Opinion-Bytes: Nintendon’t

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In the early light of 2014, Nintendo reported a net-income loss of 10.2 billion yen.  As a result, the company implemented some drastic pay cuts and offered to buy stock back from anyone who wanted to relinquish their shares.  Basically, this was their way of taking blame, admitting shame and performing seppuku. except instead of a sword, they used pens and documents to commit the act.  Of course, gamers everywhere unleashed their torrent of ire, with virtually every post or article being some iteration of ‘this is what Nintendo must do to survive.’  The most popular suggestion?  That Nintendo should drop hardware and become a third party game developer.  I’m not sure Nintendo needs to be THAT extreme, but I can see where people are coming from.  After all, Nintendo have steadily lost third party support since the N64, once believed that nobody cared about multiplayer, and have (mostly) failed to diversify their library with mature content.

But, their public shaming seems to have lead them to an epiphany.  That is, the once branded ‘savior of video games’ came to the realization that they needed to modernize their business for long-term success.  How did they propose to do this?  Well, to start, they expressed interest in a new operating system that would work on each of their platforms, similar to what Apple has done with iOS.  Couple this with President Iwata’s promise to expand Virtual Console support – partially by bringing Nintendo DS games to the eShop – and fans should have plenty to look forward to.  Other highlights include leveraging smart devices to gain new customers, improving upon lackluster marketing, and game character rights being licensed to new partners.  A promising start, for sure, but the very moment Nintendo seemed to convey they understood their missteps, Iwata said this:

“We haven’t been targeting children enough.”

Wuh-oh.  There’s that ire again.  Forcing the monetization of user generated videos on Youtube wasn’t great for their image, either.

Regardless of the things that can be said about Nintendo, though, I think they’ve always deserved at least SOME respect for staying true to the art of video games.  When they release a game, it works.  There’s no day one patch, no DRM laced into the code, nothing.  No, what you grab off the shelf is a game in its final state, which is almost impossible to come by in this industry nowadays.  I was actually talking to Pete Dodd about this earlier in the year, and we more or less agreed that Nintendo was the last bastion for old-school gaming (business practices, at least).  Irony is a cruel mistress however, so as an answer to our naivety, Mario Golf World Tour was released on the 3DS a couple of weeks later.  Flash forward a few weeks more, and Mario Kart 8 power slides into retailers, also with DLC on the horizon.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I was extremely disenchanted seeing Nintendo dip into digital add-ons.  Nintendo may have gained some good will with their gravity defying kart game, not to mention a unique digital presentation at E3 2014, but certainly not with me.  I wish I could have been amongst the smiling faces that were gleefully showered with hype, but instead, I was painfully reminded of something that Reggie Fil-Aime said in November of 2011:

“I’ve had this conversation with a number of our key developers, and their mentality is, ‘Reggie, when we sell a game, we want the consumer to feel that they’ve had a complete experience,” he said.  “Now, in addition, if we want to make other things available, great, and we’ll look at that.  But we’re unwilling to sell a piece of a game upfront and, if you will, force a consumer to buy more later.  That’s what they don’t want to do, and I completely agree.  I think the consumer wants to get, for their money, a complete experience, and then we have opportunities to provide more on top of that.”

In short, Nintendo was not interested in the prospect of DLC.  There’s nothing ambiguous in his statement that implies otherwise.  To further cement Nintendo’s position on DLC, Mr. Iwata echoed this sentiment a short time later:

“In terms of that priority, we cannot, and should not, ask our consumers to embrace the situation where they are required to make excessive payments.  Doing such things might be good for short-term profit, but it will not server our mid-term and long-term business developments.”

Eventually, I came to grips with my disenchantment.  “Okay, Mike, it’s as you always say.  Video games are a business first and foremost, and Nintendo?  They see no point in denying themselves the fruits their competitors have been enjoying for years.”  The industry is ALWAYS going to evolve in ways that make us ‘better customers’, so I guess I should have expected Nintendo to buckle at SOME point.  That doesn’t make it right, mind you, but I should have seen it coming.

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Another thing I didn’t see coming?  The astonishing display of consumer complacency.  I mean, just a year before, the Xbox One was rebranded the Xbox One-Eighty despite a slew of POSITIVE changes, so I expected everyone to take Nintendo to task over this.  Consumers are an unpredictable bunch, though, so what did they have to say when Nintendo did an about-face and tossed their most consumer friendly policy in the garbage?  Bupkiss.  In fact, some folks were all too happy to give Nintendo more cash.

Here’s a few random comments I found on Reddit in regards to Mario Kart 8 DLC:

“Fine by me.  The current game as is is great.  Adding more to it would just be awesome.  I mean, if Mario Golf got DLC, why couldn’t this?”

“Any DLC would be awesome!  Let’s have more tracks, more battle arenas, karts/bikes, and customizations.”

Bringing additional content to the table is fine, but was I the only one who felt that Mario Kart was a little… light?  Wasn’t the roster something of a letdown?  Does half the game really have to be remakes of old tracks?  And where did the old school battle arenas go?  To me, Mario Kart doesn’t feel like a ‘complete experience’ without them.  If they make a return in the form of DLC, are people going to praise Nintendo once again, or feel cheated and revolt?

