Nintendo is running low on time to show NX to the public | Tech News

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Usually, when a new game console is nine months away from launch, the console maker has already softened the ground for the upcoming debut with trade show announcements, hints at exclusive games, and at least some public discussion of its technical specifications. Yet Nintendo’s NX is currently nine months away from launch (if the company’s current March 2017 launch roadmap is to be believed), and we still know next to nothing about “the new hardware system with a brand-new concept” that was first mentioned publicly roughly 15 months ago.

That state of affairs has left us flailing at wild, patent-based guesses about the console’s design and grasping at extremely small crumbs of concrete information when they rarely appear.

Nintendo does at least have a public excuse for keeping details of the NX so secret for so long. Speaking at a Japanese investor meeting this week (as translated by Twitter user Cheesemeister), legendary Nintendo designer Shigeru Miyamoto said the company is “worried about imitators” if it shows off the console’s new ideas too early. Miyamoto also talked about protecting those new ideas in a recent interview with the AP. “In terms of NX, there’s an idea that we’re working on. That’s why we can’t share anything at this point… If it was just a matter of following advancements in technology, things would be coming out a lot quicker.”

We’ve seen this movie before

If this kind of excuse sounds familiar, it’s because Nintendo said practically the same thing back in 2004 and 2005, when the upcoming Wii was still the codenamed “Revolution.” Though Nintendo showed the system at E3 those years as a non-functional black box, the company would only make vague handwaving gestures about its “revolutionary” new controller. Take this statement from then-president Satoru Iwata:

“Controllers for current consoles have more than doubled [in complexity] from older console. They may satisfy the hardcore gamers, but they’ve become too difficult for more casual gamers. For the next-generation console, we plan to introduce a friendly user interface so that, for example, a mother who’s watching her child playing a game might say, ‘Oh, I’d like to try that too.’ However, user interfaces are devices that can be easily imitated by other companies, so I can’t reveal any details right now. [emphasis added]”

Was Nintendo right to fear early imitation of the Wii Remote? Yes and no. Both Sony and Microsoft did end up copying Nintendo’s motion control idea, to some extent, with the PlayStation Move controller and Kinect camera respectively. But those technologies didn’t launch until 2010, roughly four years after the Nintendo Wii had become an instant hardware sales force. The “head start” those imitators got via early trade show demos probably didn’t affect things too much, especially when you consider the vastly different technologies Sony and Microsoft used for their own motion controllers.

Nintendo may have had more to worry about from the shoddy, bootlegged “Wii clones” that flooded the market with cheap motion sensors and even cheaper generic processors and games. But these gray market units also probably drew inspiration from the actual Wii retail hardware rather than early prototypes shown to press and industry.

In any case, Nintendo didn’t publicly display the “Revolution” controller until the Tokyo Game Show in September 2005, about 16 months after the system’s existence was first publicly announced at E3 2004. Yet that demonstration still took place a good 14 months before the renamed Wii hit store shelves in late 2006. There was a similar 17-month gap between the demonstration of a playable Wii U GamePad prototype at E3 in June 2011 and the system’s November 2012 launch.

Then again, we only got our first close-up look at the Xbox One a mere six months before the system’s 2013 launch. And Sony’s grand unveiling of details on the PS4 took place about nine months before that console hit stores. But those systems both saw some major leaks and hints of relevant information long before those official unveiling events.

Let the countdown commence

If the NX is indeed going to launch in March of 2017, Nintendo doesn’t have much time for the press, the public, and the wider game industry to get used to the idea of what the company says will be a very different kind of game console. Nintendo says that’s by design to fend off copycats, but it could also be seen as a warning sign that the system still isn’t ready to be seen by the public. It could also be a sign that we should expect a last-minute delay for the NX before March 2017 rolls around (much like the Nintendo 64 so many years ago).

Perhaps retailers, developers, and publishers are getting early, behind-closed-doors briefings on Nintendo’s plans ahead of a public unveiling (GameStop certainly seems to know something about the system). If that’s the case, though, that only a few third-party games have thus far been announced for the system so far (Dragon Quest X and XI and Just Dance 2017) is a worrying sign.

With E3 now in the past, Nintendo is also running out of major trade shows that could provide a platform big enough for a splashy, headline-grabbing NX debut. Rumor has it that September’s Tokyo Game Show could serve as the NX’s media launchpad, even though Nintendo traditionally does not attend the show (then again, it made an exception for that 2005 “Revolution” unveiling). Nintendo could also show off the system at August’s Gamescom show in Germany, but the company has yet to confirm its plans for that event. Or maybe Nintendo will go it alone, creating its own unveiling event akin to the Nintendo “Space World” shows of the ’90s, which served as the initial launch pad for the Nintendo 64, Game Boy Advance, and Gamecube.

Whatever the unveiling plan, Nintendo better execute it in a hurry. It’s not impossible to launch a console just a few months after its first public unveiling, but it would be a bit unprecedented. It would be an even heavier lift for the kind of “unique” and “revolutionary” console Nintendo is promising for the NX.

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