When development budgets are this astronomical, one failure can mean the complete destruction and demise of a company. Despite this risk, many developers agree it's essential to take risks in order to keep gamers interested. And developers have learned that the most opportune time to introduce new franchises is alongside a new console, when there's less competition and more opportunity to stand out in the crowd.
I believe in new IPs. But the long cycle of the recent consoles makes it difficult to create them, so the best decision, at present, is to move innovation in already established franchises. It is always necessary to be creative in this industry, or else you die.
I hear Nintendo has a new console releasing later this year. New hardware presents both a challenge and an opportunity. While software developers alone may face slightly less monetary risk by investing in innovative or unproven software, Nintendo (as a hardware maker) also has to account for hardware costs and the success of their platform. To offset these added hardware expenses and minimize their risks, Nintendo often plays it safe with launch software by calling in the familiar troops (consisting of Sergeant Zelda, Corporal Samus, and Captain Mario). It kind of seems like they've closed their eyes completely to this recognized launch window of opportunity to release new software. As a result, Nintendo's past console fashion show debuts have looked like this: Here's Mario with two screens. Here's Mario in 3D. Here's Mario spinning with a flick of your remote. Here's Mario on a touch screen tablet.
Mario is on its 188th release. That's not an exaggeration. There have literally been 188 Mario games. Which is all the more reason the Wii U debut, with its new interface options, would be the perfect time to introduce a new concept, new universe, and new cast of characters. Mario has a lot of baggage (full of Bob-ombs, Toads and Yoshis). With a new Mario game, Nintendo is locked and bound by tradition. They can evolve it, sure. But it's still familiar. Nintendo has the opportunity to wow us with something new but seems to have chosen once again to take risks on their hardware while playing it safe with software, using the familiarity of their existing brands to make a reliable buck.
As EA's Frank Gibeau noted, the alternative to not taking risks on new software is death. Franchise fatigue has claimed the lives of many over the years, from Tony Hawk to Guitar Hero. Nintendo is better than most companies at preventing the gameplay in its series from becoming stale, but after several decades, the staleness is starting to take hold. A Mario or Zelda release is no longer an event, now it's just called Sunday.
It turns out the thing holding Nintendo back the most is its past. Nintendo forgot the best experiences are often built from scratch, from the ground up around the hardware. Wii Sports seduced players because it was made exclusively for the Wii and its Wii Remote controller. It wasn't a game made for an NES, SNES, N64, or GameCube controller and then shoe-horned onto the Wii.
There's a reason the Apple philosophy has been so successful, where software and hardware combine in harmony to make something remarkable. Microsoft too has recognized this synergy. Rather than having other companies design and develop its hardware, it is now increasingly doing that work itself. This hardware/software fusion delivers the user a combined experience that's more interesting and more fulfilling.
Nintendo controls the destiny of both its hardware and software. It's time for the company to use this opportunity presented by a new generation to try new things—new things with hardware and new things with software.