The Big N has been in alot of trouble recently. Nintendo posted its first ever loss in 30 years of business. $500 million. Let’s take a step back and try and imagine what that number really represents. That’s alot of dollars. 500 million of them. That’s really saying something. Up until now, the company has been one of the most successful gaming publishers and hardware sellers in the world. So where did they go wrong?
Nostalgia is a Good Thing… Until it’s not
Nintendo has had about five major franchises it’s pushed for about 20 years — Mario, Donkey Kong, Zelda, Metroid, and Kirby. All of these franchises are decades old. They haven’t really developed a truly successful and innovative franchise in a VERY long time. Those of us who grew up playing the SNES and GameCube have fond memories of these great franchises. Then the Wii happened, and something felt terribly wrong. The GameCube, at it’s time was a technical powerhouse. People were amazed at the graphical fidelity of games like Mario Sunshine and Resident Evil 4. When the Wii came out, it was BARELY more powerful than the GameCube. With the Xbox 360 and the PS3 doing graphical tornadoes around the Wii, it felt like Nintendo had abandoned its core gamer base in favor of attracting a more casual crowd.
Now I understand why it makes sense to appeal to a broader audience with a relatively cheaper console with much more casual-focused games. If you look at the history of the Wii, it was a raving success. However, it was a success at the cost of the long-term longevity of the console and the brand. Games like New Super Mario Bros. are great, but they do little to innovate Mario as a franchise. You can only rehash old ideas so many times before they get stale.
Nintendo is Innovative in all the Wrong Ways
I don’t wish to be a doom-sayer for Nintendo, but let’s face it. Currently the Wii U is extremely flawed in its design. Having a tablet as a controller is extremely expensive. Add the fact that the Wii U will only support ONE of the tablet controllers is BEGGING for issues. The current crowd I sell the Wii to most is the young children, families, and females. With young children, how are you going to possibly avoid enormous fights about who gets to use the “good controller”? I can tell you that when I was a kid, we would fight over controllers because of their COLOR. Now that there are controllers that are basically iPads with joysticks, there’s no hope for peace in any home.
One of Nintendo’s big mistakes is calling their new console the Wii U. They’ve gone on for so long with the Wii, branding it as a casual gamer’s console, that they’ve completely alienated the core gamer crowd. Nintendo has gone on record saying that the Wii U will be the console that wins them back. Unfortunately, the console still has the Wii moniker in it. If you’re going to win back a consumer base, you need to show that you’ve turned over a new leaf. With the Wii U being so similar to the Wii, it will be a hard sell to get the core gamers back on board.
What I mean by Nintendo being innovative in the wrong way, is that these kind of ideas they’re coming up with for the Wii U are interesting, but they are so far displaced from the current traditional setup, that it’s going to be very hard for developers to really invest into the console. Currently, with the Xbox360 and PS3, you can carbon copy a game from one console to the other. With the Wii U, you’ll need to implement functions for the tablet controller, the Wii remote, and Nunchuk. It would be far too easy for developers to throw their hands in the air, develop only for the well-established 360 and PS3 (who really have dominated the core gamer market since Nintendo left it) and then let the title lineup for the Wii U suffer.
Nintendo Needs Some Fresh Blood
In the business world, and most other industries, experience is what really counts. However, in the entertainment industry, they want what’s new and fresh. For example: if ZZ Top had quit after Eliminator, they wouldn’t be so embarrassing to see in the 2010’s still making albums.
How many times have you listened to a band and had a conversation with your friends and said, “Man, this new album is okay, but I liked their early stuff better?” Very few bands get better as they get older. Before you send the hate comments, I fully understand that there are LOTS of exceptions to that. The point I’m trying to make is that, in a lot of cases, some bands refuse to really change their sound. They just rehash their same old style and fall into a rut. They simply try to cash in over and over again on what worked before, instead of trying to create the next big thing. Some artists try and do that, but end up crashing and burning. Vanilla Ice should have never tried that rock/rap album, that’s all I’m saying about that.
How this relates to Nintendo is that The Big N has had pretty much the same group of people leading the company and making the creative decisions for the last 20 or 30 years. Their creative style is quite possibly getting stale, and they’re really starting to lose touch with what people want in this modern age.
Because Nintendo has had the power in the past to shape the video game industry, they seem to miss the mark on a few key areas and refuse to adapt. One key area is the arrival of smart phones. Rather than adapt to the market of cheap good games, they’ve been attacking it, rather than adjusting. Check this video out of Reggie Fils-Aime speaking with IGN on budget-priced software. He’s not specifically talking about Apple or Smartphones, but software that is cheaper than retail.
Just skip to the 2:25 mark.
What he quickly dismisses as a “path to ruin” has become a gold mine for companies like Zynga, and others who have taken a free-to-play model and added all sorts of in-game transactions that add as much value to the game as the consumer is willing to shell-out for.
Nintendo has been a successful company for a long time. I don’t wish to be a prophet of doom, but the Wii U is generating no interest at all at the consumer level. Even though we know that the Wii U is coming this Fall, it still feels like there’s nothing around the corner. Nintendo has already stated on a recent investor call, that there are no plans to reveal the price or release date at this year’s E3. THE CONSOLE IS SUPPOSED TO COME OUT THIS FALL!
Things are not looking good.