What An Android-Based Nintendo Platform Actually Implies

Edit: Well here’s the straight-up denial I expected Nintend to hand down. This rumor didn’t even last a day.

I haven’t looked around much for reactions to this, but I imagine the recent rumors from a Nikkei source (usually reliable) suggesting Nintendo’s project NX — its next platform, will be based on Android have gotten some explosive reactions. Many of the reactions I have seen though have grossly overreacted based on a huge misunderstanding about what Android actually is and what this all might mean for Nintendo’s next platform if Nikkei is right.

The word “Android” of course brings up visions of mobile games and possibly all the different Android TV boxes that have come and gone. Based on what Android is mostly used for it’s easy to imagine this as another step towards mobile gaming or underpowered hardware for Nintendo. The Nikkei story however has nothing to do with the hardware of project NX. An operating system doesn’t actually have any bearing on hardware. Let me go ahead and put this in bold and on the front page so no one who reads this get’s confused: Android is an operating system, nothing more. Different companies can and have customized it to their own purposes.

People need to realize the difference between a device that runs Google’s Android and devices that run Android-based operating systems. The latter is when a company like Amazon for instance takes the core of Android and builds its own system on top of it to run its own proprietary software on its own proprietary hardware like the Kindle Fire or Fire TV. That hardware can theoretically be whatever the company wants it to be, like a full-blown console or traditional handheld for instance. For another example, the Dreamcast runs on a custom version of Windows CE (there’s even a Windows logo on every console).

If Nikkei’s information is reliable, I imagine this is almost certainly what Nintendo is trying to do, and it’s going this route for one main reason: third party developers. The Nikkei source actually goes on to say that third parties turning away from the Wii U caused a shift within Nintendo. I’m gonna speculate on what that shift might have been.

Basically, the big console game publishers have abandoned Nintendo completely at this point. They’ve been slowly withdrawing from the company and its platforms since around 1995, and we’ve finally reached a point where virtually no one but Nintendo is making significant games for its console. In these last 20 years Nintendo has tried again and again to get those developers back with easier tools and gimmicks to promote the creation of new and interesting games, but it’s never caught on. I think a big reason is because there are fundamental disagreements between where Nintendo wants console gaming to go and where almost the entire rest of the industry wants it to go. Perhaps the Wii U’s nonexistent third party support was the last straw and enough people at Nintendo finally said “screw it, the big console publishers are lost to us.” Maybe it’s now focusing on trying to attract this whole new class of developer that’s popped up over the last several years: mobile and indie developers, many of whom share game design philosophies more similar to Nintendo’s. At this point it’s also now impossible to escape the fact that most Japanese developers — the companies that still at least try to support Nintendo, have gone mobile at this point and have been working on Android a lot.

So, why not make a new Android fork, heavily customize it to suit Nintendo’s needs, and make it as easy as possible for developers experienced with Android to port their software over? Then you’ve got a platform with all those mobile games people like, but is still the only place where you can get full-blown Mario and Pokemon games.

It’s basically what Android is trying to do with gaming on the Fire TV, but probably with a more “Nintendo” flavor on top. Amazon’s FireOS is built on top of Android but exists as its own walled garden. The games may be ported from Android but to my knowledge aren’t inter-compatible with mainstream Android devices. Amazon is even trying to bring out its own first party exclusives. Basically, it would be like any other new Nintendo software platform, but probably inter-compatible between a handheld and console (like people have been speculating for a couple years now), and running Android code under the hood.

Thinking about the software market on such a device get’s really interesting. All the clones and much of the other shovelware that floods Google Play and iOS likely wouldn’t make it through Nintendo’s certification, resulting in a marketplace that while similar to Google Play, would probably be much more tightly curated. How would Nintendo try to stem the tide of free and 99 cent games? I imagine it would still release full-blown $30 and $40 games (and $60 games in the case of the console) which could affect what the NX’s software landscape looks like.

Unfortunately, all we can do is speculate on this for the next 12 months since we know Nintendo isn’t going to talk about NX again until 2016. However, I think if the Nikkei report is false Nintendo will come right out and deny it before 2015 is over. I personally don’t see what would be so bad about Nintendo simply building on top of an already popular and mature base for an operating system.

BULLETS:

  • In defense of the Flood: http://t.co/lFq5AYmrLp
  • A game I was interested in from a while ago finally seems to be out in English. It’s an 8-bit-style Japanese indie RPG called Artifact Adventure that’s based on non-linear gameplay and supposedly has 70 endings. http://t.co/AqRhiu6X8u
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