Mindshare: The Path Ahead for Nintendo

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.

It wasn’t always this way…

photo credit : infendo.com


 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. 


If I remember correctly this point was right around when I got an Xbox…

photo credit: designingachampionblog.com


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.

It’s not like we could ever stay mad at you Miyamoto, not with that smile

photo credit: multiplayerblog.mtv.com


 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.

Microsoft is getting a drink of water, but it seems like the PS4 has this under control.

photo credit: siliconcloud.com


 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. 

Probably one of the best games for any handheld ever.

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 ;) )

See, its’ even got their name on the Box Art!

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.

HEY! LISTEN!

photocredit: nexusmods.com

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.

 

And some of these guys aren’t even Nintendo characters…

photo credit: http://dedica.la


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!


 The biggest new car of 2013

photo credit:http://cars-database.com


 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.


 I used a certain phrase of John’s during the WiiU announcement

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.
 

Mr Hat's picture

Give me Rome II now SEGA. Please. Pretty please...

Milleniummaster18's picture

Since a while now, I've been thinking that if Nintendo wants to cut its huge losses due to the dated Wii U's design, then they should pull it from the shelves and wait the next generation of consoles out. After all, they still got some edge on the portable market, perhaps they should make something that makes the Vita and the other mobile devices look inept in comparison.

Nintendo wants to be different? I've got a suggestion. How about toning down on the gimmicks a bit? Wii mote, 3DS, whatever screen the Wii U controller has, it's a bit too much, don't you think?

A funny thought, should Nintendo ever pander seriously to the hardcore gamers in whichever future they get, would they start making M rated Nintendo titles? I, for one, would love to see an M rated Legend of Zelda (*insert Link finally gets laid joke here*), if only for the violence and the more serious tone it could achieve.

disgruntledavians's picture

The way I see it, Nintendo won't move radically in any new direction. Why? Because of the culture of the company, and by proxy, Japanese culture as a whole.

They are very reluctant to give up something that they have created, since they probably regard it as a national achievement. Moreover, they are entirely centered around this one (ok two) products, and the only real successful software are a clutch of games that they themselves came up with. That engenders a sort of pride and perhaps hubris that won't go away easily. 

Sony, despite being another Japanese company, is fundamentally different. They are far more the cosmopolitan and modern type of company, because their business is so much larger and covers so many more market segments than just games. Their last CEO was an Englishman, for crying out loud.

In the same way that robots are prevalent in Japan so that they don't have to bring in Southeast Asian maids and unskilled workers, while they could make untold fortunes by releasing all of their major franchises on the App Store and Steam, they simply will not. It is possible that a severe financial quarter could perhaps jar them to rethink this policy, but to do so would be to admit that their console is fundamentally flawed and a failure. That might be the hardest thing of all.

John Tarr's picture

I think Nintendo's inevitable failure comes down to a fundamental misunderstanding of how everybody plays games these days. Sony's PS4 has a goddamn SHARE button built into the controller and livestreaming, while Nintendo barely has functional multiplayer, let alone first party games based around multiplayer.

 

The N64 was the last unequivocal success that Nintendo has had in the home console market

What about the Wii? Your definition of success is very different from Nintendo's. Plus the Wii had the Wii Fit peripheral, which was a huge success as well.

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.

True, but I can't listen to podcasts or music while playing a DS game.

That’s like Ford trying to pass off a Hummer as a brand new car this year.

GM owned Hummer...

disgruntledavians's picture

@John Tarr

Once again, part of the cultural divide. Japanese are far more interested in very expansive single player modes, and gaming for them is an individual activity, not a social or communal one. Whereas Americans can get behind achievements because they make singleplayer competitive to a certain extent, and Sony only copied with a much reduced concept of trophies afterwards, responding to the desires of the American market, owing to what I believe is their more cosmopolitan nature, mentioned above.

Nintendo here again is the far more conservative and traditional Japanese company in this regard. Their absolute single mindedness now only slightly breaking down, and still very reluctantly. They did not include DVD playback, and are very slowly adding only the most well-known streaming services. The fact that the DS doesn't include obvious missing features such as podcasts and music is further evidence for this.

Whiplash's picture

Nintendo has always been one of those companies that invest in one thing and sticks to it very closely, when its competition—Sony, Microsoft, Valve, and Apple—have multiple divisions where they can restock their efforts if a situation arises. Not only that, but there are several publishers/developers that are the same way now. For example, Epic is not only a developing firm but also a tech company, licensing their Unreal Engine to companies and even universities that want to render and develop software. Square Enix isn't just a gaming firm; it also has a manga/anime publishing division called Gangan Comics. Two of their most popular shows—Soul Eater and Fullmetal Alchemist—air every Sunday on Toonami right now. EA and Activision are starting the trudge towards mobile as opposed to solely publishing for home consoles and the PC market. Gaming companies have, for the longest time, realized that if they are only focusing on one thing (in this case, gaming), it will bring about their demise.

darthskeletor's picture

@whiplash

You're absolutely right, and it's not just in gaming. Nokia and Blackberry are about to get the death blow from giant conglomerates like Apple and Samsung, and in gaming Nintendo is that company without anything else to back themselves up. Simon and Alex have mentioned this a good several times on the podcast, and I think that Alex's methods in particular work to try and leverage that one business to its maximum extent: cut off the extremely costly side of hardware, just like IBM did and what Netflix tried and failed to do, and focus on software for new and rising platforms.

Tying in to what disgruntledavians is talking about in culture, there has been a general decline in Japanese tech companies overall:

http://news.cnet.com/8301-1001_3-57547921-92/the-era-of-japanese-consumer-electronics-giants-is-dead/

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