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Published on August 20th, 2013 | by Chris Scott


Question of the Week: Replacing Nintendo

Welcome to Critically Sane’s Question of the Week, where we do our best to answer an inquiry posed to us by the community. Have your own question? Tweet it to us @criticallysane or put it in the comments below!

If Nintendo left the console market and focused on software/handhelds, would that open up the door for a third competitor? Why or why not? If so, then who would be able to step up to that plate?

Poor Nintendo. No matter how much success they have, the question of them potentially leaving the home console market behind always follows them around. To be fair, though, with the worldwide sales of the Wii U being absolutely abysmal to date, this question is more valid now than ever.

Assuming Nintendo were to just cut their losses and leave the home console market, history has shown us that their departure would certainly entice someone to make a go of it. After all, Sony and Microsoft have both proven that upstarts in the industry can make a significant impact when everything comes together properly. But who? Three companies with a history of innovation come instantly to mind.

The first, and most obvious, is Valve. The company behind Half Life and digital PC game megastore, Steam, has long been rumored to be working on a Steambox. Theoretically eliminating the need for pricey PC gaming rigs, the Steambox would bring the PC gaming experience to the masses as a set-top box. Valve as a developer holds the keys to some of the most beloved franchises in all of gaming, and its work with free-to-play games like Team Fortress 2 and DotA 2 has been nothing short of impressive. Couple all that with a gaming library that dwarfs that of its console brethren, the Steambox could enter the market with an unprecedented level of software support. More than anything, games sell systems.


The second potential challenger is Apple. Like Valve, Apple has long been rumored to be entering the gaming market via a new set-top device. Apple has a history of making quality hardware and its App Store has arguably done more to change the gaming industry than anything else in the last ten years. Yet, the home console space is entirely different from the mobile space (just ask Ouya), and it would take big name third party franchises like Call of Duty, Madden, Assassin’s Creed and more to appear on their machine for it to be successful. If they could get that big name support though, I have little doubt that Apple would enter the gaming market and thrive.

The final potential challenger is Amazon. A year ago Amazon would not have been on my list of potential companies that could make a successful run at the home console market. Yet, after a year of watching them evolve from my favorite online storefront to my go-to destination for nearly all my digital content, I can see that possibility quite clearly now. The success of the Kindle brand has proven that Amazon can sell its own hardware. The Kindle Fire HD is a fantastic piece of tech at an affordable price point. Much like with Apple, their success in this market is entirely reliant on getting publisher support for big titles. Unlike Apple, however, their app store for the Kindle Fire hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire. But their success in other areas, particularly instant streaming and cloud storage, make them a viable competitor.

The funny thing about this entire conversation  is that Nintendo isn’t going anywhere. Still, these three may very well jump into the console competition anyway. That is going to make a marketplace that is already cannibalizing itself in some respects even more caustic.

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  • My Name is Earl

    Let’s see… careful wording.
    I don’t think any of these will “replace” Nintendo in the sense that they provide balance or content that Sony/MS doesn’t
    Sure, we’ll get a few mobile/indie developers with a greater spotlight. And stuff from Valve is.. a bit more… light-hearted in tone even if still violent.
    But I feel like there will be a giant void that would need to be filled for kids and adults that none of these three seem to be after.
    I could be wrong of course.

    • Chris Scott

      To be fair that’s not really what the question was asking but I can see your point. Nintendo does offer something that Sony and Microsoft don’t. But what they offer mostly trades off on nostalgia. My son loves the Mario games but mostly because I love the Mario games and introduced them to him. That said, in this scenario, Nintendo isn’t leaving game making, they are just leaving the home console market and we’d still be able to get our Mario on via their handhelds.

      Also, based on anecdotal evidence from watching the playing habits of my wife and kids, despite my having everything available for them to play, they consistently choose the iPad over any other device. Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft don’t have them and because of that, I think anyone with a strong enough pitch can come in and make their case. But software sells systems and anyone coming in would need to have the software to back their pitch.

      Still, as I mentioned in the article, I don’t think Nintendo is going anywhere so we don’t really have to worry about it.

      • My Name is Earl

        Oh I get the point of the article
        I was just pointing out the other half of replacements
        I like Sony and MS, but right now they pretty much offer the same consoles with a 5% difference with exclusive first party content
        If Valve or Amazon came in and it was just them bringing in some titles on top of EA/Ubisoft/Activision offering, we would just have 3-4 consoles doing the same thing
        Which probably wouldn’t be good for the industry overall.

        Anyhow, interesting article

        • Chris Scott

          Well, it seems like those companies are at least exploring the possibilities of entering the home console market. If they enter, I assume we’ll quickly see their effects on the industry. Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing any of the big three forced out by newcomers, if those newcomers are trying new things.

          • My Name is Earl

            It will be interesting.
            And I guess you don’t see Nintendo going anywhere, and guess could answer here or next week
            Who do you see each of the companies replacing?
            Like Valve, Google and Apple will all fill different niches. Do they replace Sony, MS or Nintendo or none of them or all 3 or just one?

        • Wolf

          To the Critically Sane crew and the community at large, (MNiEarl, i if I may steal your text direct) “Sony and MS, […] pretty much offer the same consoles with a 5% difference with exclusive first party content”. Yahtzee over at ‘Zero Punctuation’ commented that exclusives these days are more like hostages forcing consumers to buy a console, than software designed for a unique system. Given that system architecture seems to be so similar, are exclusives just bone-ing the consumer for profit?

    • Don Parsons

      They may not be Mario games, but my kids have no problem loving LEGO Batman, Disney Universe, LittleBigPlanet, etc. etc. on my PS3. So I don’t think that void is AS giant as you make it sound.

      Plus, if Nintendo continued to do software, we’d still have Mario on other platforms. Unless they just put their software on the 3DS.

      Either way,

  • Wolf

    Question, does anyone know how far along these would-be-entrants are with their hardware? I remember hearing about Apple as a possible console maker more than 2 years ago; and a Steam-box has been a requested product for as long. Unless someone goes and breaks into the R+D departments it is probably an unanswerable question, but I was curious if anyone could speak for the perception of the greater internet community?

    • My Name is Earl

      Well since none of them are official, I doubt it.
      Though rumors point to Amazon’s console possibly being out this year.
      Best bet is a Sept conference to announce it.

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