Thanks so much for the big response on the last Mindshare guys! When Simon and I sat down to think of new projects, this was one that we were really excited about and to see it get that kind of reaction was just awesome. Like we said when we unveiled it, we will post a new Mindshare about every month. We hope you guys enjoy this one as well and that you are just as helpful/insightful/interesting as you always are with your comments. With all that said, the topic for this weeks Mindshare is as follows:
With Microsoft and Sony really dominating all home console gaming markets, where does Nintendo go from here?
You get to a point in any friendship where you begin to truly know the character of the other person. You know, through experience or otherwise, how they will react in situations, what they will do when presented with certain choices or opportunities. And sometimes, when all this becomes clear, you realise that they are not really the friend you thought they were. This is where I am with Nintendo at the moment.
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We were childhood friends once, best friends even. My Gameboy and I going on trips together, N64 and I spending long hours trying to unlock every character in Super Smash Bros, those were great times we had together. But as we grew up, we grew apart. I wanted to try new things while Nintendo wanted to keep playing the same games. I grew up in one direction, Nintendo in another, our paths crossing less and less frequently.
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That is until, out of nowhere, Nintendo came back, begging to be given a second chance. They said they were ready to try new things, that they had this great new idea called a “Wii” and they just need a few bucks to help them get it made. Remembering those great times together, I happily agreed to help, I mean why not? And while the end product was neat, I felt that, beneath all the nice words and promises of change, my old buddy hadn’t really grown up like I had. That my lifelong friend didn’t even have one of his new creations for me when it came out (he mumbled something about being sold out, but I’m pretty sure I saw some full looking boxes stacked up in a closet) drove us apart slightly. Several years passed before Nintendo came back, again making the same promises of change, but that this time it’s for real. I approached this with much more skepticism but hesitantly agreed. However, when I learned that, once again, my buddy didn’t have one for me (this time I know I saw some full boxes just sitting around) and he still really only wanted to play the same games again, I’d had it.
This might have been a rather long analogy, but the whole situation surrounding Nintendo and their console launches frustrates me. Even more so as I am a bit of a reformed, closet Nintendo fan boy. I used to love their games, as I said I probably spent an unhealthy amount of time with my N64. But the actions they have taken in the past decade have driven me away. This bullshit mind game of tricking people into thinking that all their consoles are sold out because they are so popular is truly frustrating, even more so when you think about the fact that this is what they did with the Wii and many of its most popular games. It honestly put me off of the console. But it really doesn’t have to be this way. There are several things that Nintendo can still do to redeem themselves in the eyes of their fans.
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First things first. Give up on the home console race. I know this may sound blasphemous, even for one who is annoyed with Nintendo, but hear me out. The N64 was the last unequivocal success that Nintendo has had in the home console market (and even that had its issues). Since then the rise of first Sony with the PlayStation and then Microsoft with its Xbox has seen traditionally non-gaming companies enter the ring. As Simon and I have mentioned several times, these massive corporations have whole other divisions they can call on to redistribute funds to make their system work, to barrage consumers with advertisements, to ensure their success. Nintendo, on the other hand, is the last of the traditionally gaming focused companies still around making a console as well as games. Atari fell long ago, as did Sega. This is David vs. Goliath, except Goliath is wearing a much better helmet and David has no stones.
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If Nintendo were to drop out and instead re-focus on making games and handheld consoles think of what we might get out of it. We might actually get a Mario game as revolutionary as Mario 64 or even an updated handheld whose biggest update was something other than its a)Bigger b)3D (seriously, look at how many DSs they have made and find one that’s big thing isn’t being bigger or that it has 3D). People say that Apple has a stranglehold on the mobile gaming market, but that’s only true of casual gaming. If I’m going on an airplane or a long car ride, other than a book I want something like a DS, something that has more to hold me than an iPhone 5 or say an HTC 8X. Both of those devices are great with great games, but the games they are designed for are not the kind to be played on a transatlantic flight or a family road trip. Our attention spans with those games are just too short for that. Moreover I don’t want to run down my already precious battery when I’m traveling by playing the best available games, thus limiting my choices. When I still had my DS Pokémon enthralled me for hours and hours. I could play any number of games that fully utilized the devices power without fear of battery loss, as this was its only function, its purpose.
