What if the Nintendo NX Ran Android TV?

I want to preface this article by stating the Nintendo NX, Nintendo’s next-generation console, will not be running Android TV. It has not been announced yet, so there are no official details, but Nintendo will more likely use an operating system developed in-house. This is a hypothetical article that discusses the benefits that a major console adoption could have to the ecosystem and how it could affect the industry. It makes a lot of assumptions which are untrue and this should not be taken for anything more than a thought experiment.


Background

Microsoft’s Xbox One is part of their new universal apps platform. Under the hood it actually runs Windows 10, giving users access to many of the same apps they’d get on their desktop, or even their phone with Windows 10 Mobile. The “write-once, run everywhere” experience for developers is a strong incentive as Microsoft tries to gain more traction for their desktop and extended platforms.

Nintendo has had a hard time with their most recent home console, the Wii U. The somewhat uninnovative gaming experiences with an incremental hardware update didn’t blow away a lot of individuals. It was not the runaway success of the Wii. Today, the casual gaming crowd that Nintendo first captured has moved to mobile, where they can play games all day even when out of the house. Mobile games like Super Mario Run are supposed to bring users back to their consoles, but that means they need to have a console worth selling.

Nintendo is about to unveil the Nintendo NX, which has gotten a lot of praise from game developers and companies. They have not elaborated on what it is, although rumors suggest some sort of mobile console that can connect to your TV, akin to the Wii U, and that it will be able to run Nintendo’s own mobile games.

As the NX announcement is expected sometime in early October, I wanted to ponder the idea of it running Android under the hood. What if the Nintendo NX was going to run Android TV?

That would definitely make it easier to play those mobile games. No new platforms would need to be developed or tested. This would also be a direct competitor to Microsoft’s universal platform. Google has already turned Android into a very adaptable operating system. Nintendo would be able to extend that and take advantage of all of the work that already exists.

Apps and Games

Many apps and games would be available for the NX at launch without extra work
Many apps and games would be available for the NX at launch without extra work

Consoles today are not just for games, but also media consumption. It’s expected to come with YouTube, Netflix, and plenty of other sources. Instead of Nintendo working with a bunch of partners to develop custom apps, they could just use the ones that come with Android TV. The Netflix app already supports 4K and HDR. The Leanback library creates a consistent set of experiences of users to navigate. There’s already many apps that exist. It would allow the NX to launch with plenty of support.

Gaming would also see a large boost. There are many games already available on Android TV that Nintendo would be able to market. It is important to have a big game catalog on launch or consumers won’t be too attracted to the hardware. Nintendo could easily get hundreds or thousands of indie game developers on their console without them having to do a lot of extra work.

Open and Closed

Getting a big brand like Nintendo to endorse Android TV would also be a massive success for the platform. Nintendo is rumored to be preparing for 10 million units per year being sold. Very quickly developers would probably add TV support in order to get their app exposed to millions of consumers. This wouldn’t be hard either since consumers can quickly download the app from the Play Store, and developers can use the same app and add TV support in a few places.

This device measured your weight and center of balance.
This device measured your weight and center of balance.

This could also increase Nintendo’s sales reach by opening up their audience. A Mario game on Android can be designed to work on a TV or a phone. Perhaps it won’t take full advantage of the graphics or controllers, but it could move from 10m sales to an audience of a billion users. Instead of using the NX, I could install a Mario game on my NVIDIA Shield so I can stream to Twitch or take advantage of some other custom features.

This could apply not just to new games, but also old ones. Since the Wii, Nintendo has had an eShop where they resell digital copies of many classic games so you can continue to play them on this console. Nintendo could easily move all of those to the Google Play Store. Now your purchases can be saved, and backwards compatibility is better guaranteed.

Using Android opens the NX to more types of gaming peripherals. All kinds of controllers could be supported, USB and Bluetooth. New peripherals like the Wii Balance Board could be designed with an open standard so more games and even apps can take advantage of them.

Maybe Nintendo wouldn’t want to have every one of their games available on all devices. After all, they make games to promote the hardware. Also, new consoles often have peripherals which are required to play. This makes sense. NVIDIA has created a large library of exclusive games. While they are sold through the Play Store, they can only be installed on a handful of devices.

Nintendo NX Launcher
The Leanback launcher with some exclusive Nintendo apps (copied from the Wii)

In this mock-up, Nintendo adds another row to the Leanback Launcher to provide some exclusive apps. I copied these from the Wii home menu. It shows a few potential apps: the Wii Shop which would feature new games and link to the Play Store, a couple of apps revolving around Miiverse, and perhaps a free classic Nintendo game.

