Posted by: seanmalstrom | December 1, 2012

Longterm things Nintendo needs to do

I’m not too concerned about what Nintendo needs to do about a particular console. They know when they need to lower the price, when they need to increase momentum, etc. What I’m worried about is the longterm direction of Nintendo.

There was a Wii woman I know in real life who told me, “I really hate where Nintendo is going.” I asked her to explain. “I just don’t like the games they’re putting out. And I really don’t like that freaking HUGE Wii U controller.” She did like 2d Mario although she wasn’t too happy about the latest two that had come out as it seemed the game was more about a formula. She didn’t like anything about the 3DS. She was not interested in whatever Nintendo plans to do with Mario and Zelda. My impressions are that she is tired of Nintendo ‘culture’ of all the Mii crap being shoved everywhere and with every Nintendo game feeling like we’re watching the same exact movie but with a different director this time. (I feel the same way too.) Nintendo isn’t doing anything new. Everything feels recycled. It’s like a Mega Man 4 console.

Then she said something interesting. “I’m much more interested in what the Xbox is doing and what is going on with Kinect.” With the Wii U, Nintendo had abandoned their motion control direction to Microsoft. So it may be possible for the Xbox to take the Wii consumers as Nintendo abandoned them to make Gamecube sequels like Pikmin 3. This woman was also a huge Wii Fit fan. She is looking for the next Xbox for her next fitness gaming needs.

The only thing more shocking than Nintendo abandoning the Wii Era gamers is Nintendo abandoning the 2d Mario gamers with their ‘OMG, its 3d!’ direction starting with the Virtual Boy and N64. The big difference with this Second Dark Age of Nintendo is that in the first one (the N64/Gamecube Eras), Nintendo was mishandling its console, not giving them momentum, not doing well in all the territories, etc. However, Nintendo’s long term reputation remained good. People still trusted Nintendo even though they didn’t want to buy the home console. In the Second Dark Age, Nintendo knows how to manage their console but isn’t realizing how huge of a hit is occurring to their company’s reputation. There is much disinterest out there from Wii gamers about Nintendo’s move, not unlike the anger from DS owners about the 3DS’s bizarre direction (“everything must be in 3d! Everything!”). No one trusts Nintendo today. Would you buy digital content from Nintendo? Would you invest heavily in a Nintendo console? Nintendo is giving us no reasons to do so. And no one expects classic games to come from Nintendo anymore. 2d Mario players are depressed. I don’t see the 3d Mario or Zelda fans excited either. The company’s offerings keep getting more and more mediocre and they increasingly rely on nostalgia from older games. Nintendo cannot create any new content. It is constant recycling content with some bizarre hardware gimmick. “Now its 2d Mario where you have a touch screen!” Yeah, no thanks.

Here are the long-term things Nintendo needs to do:

1) Create a true account system.

Nintendo ‘says’ they have accounts which are nothing more than Mii memberships. An actual account system means the consumer being in control of the digital content they purchase and download. It should work like iTunes. You buy the digital content and can download it again, for free, for future consoles or to your handheld. Since Nintendo only has one handheld device and one home console device every half decade, this should be rather simple.

As more people buy digital over disc, the importance of consumer control over the digital games comes into the spotlight. This is where Apple has made its impact (not the hardware as the pundits keep saying). People would rather buy any Apple device because they feel safe in purchasing things from iTunes because Apple allows those things to travel across the devices, both home and handheld, and to newer hardware. This is the standard people are used to. Nintendo not doing this means more people, including myself, will purchase an Apple (or other) device for digital entertainment instead of the UNSAFE and UNRELIABLE Nintendo platforms who won’t allow consumer control over the digital content.

My advice to Nintendo is to start it off small. Start with something like the NES games. Have it where you can even play those NES games on the handheld or on the home console because they are both tied to your account. When that works, then Nintendo can move on up with the more sophisticated systems such as the SNES, N64, Gamecube, and indie games. And then eventually the current generation games.

If Nintendo doesn’t do this, they should just stop wasting everyone’s time and just pack it in and get out of the hardware market. Seriously. People like myself refuse to buy another game console entirely due to this issue. It’s bad enough we can’t resell the games to used game stores or let our friends borrow it, but you won’t let us retain control of the license on sister hardware (like the handheld) or on future hardware? To hell with you.

