Hot Button Topics: Nintendoom and Gloom, or Hype Machine Central?

Hot-Button-Topics-NintendoomMore news outlets than ever before are speculating Nintendo’s demise as a player in the console market. If Nintendo’s cashing out anytime soon, it might be all our fault...

Lately, reading video game articles on the big gaming journalism websites has been frustrating. As a Nintendo fan, the constant bombardment of “Nintendoom” articles have been relentless and it gets to the point where you have to turn to sites that only cover Nintendo products in order to get news beyond, “Nintendo failed again today.” There are more articles about Nintendo not selling systems than write ups about the excitement for the games that are coming. Every new game announcement for other platforms seems to be more about financial earnings. Why are video games the only entertainment-based hobby where there are simultaneous talks about a company’s finances immediately following game release hype? There’s no first or second place for movie studios, so why do we do it to video games? Many speculate what happened and why Nintendo went from first to last place in the number of sold units within a single generation. There are a number of reasons why things ended up going south so we may as well just get the negativity out of the way. But first, I’d like to dabble in a bit of speculative history.

Console Wars: Playground Fodder

Nintendo has been in a second or third place in most regions since the Nintendo 64. Even the Super Nintendo battled with the Sega Genesis for supremacy, and in Europe, Nintendo was almost always second fiddle in the Console Wars. Back in the mid-80s, you had separate factions: computer and arcade gamers. The console market was dead and Europeans moved to computers such as the Amiga, Commodore 64, the ZX Spectrum and more. Meanwhile, Americans were clinging to their arcades as best as they could until Nintendo and Sega arrived with their first systems: The Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Master System, respectively. Though Nintendo was extremely popular in North America and Japan, Sega was making waves in locations like Brazil and Europe. This began the console rivalries that still exist to this day.

When Nintendo released the Wii, which has been officially last gen hardware for over a year (too soon to call it retro?) their hopes was to reinvigorate the video games market to bring back the casual gamers they snagged with the Nintendo Entertainment System. There was a whole slew of a generation whose first console was the NES and those people were converted into gamers. So, with the Wii, Nintendo’s thinking was that they could strike lightning twice and they did. The Wii faced two huge problems in its life cycle: outdated hardware and “hardcore” gamers. When the Wii launched, Wii Sports was the must own title and the onslaught of games that sold well for most third parties were really just testing the scope of the development kits they were given. Ubisoft’s Red Steel was disappointing at best, heavy hitters from Konami (Elebits) was nothing to sell a system and while there were more titles launched than ever before on a Nintendo system, even Nintendo’s own Zelda: Twilight Princess was a port of a game that received much praise despite being intended for the Nintendo Gamecube. Many gamers felt betrayed. Though Twilight Princess launched on both the Gamecube and the Wii, it was this very moment where many gamers checked out from Nintendo and began exploring Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Sony’s Playstation 3. Is this the moment where the “Nintendo is for kids” complaint was crafted? No, but the fact that Wii Sports was the best of the bunch certainly puts a dim look on core title releases.

Despite this, the system sold to the casuals and Nintendo fans received some fantastic games. Even third parties released some quality content such as Sega’s Mad World and Ubisoft’s No More Heroes series. Capcom took a chance by releasing Tatsunoko v.s. Capcom along with the debatably best version of Resident Evil 4; even Vanillaware jumped on board with an, at the time exclusive 2D action title Muramasa: The Demon Blade. The Wii was receiving some unique titles that were perfect for gamers looking for a way back into the Nintendo console market. Hardcore fans received some gems that will eventually be rediscovered and considered some of the best games ever released but for now, they’ll be forgotten and ignored in the discussion over mature rated titles. Why is there such a push for more mature content? The answer is simple: gamers grew up.

xboxblood

Is this what it's all about for gamers nowadays? Can anyone blame us?

Sex, Blood and Puberty: Nintendo's Kryptonite?

The video game advertisement mud-slinging of the 1990s is where things began to get rocky for Nintendo. Censorship of games like Mortal Kombat gave Nintendo a bad rapport and negative press from fans. Eventually, the sequels put the carnage back into the Super Nintendo releases but it was too late. Sega was taking advantage throughout the 16 bit era, releasing ads that made Nintendo’s games seem slow and for kids. Both companies were guilty of using hype words like Mode 7 and Blast Processing to create distance and difference between one another. Even NEC took advantage, calling their system the TurboGrafx-16 almost on purpose. Gamers were growing up in a pre-internet age and these consoles were becoming less about the games in many gamer’s eyes, and more about the hardware. There was less playground discussion about why Michelangelo was a cooler Ninja Turtle than Raphael, and more of a focus on why Nintendo was the baby of the bunch for not including blood in Mortal Kombat.

