Nintendon’t Supply… Why?

Nintendon't Supply

When it comes to video game hardware, there probably isn’t a more divisive name in the industry than Nintendo. On one side of the fence, there’s a number of gamers who would say this company has lost touch with reality, likely citing the lack of third party support, as well as their inability to effectively market the Wii-U as a standalone device. Some would go as far to say that they produce little more than kiddie games, and who wants to control a cutesy pink marshmallow when you can hollow cranial cavities in the latest installment of CoD? On the other side of the fence are the fans, of course. They’re happy, proud, and loyal – some to a fault – mainly because they respect the big N for staying true to their vision. These fine folk understand that while the nearly photorealistic graphics on competing machines are impressive, it all amounts to spit if the gameplay isn’t fun. Me? I guess I’m fated to straddle, because I love video games of all sorts. It doesn’t matter where they come from or what form they come in; as long as there’s fun to be had, I’m a happy guy.

But my position atop that fence – where plenty of others reside, by the way – comes with its own set of frustrations. While I’m free from the squabbles of ‘mine is better than yours’, that freedom also allows me to easily see things that are unfair, or flat-out bad for most consumers. , I was disappointed to see Nintendo resort to selling trinkets and DLC. The latter especially, considering Mr. Iwata and Reggie Fil-Aime are both on record stating they didn’t want to take that route.

Unsurprisingly, my opinion wasn’t viewed in the most favorable light. Believe me, this wasn’t a surprise. I expected people to roll their eyes and say, “Oh great, here’s yet another Nintendo hater that just doesn’t get it.” And yet, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Objectively speaking, yes, I think Nintendo are a terrible company… but I don’t dislike them. I know that probably makes me sound like I’m chasing my own tail here, but overall, I think they’ve done some wonderful things in this generation of gaming.

Over the last year or so, a majority of my time has been spent bouncing back and forth between my PS4 and Xbox One. The games were fun, problematic as they were, but the machines themselves were a constant headache.

My PS4 would only save game clips on occasion, and it’s still missing at least one core feature that was promised months before launch (suspend and resume, which the Xbox One does exquisitely well). The rubber on my DS4 sticks were showing signs of wear after mere months, certain ‘stability updates’ have caused my disc eject button to be unresponsive (it’s since been fixed), and let’s not forget that PSN has been nothing short of a joke.

My Xbox One WANTS to be my ease of access terminal, but… oh, wait. Why isn’t this thing working right? Damn it. I guess I’m going to have to do a hard reset. Just give me a second, alright? Actually, better make it five, because I have to hold the power button down. 1… 2… 3… 4… Ah, there it goes! Alright, time to turn it back on. Pressed the power button, it’s lit, and… aaaaaaand… Guh. This thing takes a while to boot! Once the console is actually fired up, what do I have to look forward to? A user-interface that has trouble handling all that it’s supposed to. One of the only things I actually snap is Twitch, and every time I do it’s a blasted nightmare.

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But oh, my Wii-U. It just works. I’ve never had a problem with the gamepad, the user-interface has never been sluggish, and games run like a dream. And speaking of games, I purchase them with unparalleled peace of mind. When it comes to Nintendo, I KNOW my games are going to work as intended. No day 1 multiplayer struggles, no patches or updates, nothing. Oh, and it’s backwards compatible, too. Regardless of their faults, this company STILL provides the quintessential ‘pop in and play’ experience. It’s sad that I can’t say the same for Sony and Microsoft.

At the end of the day, the most important gauge for enjoyment should ultimately be how much fun we’re having, and in my humble opinion, Nintendo is the undisputed MVP of the industry.

Which is precisely why my love/hate relationship with them is so frustrating.

From a consumer standpoint, I’m constantly rolling my eyes. Take, for example, the Wii-U’s gamepad. It’s a great piece of hardware, but the battery it’s saddled with lasts a paltry three hours. That’s two gaming sessions for me, tops. Fortunately, Nintendo sells a higher capacity battery… but not in stores. You have to get it from them directly, which is fine, but it sold out shortly after release and wasn’t restocked for months. Want to know the real kicker? If you unscrew the gamepad’s rear compartment, a large, empty slot’s been carved out specifically for this battery. All signs point to them shoving a weak battery down our throats, only to shake us down for the better one later… so, why has stock been so sparse?

There’s also a situation with the Amiibos. These bits of DLC posing as figurines only saw the light of day two months ago, yet diehards are practically drooling over the fourth wave and beyond. In the meantime, average consumers have been discouraged from getting involved with the collection whatsoever. March from Fire Emblem, Villager from Animal Crossing, Wii Fit Trainer from Wii Fit, Pit from Kid Icarus, Captain Falcon from F-Zero, Fox McCloud from Star Fox, and Little Mac from Punch-Out!! are rarities now… but why? I mean, if these things are meant to accentuate your experience in various 3DS and Wii-U games, why should ANY of them be collector’s items so soon after launch?

Super Smash Bros. for the Wii-U kicked off on the same day as the Amiibos, and with it, a Gamecube controller adapter. That’s right, if you’ve been used to the Gamecube controls for over a decade, Nintendo has encouraged you to stick with what works. Unfortunately, a short while after launch, the $20 adapter was nowhere to be found. Well, you COULD get it through Gamestop’s website, but they required you purchase no less than FOUR Gamecube controllers with it (for a grand total of $140). Fortunately, a third party has stepped up with their own adapter.

