. Some people seem really out of touch with how game console generations work—I’ve seen remarks stating the Wii U should last another five years. To put that in perspective, that would make the Wii U a seven-year console, which is longer than any prior Nintendo home console generation… including the Wii. And if a phenomenon like the Wii couldn’t keep the same amount of high quality software coming five or six years after its launch, the Wii U certainly wouldn’t be able to keep up.
I also feel that this conversation is really about clarity—if we think Nintendo has only just now started to work on their next console, we’re probably behind the ball entirely. According to Mark Cerny, the PlayStation 4 began development in 2007, just one year after the launch of the PlayStation 3. The Xbox One is one shining example of a shorter development cycle, reportedly beginning in 2010, which might explain why Microsoft was giving us such mixed messages.
What about Nintendo? Like Sony, they begin working on their next system almost immediately. In fact, Iwata told us the Wii started development as soon as the GameCube was launched. Given that the Wii U seemed to release within the normal range of a Nintendo console life cycle, it’s safe to assume the Wii U started soon after the Wii released. Iwata seems to imply this is always the case.
While yesterday’s news has confirmed that they are doing something, reality is that they’ve likely been working on their next home console from the moment they launched Wii U. It has nothing to do with when the system will come out, but instead with maintaining a normal development cycle. Wii U sales are currently growing, but when they get two or three years down the road, and the sales are in decline, Nintendo will be prepared to launch new hardware and reinvigorate their market.
Traditionally, they do this every five years. The NES had a five-to-six year cycle, depending which region you’re looking at. After that, the SNES, Nintendo 64, and even the GameCube, their worst-selling console until Wii U, all had five-year cycles. The only anomaly here is the Wii, which lasted from 2006 to 2012. Despite being Nintendo’s best-selling console in history, even Wii only lasted one year longer than the rest of its family.
Some say that Nintendo should worry less about their next hardware and more about game production—but that would suggest that Nintendo has slowed game production down, and that’s not true either. In their first two years, Nintendo published 33 Wii games and 31 Wii U games. Super Mario Galaxy hit a year after launch for the Wii, while Super Mario 3D World hit a year after launch for the Wii U. Smash Bros. and Mario Kart both came to Wii almost two years after launch—and the same is happening on Wii U. They are still producing just about the same volume and quality of games as they always have (you might argue the Wii’s launch lineup was superior, but Wii Sports was a really a one-of-a-kind phenomenon).
So Nintendo is doing what they have really always done. So, is it the right move for Nintendo to be working on a new home console currently? It most certainly is. Is doing so causing them to make fewer games? Evidence suggests that it’s not. Is it unusual for Nintendo to develop new hardware shortly after the current system is released? Nope.
For better or worse, Nintendo is simply being Nintendo. Their entire history suggests there is nothing for us to worry about right now. We should be more worried about the direction this future hardware will take, rather than whether or not they are making or releasing it too soon. History tells us that it’s on schedule to release in 2017 or 2018, which is precisely their typical pace.
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