Third parties figured out pretty quick that sex sells. Gamers were growing up and their taste in cutesy characters may have been outshined by their yearning to fit in, to grow up, to mature. The ratings system didn’t help, as the older one got, the more they’d want to be cool and play the mature rated games. With female characters becoming cyber sex symbols overnight such as Morrigan from Darkstalkers, Lara Croft from Tomb Raider and Tifa Lockhart from Final Fantasy VII, it was hard to ignore gaming’s predominately straight male fantasies. Even Nintendo was guilty of sexing up Samus Aran with the Zero Suit. It got harder for Nintendo to be squeaky clean and since censorship had ceased to become an issue thanks to the creation of ratings boards for games, it was no longer something the big N had to police. Despite this, Nintendo was still suffering from an outlook of being child’s play thanks to Sega’s continuous attacks on Nintendo’s street credit for the hardcore, something they still suffer from to this day.

FFVII-Tifa

Single handedly got me through puberty. You're welcome, internet.

People are quick to forget that the Nintendo 64 was a system that survived mostly on first party titles. Sega’s ads did the trick and many were beginning to make Nintendo’s systems their second choice console. Sega and newcomer Sony were hip and young and Nintendo was the dinosaur that made games for everyone. Sure, there was a mature rated title once and a while but as gamers were plowing through puberty, sex and violence, our more primal instincts as budding adults began to unfold. Many gamers distanced themselves from platformers and began playing games like Doom and Quake, two heavy hitters in the first person shooter genre that was quickly rising as a huge hit. Nintendo struck gold with Rare, with games like Goldeneye, Perfect Dark and the wonderfully childish yet all-around filthy Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Then the Gamecube arrived and many gamers loathed the shape and look of the system. The controller tried something new by changing the traditional button layout. Nintendo was beginning to distance itself in a market that wanted conformance. This began the talks of Nintendo going third party like Atari and Sega.

Making the Proverbial Leap to Third Party

Now that we’re all caught up on our history, let’s take a look at those two previously mentioned companies. These were leaders in their own era, with Atari’s legacy firmly planted as the company that took off and later crashed and burned. Regardless of what you think of Atari’s Jaguar, it was the final console Atari would release, after years of being behind the curve. Sega’s demise was different. Between new competition (Sony) and internal struggles between regions, Sega sank their own ship by rushing through too many consoles and add-ons in too short of a time span, leaving retailers hesitant to carry their product. While Atari’s third party ventures were a mixed bag, Sega has created some stellar titles for various consoles. They’re also not financially where they were in the Sega Genesis era but that’s another article all on its own. There are many “fans” that are asking Nintendo to go third party and create games for Sony and Microsoft. But if you were a fan of their games, wouldn’t you already own their systems for their games?

The problem that Nintendo is facing is obvious: being intuitive, different and marching to the beat of your own drum isn’t working anymore. Nintendo has made huge strides with trying to become more internet friendly but the people buying their systems aren’t looking for community. I didn’t buy the Wii U to interact with fellow gamers. As cool as Miiverse is, it’s merely a distraction from all the fun I’m having with the games released on the system. I didn’t buy the Wii U for achievement points or online-co-op battles with friends. I bought it because I was excited about playing on a whole new generation of Nintendo titles. This hasn’t changed and as long as Nintendo sticks around to craft consoles, I’ll be there every year hoping for a new Metroid title. Because, everybody loves Metroid, right?

Samus Zero Suit HD Gunship interior HD

Sorry, one track mind.

Nintendo's Savior: Independent Developers

Nintendo’s first party franchises are rock solid. There’s no doubt that the company are legendary creators. But many third party game companies aren’t interested in developing for a niche market. Nintendo have written themselves into a corner and are having difficulty breaking free. So if the big players like Capcom, Konami, EA and others aren’t going to help out, where can Nintendo go? Nintendo’s future is headed in a different direction: Indie developers.

There are so many indie titles coming out for the Wii U. In fact, most of the games I’m most excited about are downloadable titles coming from various independent publishers who are releasing titles that are very clearly developed for a Nintendo market. Platformers, beat-em-ups, action/adventure titles, along with puzzle games, retro throwbacks and more are being crafted in droves and many of these developers want to release these games for Nintendo systems because they were Nintendo fans themselves. Independent developers are low risk for Nintendo, who has opened their minds and shifted previously awful policies towards indie folk. This is one of the most important decisions the company has made in the transition from Wii to Wii U and I have faith that it will be the saving grace the keep Nintendo in a distant but respectable third place in the Console Wars. So, if independents can do it, why can’t giant corporations play nice?

shovel-knight1

One of the most exciting indie games coming to the Wii U courtesy of Yacht Club Games.