I expect Nintendo’s stubbornness in this area to have the post console devices eat up more and more of Nintendo’s consumers as digital purchases gain in strength and numbers. (I also don’t understand Nintendo’s stubbornness. “This might reduce the value of the games!” Doesn’t this company realize that roms of all their previous systems are commonly found on every gamer’s PC? The horse is out of the barn yet Nintendo keeps tending a moat around it.)

2) Sell hardware, at a profit, for a low price.

In the salad days of the NES era, the NES cost $100 (twice as much a NES game) and came with two games of Super Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt. The SNES was seen as ridiculously expensive at the time with $200 price tag even though it came with Super Mario World and two controllers.


Above: The stigma for consoles is all about the price of the hardware.

You can have expensive hardware and cheap games (the Apple way) or you can have cheap hardware and expensive games (the Nintendo way of the Wii and earlier systems). However, you cannot have both.

Nintendo is better off putting out cheap hardware and selling expensive games. In order to allow hardware to be sold cheaply, this ridiculous ‘integrated hardware and software’ dogma Nintendo adopted recently needs to be abandoned. The mission statement of Nintendo should be to ‘make the best games’ and everyone would buy the console in order to get to the best games (like Mario). What Nintendo is currently saying is that they no longer believe in making the best games but only the most ‘innovative games’ which is a result by the bizarre hardware configurations they put out.

If Nintendo wishes to keep selling their games like Godiva chocolates, they need to sell their hardware cheap. There’s really no reason for hardware to be as expensive as it is today. If Nintendo hadn’t done the ‘integrated hardware and software’ with the 3DS (3d!) and Wii U (touchscreen controller!), the hardware costs would be significantly less and even profitable. The lower price of the hardware would be selling more than the ‘integrated’ offering. Why? Because people don’t buy hardware. They buy games. The console is just a box you buy to get to the game. It was true then. It is true today.

3) Re-evaluate who the actual flagship games are.

Nintendo keeps spending an elaborate amount of money on 3d Mario and Zelda. Is this justified due to their pathetic sales? Are they the actual flagship games? Or are the games people buy the console to get like Mario Kart or 2d Mario or Wii Sports or Wii Fit the actual flagship games? It’s definitely the latter.

I’m not saying to stop making 3d Mario or Zelda, but the budget is out of control for those games as they definitely don’t bring people into the console. Why bother with orchestra soundtracks for 3d Mario or Zelda when you are re-using nearly the exact same soundtrack for 2d Mario (which does get people to buy the hardware)? The games responsible for bringing people to the console should get the big budgets.

Mega-games also don’t need to be made. Instead of giving Zelda an orchestra soundtrack or voice dialog or whatever explodes the budget, say no and use that money to hire or bribe a studio to make another game. Or buy another company. 3d Mario and Zelda have become black holes that suck in tons of money and development time and don’t pay back what they take in.

3) Make a New Legend of Zelda.

Nintendo is sitting on money by not putting out a New Legend of Zelda. Zelda has become entirely alien to what it used to be which is why Zelda is no longer cool. When Mario returned in NSMB, suddenly Mario was cool again and no longer the joke he became during the N64 and Gamecube eras. It was good for the Nintendo brand, good for the Nintendo sales, and good for the IP. It’s a win-win-win strategy.

4) Profitability should be the aim, not innovation.

Profitability and innovation are not the two sides of the same coin as Microsoft proved in the 90s. However, due to the scale of that profitability and creating people who profited from Microsoft’s success, Microsoft had the power to do things it normally couldn’t do like put out a Xbox game console that lost four billion dollars.

The reason why Apple is the most valuable company on Earth has nothing to do with innovation and everything to do with profitability. This is why Christensen couldn’t figure Apple out because Apple always chose profitability over innovation. The iPod and iPhone weren’t ‘new’. However, they were profitable. By creating the scale of profitability has allowed Apple to now do things it couldn’t do before. We’ll see what those things are soon.

The only reason why Nintendo had the ability to release the Gameboy was due to the scale of profitability of the NES. And the reason why Nintendo had the power to stay in the market after the N64 and Gamecube disasters were due to the profitability of those systems as well as the scale of profitability from the handheld line. Profit, not innovation, is what keeps companies alive.