Downsides

Nintendo tries to upsell many hardware devices
Nintendo tries to upsell many hardware devices

Nintendo is not just a gaming company. They make hardware, and that’s a pretty important part of the company. Although selling games is important, it’s more of a way to drive hardware. By making all of their games playable on any device, they dilute the value of their console. They probably would not get 10 million units if their expensive console was directly competing with a low cost Pine A64. Nintendo differentiates itself with software, but if that isn’t different it is hard to compete.

Moving all of their games to the Play Store would certainly cut down on their profit margin. Many console-level games sell for $50 or $60, whereas many top games on Google Play are free with ads or IAP. Nintendo would find few buyers and their games would get lost in the discovery black hole of Google Play. With so many options, it’s unlikely users will pick a Nintendo game when a casual mobile game may be free.

Nintendo could certainly move away from their console-quality games to engage the casual mobile player, adding ads and IAPs, but that would signal a defeat for the company. By becoming like everyone else, their brand would lose value and prestige. If Nintendo games are just like every other game, then why choose Nintendo over any other game studio?

Nintendo’s control over their console allow them to benefit off interested developers. Game developers pay for a development license in order to receive the SDK, and they go through a publishing process where Nintendo QA approves the game. Nintendo would lose both of those due to the Play Store. Though they could have an SDK for custom peripherals, they couldn’t charge for it. Google makes money on each Google Play transaction, not Nintendo. They’d be losing a chunk of their profit on the virtual console games as well.

Conclusion

Overall, it would be cool to see Nintendo adopt Android TV. We could see a lot of great games start supporting Android TV, and the NX would have a large catalog of games for players. However, neither of these things guarantee Nintendo will make money. Instead, they could lead Nintendo to losing money and having to scramble to earn profits by any means possible.

Developing an app for the Nintendo Wii U is not as easy as developing for Android. There’s a smaller community, fewer libraries, and a more convoluted process. But at the end of it you market your app in Nintendo’s small store, earning you more discovery and Nintendo full control over the user experience. They can then use your app to market the hardware so that people stay within their closed gaming ecosystem.

If any company was going to adopt Android TV, it would be Sony. Their TV sets already run Android TV and the Playstation 4 has a sophisticated gaming library but no sophisticated developer experience. Although they aren’t in need of sales, and no console seems to be coming soon, the next console could be simplified by running the same OS as their TVs.

What do you think? Will the NVIDIA Shield continue to the the Android TV gaming console or do you think a larger company will take that role? Let us know in the comments below.

Nick Felker

Nick Felker

Nick Felker is a student Electrical & Computer Engineering student at Rowan University (C/O 2017) and the student IEEE webmaster. When he's not studying, he is a software developer for the web and Android (Felker Tech). He has several open source projects on GitHub (http://github.com/fleker)Devices: Moto G-2013 Moto G-2015, Moto 360, Google ADT-1, Nexus 7-2013 (x2), Lenovo Laptop, Custom Desktop.Although he was an intern at Google, the content of this blog is entirely independent and his own thoughts.

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  • ChallangetobeAccepted

    Consoles are usually sold close to cost, neither Sony nor Nintendo are making a lot of cash selling the hardware. Historically consoles have even been sold with a loss, just to get the hardware out there. Selling the games is where their profits are, so adapting the PlayStore would be essentially them giving away all of their profit to Google.

    But putting that aside there is one aspect that makes it absolutely impossible for a console to adapt Android: Stability. Just look how much the OS changed in the last five years. The whole point of the console is to provide a stable platform for developers with guaranteed compatibility and security. Android provides neither. Piracy is a problem on Android – all it takes is to google “app name apk” in most cases and you are done.

    So in the end, I think neither we as consumers nor the console makers would benefit from the deployment of Android on the console. The shelf life of a console by far exceeds what any Android device offers, and that is because the manufacturer is in full control of the software and does not have to bother with the newest changes Google adapted into the OS.

    What in my opinion would actually make sense for the console makers, is to adapt a common API like Vulkan, which would make cross platform easier on developers, and maybe provide more accessible tools to indi developers. But on the other hand the PlayStore is flooded with games which are total shit, on a console there is a certain minimum quality they need to reach in order to be published which I welcome.

    • A lot of consoles already support common game engines like Unity.

  • doug

    No doubt it will ever happen