Corporate Inconsistency and the Attack of the Press

There’s obviously a lot of politics at work here. Nobody really knows what goes on behind closed doors. Maybe Sony and Microsoft told third parties to pull the plug on Nintendo and they’ll give more advertising support? Maybe EA is pissed at Nintendo for supposedly passing on their online Origin shop system? Maybe it was the lack of developer kit support and secrecy that botched the launch titles? There’s just too many “What if” scenarios to play out. But if we know anything about history, it’s all about the sales figures. One has to wonder that had the Wii not been so successful, would the drought from third parties have begun with the Wii instead of the Wii U? It’s a catch 22: game developers won’t create games for a market that they don’t see, and fans won’t buy a system without the games they want. Meanwhile, Nintendo isn’t helping with weakened hardware and retro-business decisions. It’s as if Nintendo is caught in some sort of alternate dimension where the Nintendo 64 and Gamecube did amazingly well and the Wii was just carrying out business as usual. The same business practices aren’t working and while it’s tough to say the solution isn’t easy, Nintendo fans would love a simple fix.

Meanwhile, the press is dodging articles about Sony being in the red and Microsoft losing money almost every year the Xbox brand has existed and yet, Nintendo has profited in almost every single year since they released the Nintendo Entertainment System. Many speculate mobile games are the way of the future, but we’ve talked about this in past Hot Button Topics: does the general public really want Super Mario Bros. on a touch screen smartphone with horrible non-precise controls? I think Nintendo recognizes mobile gaming is a fad, a temporary quick buck. What they didn’t realize is they made the same mistake thinking the Wii’s lightning could strike twice. When the Wii Sports phenomenon died down, Nintendo was left with confused gamers, a ton of casuals that were moving on to the smartphone fad, and an abandoned console. It’s as if time had stopped in between the Gamecube and the Wii U. We’re now seeing the backlash that the past should’ve seen coming; that Nintendo should’ve seen coming. The excuse that Nintendo didn’t recognize the manpower it takes to craft high definition graphics is as weak as a gamer’s argument about the Wii U having dodgy and “different” control schemes (which I still don’t understand as a Pro controller or even the Gamepad controller are perfect.)

Judgment Day

However, maybe everyone’s to blame. The negative press. Game companies refusing to take a chance. A company refusing to step into the present. The mobile market. E3’s unveiling of the system without showing the actual console. Poor Marketing. Heck, maybe not giving gamers a choice to choose which controller they want is the problem. There’s just so much confusion and noise that it almost doesn’t seem possible to dig out from this downward spiral. So, maybe we should all chip in, and do our part to help Nintendo out as best as we can. Write to them, tell them how you truly feel. Tell them what companies you would buy games from on their system. Tell them what excites you about other competitors. Stop reading the Nintendoom hype machine. Look in new places for games and try new titles you’ve never heard before from up and coming companies. Try the Wii U. For many of us, this could be the last generation of console gaming. I can’t ever imagine a world where I don’t have a new Nintendo console to look forward to but in all honesty, when the Yamauchi family sold back their stock to Nintendo, that’s when it hit me the hardest. Times are rough for Nintendo. Now might be as good of a time as ever to reach out and tell them how we really feel. Until then, we dread for the day that we see one of the greatest game companies are pulled kicking and screaming into a third party role, one that will ultimately kill Nintendo for good.

Hot Button Topics is a series of editorial commentaries tackling the past, present and future of video games and how they affect our hobby.


Last Updated ( 19 February 2014 )  

Michael "Miketendo" Levy

Raised on an NES, Saturday AM cartoons and sugary cereal, Michael Levy was your average 80's kid growing up. Despite having odd obsessions with bears, peanut butter, zombies and Tifa Lockhart, 'Miketendo' is also the creator of the YouTube review series: D.Y.H.P.T.G?! (Dude, You Haven't Played This Game?!)

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Comments 

(Link to this comment) RetroFox 2014-02-20 05:13
From all the money nintendo has made since they began, Theres no way this will ruin them.
It will just make them try harder next time... watch there next consoles kick ass
(not fanboy, just thinking business logic - Im a sega guy lol)
(Link to this comment) suzzopher 2014-02-20 09:25
Great read!

But no this won't ruin them, what is currently happening is Nintendo expanding out of games with new ideas, Nintendo were around before video games and they'll be around long after PlayStation and Xbox are gone.
(Link to this comment) GuyFawkesRetro 2014-02-20 11:32
Hype Machine all over.
(Link to this comment) Aegelis 2014-02-25 15:52
For me it had nothing to do the "M" rating, it had to do with the graphics (hardware) not stepping up and the overall campy feel of the games after a while (gameplay). The motion sensor fad is dying fast. It's good for occasional friends or parties, but after school/work, I think people just want to plop down and mash buttons. The high Wii sales made them trendy like Apple, but also like Apple, people are beginning to judge by content instead of innovation.
(Link to this comment) PinBiohazard 2014-06-09 14:53
Nintendo could just keep going for years to come from just profit from Pokemon, Mario, Smash Bros. I think Nintendo's future is still secure
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