Iwata has yet to demonstrate to investors that gaming has any interest or demand in innovation. It sounds more like Iwata is shielding the developers, who he has an emotional attachment with being a developer himself, to allow them to do whatever they want without regard to the commercial nature of the business. Sales are the reason why game developers have a job.

5) Don’t let Sakamoto touch Metroid again.

This doesn’t need to be explained.

6) Abandon Non-Gaming

Nintendo has recently adopted non-gaming with the 3DS and Wii U instead of the ‘games only’ of the DS and Wii. (Ironically, critics of Nintendo’s mass market direction declared the new market games to be ‘non-games’ when they were, in fact, games. The non-games are movies, TV shows, music, and every media that is not gaming.)

Nintendo wasted a ton of money on the TVii where it could have gone into the gaming. Nintendo shouldn’t be jumping into a red ocean against top box makers. Instead, Nintendo should focus on what it does best: games.

The only reason why the Wii was used as a Netflix device was because the lack of Wii support had consumers use their Wii for something before they shoved it in a closet. Now those consumers are flocking to Apple TVs or Rokus. “But we have TVii,” says Nintendo. No one is going to buy a Nintendo console for that. They will buy it for the games, however.

7) Stop treating all consumers as the same

Consumers are very different from one another. They have different shaped hands. They also have different tastes in aesthetics. So why is every consumer forced to use ONE type of controller? Why is every consumer forced in the SAME aesthetics with the Miiverse and all?

Nintendo had it right with the Wii when it allowed people to use all sorts of different controllers to play the game. This also was the right thing with the NES (and to a lesser extent, the SNES). The N64 and Gamecube were severely damaged by insisting on only one type of controller.

As with aesthetics, an improvement with the Wii would have enabled the consumer to customize the Wii menu a little more (such as turn off that damn background music and in the shop channel).

I despise the Miis. They make me feel like a little kid. I don’t want to participate in Miiverse. I want it to shut off and go away. I don’t want the crappy Japanese cute OS aesthetic. Allow us to turn it off. Just allow us to have options.

You guys aren’t half as smart as you think you are. You can’t make one thing for all people. Something like Miiverse alone makes me not want to buy the Wii U.

8) Stop with the 3d obsession.

3d has brought Nintendo nothing but disaster. The Virtual Boy was a flop. The N64 removed Nintendo’s relevance in the home console market. The Gamecube made Nintendo a laughingstock. The 3DS is making Nintendo lose the West in the handheld market. 3d Mario greatly harmed the Mario IP.

3d wasn’t really innovative back in the 90s. It is especially a waste of time and money today. Stop forcing games to 3d just because it is 3d. Poor Kid Icarus.

9) Put Internet play in every single game.

This is 2012. Games need to be using the Internet. Miiverse is not using the Internet. It is like putting up emails up inside a game. What’s the point?

What gamers care about the Internet is the ability to play and talk with their friends online. Even ICQ was doing this around twenty years ago.

Nintendo won’t get a pass with just local multiplayer anymore. If Nintendo has been investing in Internet instead of going off on these 3d wild goose chases over all these years, the company wouldn’t be in the sad position it is in.

10) Make more small games instead of large games.

Human nature doesn’t change. Gaming originally evolved into arcadish games where it didn’t take long to play but it took a while to master (this is different from the ‘easy to play, hard to master’. It used to be ‘fast to play, long to master’ in how games had value). The only games that were time sinks were the JRPGs like Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy. I remember Final Fantasy VI, when it came out, as an epic game, but it was also alone. The game worked because not every game was trying to be a time sink.

Fast forward to today and nearly every game is a time sink. Games are long to play, easy to master instead of the other way around. These large games aren’t just bankrupting the game industry, they are bankrupting the time of gamers. Every gamer now cannot keep up with their backlog.

How about more small games? According to the credits, only eight people make Legend of Zelda. Yet, Zelda 2 came out one year after Zelda 1 did. Today, it takes around half a decade for a new Zelda and definitely requiring more than eight people.

Console momentum is easier to do with smaller games. I’d rather have more games to play than a few bloated games to play. I think most gamers agree with this.

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