“I’ve already tried shoving money and cards into the Wii U.  Yes, I absolutely want DLC.  Damn the cost.  It’s an investment.”

That… that doesn’t even make sense.  Forgetting the absurd ‘investment’ part, doesn’t this mentality set a dangerous precedent?  Nintendo are just beginning to test DLC modeling and pricing, so why give them the impression that you’re willing to fork over a blank check?

Anyway, Nintendo’s willingness to embrace DLC comes with a ‘good news, bad news’ scenario.  The good news, is that some of their DLC will be free, while the rest seems to be reasonably priced.  The bad news?  Let’s just say it brings us back to Iwata’s comment about not targeting children enough.

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The Amiibos, also unveiled during digi-E3, are coming to retail by the end of the year.  Similar to Skylanders and Disney Infinity, the idea is to buy your favorite Nintendo character figurines (Amiibos), and import them into various games by placing them on an NFC (near field communication) platform.  The Wii-U gamepad has one built in – it’s the rectangle on the left side just below the joystick – so as far as compatibility is concerned, there’s nothing else for stationary console fans to buy.  Of course, Nintendo has only shipped 6.68 million Wii-U’s (as of June), and while that’s a decent number, is it really enough to justify launching an ambitious toy line?

It can be if you grab the attention of 3DS fans.  Nintendo have shipped over 44 million of those units worldwide.  Unfortunately, the 3DS doesn’t have the luxury of having its own NFC device, so what’s to be done?

Come on, this is Nintendo we’re talking about.  Their software may have treated us right over the years, but they’ve had a nasty habit of selling people ‘hardware 1.5’ whenever an opportunity presents itself, and if this isn’t an opportunity, then I don’t know what is.

So, without delay, Nintendo announced the New Nintendo 3DS on August 29th.  That’s not a placeholder name, either.  They actually decided to call this thing the New Nintendo 3DS.  Not the Super Nintendo 3DS or 3DS Turbo… just ‘New Nintendo 3DS’.  Has this company learned nothing from the Wii-U?

Not that it matters, the New 3DS is going to sell like hotcakes.  It has a new analog stick on the right hand side and features additional ZL and ZR shoulder buttons, making this the perfect companion for all your Smash Bros. needs.  Furthermore, it boasts an improved 3D viewing angle, and a powerful CPU which allows for improved graphics and faster download speeds.  If that wasn’t enough to get you frothing at the mouth, there’s going to be a playable port of Xenoblade Chronicles.

The rub – because there’s always a rub – is that future titles, such as Xenoblade, will only be playable on the new handheld.  If you own a 3DS, 3DS XL or the more recent 2DS, you’re out of luck.  And hey, that’s not even the best part:

The New 3DS is equipped with an Amiibo sensor.  Because, you know, the first thing gamers think of when they play is, “I want some trinkets to complete this experience.”

When Nintendo told us they’d be taking measures to adapt and revamp, who thought it would boil down to rolling out a new piece of exclusionary hardware and selling toys?

I’ll give the company one thing, though:  It’s a brilliant strategy.  Consumer friendly or not, they’ll be rolling in dough.  3DS owners will find their urge to upgrade hard to resist.  Hell, I imagine the better 3D viewing angle alone will have people reaching for their wallets.  Serious Smash Bros. competitors will accept nothing less than the New 3DS control scheme, as a flick of the right analog will make pulling off smash and aerial attacks a breeze (this is otherwise done by holding a button and flicking the left stick).  Certain others will likely buy this JUST for the port of Xenoblade.  And of course, children are susceptible to advertising, so as long as Mario, Yoshi and Kirby dance in their commercials, kids will beg for the New 3DS.  Before you know it, the system will be everywhere, children and collectors will buy a bajillion Amiibos, and Nintendo’s cash-flow will be endless.

You could argue they’ll lose business by alienating fans, but financially speaking, I think the only place they’ll go is ‘up’.  Nintendo wants to pry kiddies away from mom’s cell phone – that is, away from the likes of Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies – and back onto a proper handheld, and I think the Amiibo + New 3DS strategy will go a long way to that end.

That said, I’m a consumer advocate first and foremost, and while I understand and can even appreciate what Nintendo are doing from a business perspective, I’m still not on board with what they’re doing.  I hate to say it because I adore their first party offerings (I own a 3DS and Wii-U), but they’re a terrible company.  They’ve never listened to their customers, and it doesn’t look like they’re about to start.  I mean, it isn’t rocket science, is it?  Entice third parties to come back by making hardware that isn’t a chore for them to work with (ditch the gimmicky controllers, Ninty), make multiplayer an integral part of the experience (because Super Mario 3D World would have been amazing with online co-op), and stop confusing consumers with vague marketing and recycled names.  Gamers have shouted this from the mountaintops for years, and all Nintendo have said is, “Whoops, I guess we misread the market.”  I don’t buy that for a second.  Question is, are fun games enough to retain our support, or is it time to take a bow and say, “Sayonara?”

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One response to “Opinion-Bytes: Nintendon’t

  1. Pingback: Nintendo Are Closing The Gap… And Not In A Good Way | Byte-Size Impressions

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