Could Nintendo's NFC figurines and Pokemon save the Wii U?

Editorial: Nintendo announced that they're going to introduce their own unique figurine system, but will it be enough to save the Wii U?

Amidst Nintendo's troubled quarterly financial report, the company revealed that they have something new in the works: the Nintendo Figurine Platform (NFP). Taking advantage of NFC technology built-into the Wii U, the system will encompass multiple titles and will also work on 3DS.

We'll be seeing exactly what Nintendo has in store for the tech at next month's E3, but is this enough to save the beleaguered Wii U? GameSpot's editors sound-off.

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Eddie Makuch - Not first, but that doesn't mean last

Nintendo's recently announced plans to release physical toys that tie into its games could be a lucrative move for the beleaguered game giant. Though we're still in the dark about how specifically it will work, the success of Skylanders ($2 billion in total revenue so far) and Disney Infinity ($500 million in total revenue so far) shows us that the "toys to life" market--which didn't even exist five years ago--is a major area of opportunity.

Though Nintendo won't have a first-mover advantage in the market, the company's portfolio of beloved franchises like Pokemon, Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong is one of the strongest in the game business. You can argue that Disney's lineup is stronger overall, but Pokemon is proving to a definite force to be reckoned with. Collectible toys tied to a game would only fuel the Pokemon craze further.

Nintendo promises to tell us more at E3, but an entrance in the toys-to-life market was only one component of Nintendo's NFC news this week. President Satoru Iwata reiterated his plans to allow Wii U owners to pay for digital items using e-money transfers through the GamePad's NFC technology. When this rolls out this summer (first in Japan), the Wii U will become the first game console ever to support such payment functionality. When buying digital items becomes as easy as waving a card over the GamePad, I'd be surprised if publishers don't line up to create new ways to do business on the platform.

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Randolph Ramsay - It's super effective!

This is it, my friends. This is it. Done right, moving into Skylanders/Disney Infinity territory with the whole "toys to life" strategy could be the very thing that pulls the Wii U out of the sales holes it finds itself in. With the right games and the right implementation, these little toys could very well save Nintendo.

The success of the Skylanders and Disney Infinity franchises have proven there's a strong appetite for games with a toy tie-in, and Nintendo is the only games company out there with the character depth to even attempt entering this tightening field. Of course, they're at a disadvantage against the established Skylanders franchise and the growing might of Disney Infinity, but the roster of mascots Nintendo has its disposal, along with the strong nostalgia many gamers carry for these same characters, makes Nintendo a serious competitor in this genre.

Imagine a toy tie-in with the next Pokemon title, for example, or toys that help activate special bonuses in a game like Smash Bros. Nintendo may be in trouble financially, but what they're not in short supply of is goodwill.Very few game characters have the widespread recognition and appeal of Mario or Pikachu. Look at it this way--when parents looking to buy a toys-to-life game see a figurine of Spyro, Captain America, or Mario side-by-side in a store, which one will they gravitate to?

It will, of course, take time to build up to anything like the success of Skylanders. After all, that franchise has incumbency, and the fact that every new game introduced in the series is compatible with old toys means its less attractive for existing customers to try new, competing products. But little by little (coupled with the right games and strategy), Nintendo should be able to make headway into this billion dollar section of the games industry. And Nintendo could sure use that billion dollars.

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Peter Brown - Great for 3DS, but not enough for Wii U

Nintendo is late to the figurine-party, and its Nintendo Figurine Platform will not "save" the Wii U. Skylanders and Disney Infinity are selling so well, in part, because they are attached to consoles that consumers already own. If you had to buy a multi hundred dollar console to play Skylanders, there's no chance it would be selling as well as it currently is. Wisely, Nintendo understands this, and sees that the Wii U isn't the most viable platform for the NFP given its minuscule user base:

"I understand that some of you may be worried that the market for NFP, a platform that will work with a number of software titles, will not grow large enough when it is compatible only with Wii U. If we can make a good use of Nintendo 3DS, which has already sold over 43 million units, however, this assumption will greatly change."

Indeed, the smart move is to focus on the 3DS. There are 43 million 3DS owners and roughly 6 million Wii U owners, and I don't believe for a second that the number of customers needed to save the Wii U will buy one just to use Mario and Link figurines, even if the associated games are given away for free. I'm willing to bet Nintendo sees that, too. Nintendo has to make a profit, and the only way to do that is to target the platform that is a proven success, not hope and pray that their IPs are so strong that consumers will shrug off the cost of a new console. Consumers aren't going to buy a Wii U for NFP if they already own a 3DS, and Nintendo isn't going to walk away from a smart business decision that's right under their noses in order to protect its pride. At this point, it can't afford to.

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Justin Haywald - The Waiting Game

It feels a little late to get into the crowded figurine market, but if any company can do something new and interesting with the tech, it's Nintendo. Looking at their track record, they're a company that's always been about refinement: Super Mario 64 didn't invent the 3D platformer, but that's the game that showed how to do it right. The Wii wasn't the first motion controller, but it's the one that almost everyone had in their homes. And now Nintendo is bringing that innovation into the Skylanders/Disney Infinity space.

Nintendo may be slower to react sometimes, but they know how to make even old ideas feel new and fun.

That doesn't mean this will turn around the ailing fortunes of the Wii U, but it could be a good stop-gap that helps tide the company over while we wait for the "next big thing." And tying NFP directly into the next Pokemon game would be huge for the franchise as a whole. The primary game will undoubtedly be on 3DS, but you can't underestimate the appeal of an expanded Pokemon experience on Wii U. It might not be a game changer immediately, but it would be enough for now.

You've read what we think about Nintendo's NFP, but what about you? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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