photo credit: videogamer.com
Assuming Nintendo did do this, it wouldn’t be the first time a major console developer has turned into a third party developer. We only have to look back ten years at the example set by Sega. Once a gaming stalwart and Nintendo’s great rival, Sega closed up shop on their consoles in 2000 because of poor sales numbers from the Dreamcast along with the threat of the new PlayStation 2 and the coming Xbox. However, since then they have released the majority of the successful Total War Series (come on guys, you knew I had to slip it in somewhere) and other popular games like Crazy Taxi (you know you remember that game), the Football Manager series, and the Sonic the Hedgehog games. Point being, they turned five consecutive years of losses into profit while also presenting better material (they will be releasing the new Company of Hero’s game soon as well as Total War: Rome II, which I know we are all excited about ;) )
photo credit: vg247.com
Consequently this is not such a farfetched prospect. While it may seem like eliminating a whole section of your company might be bad for business, given Nintendo’s financial troubles it might not be an entirely unsound move. It’s worked before.
However, regardless of whether or not they go through with that move (I think it’s a case of when rather than if to be honest) something else they can do is grow up! Like I said at the beginning, I grew up with Nintendo. I know many before and after me who did as well. However, the gaming world is a very different place now than it was back then. As Simon and I discussed on the short-takes a few weeks back, there are kids gaming series breaking the $1 Billion dollar mark. With choices like Lego “Fill in the Blank” or Skylanders: Whatever, kids aren’t attached to Mario and Link in the same way as me and many others my age. While I am not saying they should go and make Super Mario Rambo, acknowledging that their chief audience (those being hordes of nostalgia blinded gamers) are no longer 10 might be a place to start.
Imagine a more adult adventure game focusing on Link, or even, God forbid, a whole new series with new characters and new adventures. (Gasp!) You see, with less time spent on trying to think about stupid ideas like putting a fucking iPad in a controller they might be able to move beyond the pantheon of about fifty characters that they have ever created. Ever.
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With all this said, I wouldn’t even mind if Nintendo continued to make consoles, in fact I would love it, but only if they give up on this obsession with “being different”. You don’t see Microsoft or Sony (or even Nintendo for that matter) still using controllers with three prongs or that require rumble packs. That’s because either it was annoying or technology moved on. Nintendo needs to realize this, that gimmicks as a baseline doesn’t make for a solid foundation. In producing the successor to the WiiU Nintendo needs to update to technology from this decade. Seriously, the WiiU has technology essentially equivalent to the Xbox 360. That came out in 2006! That’s like Ford trying to pass off a Hummer as a brand new car this year. Its already been done before!
If they are going to make a console they need to properly make one and use technology that allows developers to make games for it. This is notoriously difficult on the WiiU, as we have already discussed on the Short-takes, because the technology gap between Nintendo and its rivals is vast. This causes the gaming library to be small, not a good thing for consoles. Make a competitive console with the option for gimmicks, like Kinect or Move, rather than basing your whole console’s design around it, and developers will come to you, especially with the name and pedigree that Nintendo possesses. That way your console can have the games you want it to have while also having the games that most gamers want on it. If this were to happen, I’d love it. I would think it’s fantastic because it would give gamers more choice, which is definitely what we want. However, with less money available to them than their rivals, I see this as a difficult proposition.
All this being said, the way I look at Nintendo is as an old pro trying to compete against fitter, younger opposition. At a certain point you have to throw in the towel, let the younger two fight it out and move to the senior circuit. This may seem a bit like putting it out to pasture, but I genuinely feel that Nintendo might be better off without making consoles. If consoles are sold at a loss, then having the best sales numbers doesn’t mean anything if you are also the most underused product once purchased. In fact, it’s quite harmful for a company. By removing that element and focusing in on making quality games and once again being a source of creativity in the market, I think there is a genuine future for Nintendo. Let the new boys smash it out between themselves and use both of their platforms to fund your own success.
photo credit: palmbeachpost.com
Just like an old tennis player, there are matches yet to play on the senior circuit for Nintendo, and old rivalries can be renewed. McEnroe vs. Bjorg. Nintendo vs. Sega. Both were once the names of the biggest rivalry in their realms. Now one set battles it out on a different stage, will we see the other fight it out in a new way as well? Who knows, Nintendo might even be good at that whole “making games thing” after all.