After the announcement of the Nintendo 2DS today and my post about it (and suggestions that Nintendo should instead focus on software), I was innundated by Nintendo fans telling me Nintendo must make their own hardware and that without hardware there is no Nintendo. These fans commonly point out Apple’s struggles in the 90s as an example of Nintendo’s situation: Everyone told Apple to stop making hardware and just sell Mac OS for PCs, but Apple didn’t give in and look how successful they are now!
But here’s the thing: Apple’s successful resurrection and booming business today is a fluke. It’s a 1 in 1,000,000,000 chance. It required coincidences, luck, an insane amount of skill and vision, and the perfect timing of all of those things. It’s one of the rarest moments in business ever. And it’s unlikely to be repeated many more times, especially in the coming years. Apple should have gone out of business in 1997. They didn’t, and I’m thrilled, but it took many years of fanastic work to bring them back and all of it had to come togther perfectly to work out the way it did. Nintendo fans seem to think if Nintendo makes enough hardware, they’ll eventually get better at it. But they’ve been proving for 10+ years that they don’t get hardware anymore. It doesn’t appear that will change. Every other company is building more compelling consoles and handhelds, including Apple.
To take this one step further, I’d even venture to say Nintendo doesn’t get software anymore. They certainly don’t get system software or application development, but that’s no secret (just try using a Wii U’s menus and apps, they’re atrocious). But their games are suffering too. On a whole I don’t think they’re making games that are as fun and unqiue and engaging as they have been in the past. And it takes them far too long to release new titles of their flagship properties—there still does not exist a Wii U version of Zelda, Metroid or a 3-dimensional Mario game. The Wii U has been out for nearly a year.
It would be one thing if Nintendo was insanely profitable. It would be another thing if they were releasing quality hardware. Their only true asset is their software. They need to make some tough decisions about how to move forward and building sub-par handhelds isn’t the answer.