The Legend of Zelda has also been a pawn in the game of ‘too bad, so sad’. On January 6th, without any prior notification, pre-orders for the Limited Edition of Majora’s Mask 3D – which includes a Skull Kid figurine – went live at about 8AM EST… and sold out in a matter of hours. Yes, HOURS. There wasn’t even a release date yet, and the Limited Edition was GONE. That means a good number of people on the West Coast were still nestled in their beds when this went down. They didn’t even have a CHANCE to pre-order before the well went dry.

Additional stock appeared in drips and drabs after the fact, but they’d disappear in a matter of minutes.

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On January 14th, the same thing happened with the Majora’s Mask themed New 3DS XL. It was announced during a Nintendo Direct, which began at 9AM EST, and had sold out less than an hour later. Best Buy had some on their website in the evening, but all were spoken for within half an hour.

And that New 3DS is a source of controversy in-and-of itself. People were genuinely excited to get their hands on Nintendo’s latest handheld, especially the smaller model, as it features swappable faceplates. So, naturally, Nintendo confirmed only the LARGER handheld would be available in North America. They still haven’t reversed their policy on region locked hardware, so importing isn’t much of an option.

Understandably, North American consumers are upset. Some didn’t like the original 3DS XL because extended periods of use would cramp their hands. Some argue the XL wasn’t as portable, which defeats the purpose of a handheld. Regardless, the real kick in the teeth comes from the fact that every other region WILL have both versions of the New 3DS, while for some reason, North America is to be left in the cold. I’m not affected by this personally, as I prefer the XL for my massive gorilla hands, but that doesn’t make it any less a slap in the face to Nintendo’s fans.

That aside, I think the biggest problem – one the rest of the world has been familiar with for some time – is that the New 3DS doesn’t come with a charger.

No need to do a double take. You read that right: No. Charger. Their reason? It costs them money. How much? Less than two bucks.

How have they been allowed to get away with this? That’d be like Microsoft selling the Xbox One without a power brick.

I guess the answer is, unfortunately, consumer complacency. That’s why I said some Nintendo fans are loyal to a fault: It’s because no matter what this company does, all is forgiven. Wii-U gamepad has a shit battery? “It’s no big deal. Charge while you play!” Amiibos hard to find? “I pre-ordered mine. If people wanted them bad enough, that’s what THEY should have done!” Gamecube adapter missing-in-action? “The hottest game of the Wii-U JUST launched, and it’s the holidays!” Limited editions sell out in a matter of hours? “Well, it’s not limited if EVERYONE gets it!” Nintendo stops providing charges? “Doesn’t everyone have one of these by now? If you don’t, they’re only $10!”

It boggles the mind.

I mean, what’s the first thing a company like Nintendo should do? Get their products in consumers’ hands, right? Right. They’ve clearly dropped the ball in this respect, and HARD… but people are so consumed with ‘want, want, want’, they’ve not stopped to ask, “Why?”

Some have accused Nintendo of intentionally limiting stock to increase demand, and I agree. When people are forced to scramble to get this, that, or the other thing, a panic induced awareness will spread like wildfire. It’s an effective way to sell product, sure, but it also neglects the core Nintendo fan. Now, people who wouldn’t have paid the Amiibos any mind are snagging them left and right, hoping to turn a profit. That means escaping your 9-to-5 in search of that rare item is probably going to be a fruitless endeavor.

I’ll go as far as to say Nintendo couldn’t care less. Don’t get me wrong, though. I don’t think they’re playing the ‘evil corporation is evil’ card. This company has hemorrhaged money for a long, long time. As a result, I think they’re simultaneously pinching their pennies AND capitalizing on the collector’s mentality.

While a higher concentration of product would benefit consumers, it would probably hurt Nintendo. The ultimate goal for ANY business is to sell their merchandise, and sell it quick. If the amount of product exceeds demand, the excess won’t sell. If the excess doesn’t sell, then it’s a waste of money for the company that produced it. After having ‘fell on the sword’ this time last year, I can see why the minimalistic approach is so attractive to them.

Still, there’s such thing as playing it TOO safe. When it comes to business, you have to consider a certain amount of calculated risk, but Nintendo want nothing to do with that.

Simply put, they’re no longer above nickel-and-diming us.

Think about it. Where are the ‘best’ consumers in the world? North America. Is it a coincidence that this is the only region that HAS to buy the larger, more expensive model? Probably not. As far as the ‘we’re not including a charger’ move… Nintendo owns the handheld market, and they know it. This has given them the confidence to say, “If you need one, you can fork over an extra ten bucks. But, don’t forget to play our new freemium Pokemon game after you do! That’s right, we’re in the microtransaction game now! Give us your money!”

Despite not willing to make calculated financial risks, I hope they understand they’re testing a far more dangerous one: The loyalty of their fans. Again, Nintendo were respected for sticking to their guns, and not conforming to the bullshit we’ve come to expect from Microsoft and Sony. Unfortunately, that dividing line is getting blurrier by the week, and the longer their fans feel neglected, the easier it’ll be for them to walk away.

Gaming shouldn’t feel like joining a club. It should be all inclusive, and NOT a designation for the scalpers who couldn’t care less.

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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?”