Can Nintendo Explain Itself Well Enough to Bounce Back?

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A new report from Eurogamer has confirmed much of what we already know about Nintendo’s next gaming system, code name “NX.” It’ll apparently be, according to Eurogamer’s sources, a handheld console that can also dock with your TV in order to be played on a larger screen. On each side of the handheld’s screen are two controllers that can detach, as needed. In addition, the console will use physical cartridges for games. (The word “cartridges” might call to mind the N64 or Game Boy, but we’re more likely to see something along the lines of an SD card.)

This is all pretty interesting, but not particularly surprising. Nintendo’s handheld systems have been far more successful than its TV-console competitor, the Wii U, which was hobbled from the start. And this is the most important thing for Nintendo: It has to nail the messaging if it wants the NX to succeed.

Unless you’ve been following NX rumors for months, most of the specifics above sound pretty far out-there. Nintendo can’t just come out and say, “It’s a portable device but it also hooks up to your TV like a PlayStation, and oh, also, the controller detaches from the system itself.” That’s a no-go. According to Eurogamer, the company is working on explaining the system around the simple concept “of being able to take your games with you on the go.”

Simple is better in these cases. In 2012, Nintendo bungled the launch of its Wii successor, the Wii U, by underexplaining it. The system still used Wii controllers, giving consumers the impression that it was a half-step, not an entirely new console. The fact that the names were almost identical didn’t help — the logical progression from “PlayStation 2” to “PlayStation 3” is more apparent than “Wii” to “Wii U.”

Microsoft made similar messaging blunders when it unveiled the Xbox One. Early leaks revealed that the system was designed to function only when it had an internet connection, and that DRM would prevent players from selling used games to others. The company quickly did an about-face amidst the backlash, but not soon enough to shake off the stigma, which still haunts the console three years later. Its sales numbers lag behind its counterpart, the PlayStation 4.

If there’s a company equipped to make this sort of pitch, it’s Nintendo, which has a long track record of unveiling confusing and exciting consumer hardware — a 3-D headset, a Game Boy with a touchscreen, a wand that senses your movement. But first impressions set the stage, and if Nintendo whiffs that, they’ll spend years playing catch-up.