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Iwata Knows Best? Two Big Ideas for Nintendo’s Future

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By Nelson Schneider - 02/08/14 at 03:44 PM CT

It seems nearly impossible to read an article about Nintendo anymore without a few ignoramuses in the comments section suggesting Nintendo ‘pull a Sega’ and become a games-only third-party developer/publisher. The second most common cry of idiocy in such instances is the call for Satoru Iwata to step down as president of the Japanese company.

I won’t dignify the first of those assertions with a response right now, but the motion for the removal of Iwata has recently suffered a blow. In a recent Q&A session (which was handily summarized by Ars Technica), Iwata has proven that he is aware of Nintendo’s current problems and that he does have a plan to deal with them. It helps bolster Iwata’s position in my mind, mainly because two of the big things he wants to do with the company are things I’ve been suggesting for quite some time.

First, Iwata wants to unify Nintendo’s handheld and stationary consoles. This seems like an essential step, considering that Nintendo’s handheld systems have performed far more consistently (barring the Virtual Boy and the rocky 3DS launch) than their consoles (with the N64, Gamecube, and WiiU all coming in as dismal failures). Unfortunately, he seems to think it is too late for the current Nintendo hardware to be adapted in this way, as it requires “a huge amount of effort” to port games between the DS, Wii, 3DS, and WiiU. I would argue that it is most certainly NOT too late, and that Nintendo needs to devote one of their development teams exclusively to the task of creating some kind of software framework that takes the effort out of the porting process. The 8th Generation has JUST started, and Nintendo shouldn’t just sit on their hands for 5-10 years waiting for the opportunity to impress us with the interoperability of their next game machines. This feature needs to be added soon, even if it isn’t perfect.

Second, Iwata wants to make “Nintendo” a platform instead of focusing on individual pieces of hardware. While this feature obviously can’t be included in the current generation of hardware, looking ahead it seems like a great way to put ALL of Nintendo’s long history of games in one place. Backward compatibility and built-in emulation have become a big deal in recent years. If all of Nintendo’s future game machines run the same, ever-evolving, Android-and-iOS inspired operating system – let’s call it “NintendOS” – backward compatibility will be trivial, and Nintendo can focus on creating high-quality, high-compatibility emulators of their older hardware. There is literally NOTHING bad about this idea… and if Valve is able to get their custom, gaming-centric SteamOS off the ground, Nintendo will already have a blueprint to follow.

With these two ideas in mind, I think Iwata knows what it will take to get Nintendo back on the right track. The only question is whether or not he will have the clout to rapidly implement such fundamental changes within the historically conservative and tradition-bound world of Japanese Big Business.

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