In 2007, the house that Mario built could seemingly do no wrong. The Nintendo DS Lite was by far the biggest selling handheld console on the market and despite being technically inferior to both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, the Nintendo Wii was outselling its heavyweight rivals on a regular basis. Nintendo were holding their own because of new and innovative technology, a low entry price and a strategy of seeking the previously untapped ‘non-gamer’ audience. So when Nintendo announced last week that it had cut its net profit forecast of ¥55bn to a net loss of ¥25bn concerns were raised and questions were asked. What has happened to Nintendo?
I consider myself to be fairly ambivalent to Nintendo’s current plight. Whilst I admire their rich history and talents I don’t feel particularly strongly either way with regards to their products and as such I feel I can easily look on at Nintendo’s troubles with an outsider’s viewpoint. Whilst the 3DS has increased in popularity after a very slow start, the Wii U is still languishing behind and their predicted profits are falling at an alarming rate. As such, here are the 5 things that I see as being the reasons Nintendo are currently where they are…
The Shadow of the Wii – Lessons were not learnt
When the Wii was launched it was clearly a landmark point for gaming, suddenly the medium was open to anyone and was not “just about shooting” as so many non-gamers would have you believe. How many times have you heard the story of someone losing to their Gran at a game of Wii Sports? How many times have you told someone that story? Clearly with the Wii, Nintendo hit gaming gold and yet when was the last time you blew the dust off the little white box? 6 months? A year? More?
In my opinion, here was the problem with the Wii; this console became so popular due largely to word of mouth. You heard about people playing games with their families, saw them bowling or playing tennis and it was an attractive proposition. The problem that many found though was that once that novelty had worn off you were left with a console which, whilst perfectly adequate and did produce some good games, was little more than a slightly enhanced Gamecube with motion controls. What the Wii U needed to be therefore, was a console that took the innovation from the Wii and partner it with a console that matches its rivals on a technical level. Unfortunately, the success of the Wii seems to have given Nintendo a false sense of security around what was needed to succeed. Even though their new console was again innovative (although arguably the PS4/Vita combination now supplies a better use of ‘second-screen gaming’) by again choosing not to match their rivals on a technical level they have been left behind in the console race.
The fact that a publisher such as EA chooses to release their 2014 flagship FIFA title on every console (including PS2 and Nintendo Wii) except for the Wii U, I think speaks volumes for where this console sits in the modern gaming market.
Nintendo Direct – Keeping new customers at arm’s length
In the run up to E3 2013, some InRetroSpect colleagues and I discussed what we expected from the show (you can listen to the show here). During this conversation, Sam and I had a heated discussion on the marketing strategy of Nintendo, how as an outside consumer there was seemingly no desire to create any form of interest in their product from me.
The primary vehicle for the Nintendo Direct presentations has been through the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U consoles and through its official Nintendo.com webpage. To a consumer without one of these consoles and without a significant enough interest in the company to be checking the website, how am I supposed to hear this information? Whilst I grant you they will also promote these through Twitter and Facebook, again you have to already follow these news feeds in order to get this information.
Whilst I can already hear the rumbling of an argument that all companies push their products through their own mediums and websites, I would argue that the reason I know more about PlayStation 4 and Xbox One than I do about Nintendo’s consoles is because both of these companies created big advertising campaigns to attract the audience and also worked much more with publications in order to get the information out there (even if – in the case of Microsoft – the initial information wasn’t altogether coherent).
The concept of Nintendo Direct is a great idea. A company trying to engage with an audience honestly and directly is fantastic in principle, however by closing down other avenues of marketing, some could argue that they have in essence cut off their nose to spite their face.
The Conveyor Belt – The same games again and again
Games sell consoles. Despite what the entire marketing blurb says about the console being the entertainment hub of the home, without the games, it won’t sell a dime (although other entertainment has a part to play). Here in lies an undeniable problem with Nintendo at present and predominately its flagship console. When was the last time you saw a game announced for Wii U that you were excited about that wasn’t simply another iteration on franchises such as Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong or others?
The fact that one of Nintendo’s big sales pitches of 2013 was that it was ‘The Year of Luigi’ was rather telling. When your biggest sales pitch is for your signature character’s brother who has been around since 1983 then you are really running out of ideas. Nintendo used to be a company who would come up with new and exciting games, even within the confines of their franchises (Super Mario Galaxy being an excellent example), but the same company now are struggling to recapture that excitement.
Nintendo have unfortunately now fallen into a pattern of producing a conveyor belt of the same games over and over again with only slight changes (a big selling point of Super Mario 3D World was that Mario could be a cat) which is beginning to leave its audience looking for something new and different.
To Hub or not to Hub – Not pushing other forms of entertainment
Whilst I have already stated that games are the principle sellers of consoles the fact remains that a modern consumer is used to getting more from their console than just a games machine. When the Wii was launched the culture of streaming content was in its infancy and so it is understandable that this would not be a selling point however whilst Wii U does have the capability to offer these services, it’s a function that is being woefully underused (at present only Netflix and YouTube are available in UK).
With the addition of the gamepad and touch screen, this could have been an opportunity for the Nintendo consoles to stake a claim for being the best way to viewing on-demand video content. This technology could offer additional information and remote control functionality but again this has not been promoted (I had to research the Wii U to find it actually offered video streaming services), and as I have stated already promotion is another of Nintendo’s big problems at the moment.
Turning a Blind Eye – Mobile Gaming
In the time since the original Nintendo Wii was launched, arguably the biggest gaming shift has been with the move to mobile gaming. Mobile gaming is now such a huge part of the industry consciousness that Nintendo’s continual ignorance of it is bewildering. On the iOS app store, currently in the chart of highest grossing games you will find franchises such as The Sims, FIFA, Grand Theft Auto and LEGO Star Wars.
If you look a little further, you will also find titles involving Rayman, Sonic, Pac-Man and Crash Bandicoot. The point I am trying to make is that Nintendo has a wealth of popular characters and an archive of classic games that could be very easily adapted to fit perfectly within the world of mobile gaming. I think it is clear to both gamers and non-gamers that if Super Mario Bros was released for the mobile market it would be very successful indeed. If you include the likes of Yoshi, Kirby and possible most of all Pokémon, this seems like an obvious path to follow.
If Nintendo is to move forward in this modern market it needs to be less protective of its IPs and accept the gaming environment in which they now live.
Nintendo is still a truly great and iconic company and by no means are they in a position that they cannot return from. However, until they acknowledge some of the mistakes they have made and make moves to rectify them then this slide will only become steeper. Nintendo is engrained into the very fabric of gaming and just like Sega before it, the landscape of future games and consoles would be a much less colourful and vibrant place without them.
So what do you think? Are you a Nintendo outsider? What can Nintendo do to change their fortunes? What has been the key reason for then Nintendo’s struggles? Leave your comments below.