Posted by: seanmalstrom | March 2, 2014

Nintendo x EA (or Why Nintendo Will Remain Lost in the Wilderness)

There is another way to look at Nintendo’s decline. It is one that I think makes the most sense considering the situation.

When we think of Nintendo, we think back to their masterpiece games. We think of Super Mario Brothers, Legend of Zelda, Metroid, and their sequels. We think of Super Mario Kart and F-Zero. Even on the N64, we think of Super Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time. We keep going back and playing these games. The games have aged well. Nintendo’s value comes from making games that we wish to replay years if not decades into the future.

Nintendo’s games have a uniqueness due to how they applied technology in that certain period of time. Super Mario Brothers may appear primitive, but it has become iconic. Even games like Duck Hunt have become iconic. People who are young, today, know about Duck Hunt, and its status. The TVs they have make Duck Hunt unable to be played, yet they still know it. Many of Nintendo’s games are symbols of their time.

The first time Nintendo had a severe decline was with the N64 and Gamecube. Much of this was due to pushing 3d and not being able to keep up with the development pace. The Virtual Boy was an absolute failure which was caused by the pushing of virtual reality.

With the Wii U and 3DS decline, I automatically linked that decline to the N64 and Gamecube decline. 3DS is to the N64 as the DS is to the SNES. Wii U is like a HD Gamecube with connectivity built in with the Gamepad. However, this definition of the decline isn’t working fully. As much as I dislike some of the games on the N64 and Gamecube, some of them were memorable. Ocarina of Time is a masterpiece. Super Mario 64 is unique and memorable. But is anyone saying this with the 3DS and Wii U games? “It is too early to talk about current generation games being memorable.” I remember social excitement around Nintendo’s games. There appears to be none of it today.

And where does the sphinx-like Seventh Generation play in? The Wii started out extremely hot for Nintendo. Then, it decline largely. This decline can be said to be due to the natural end of a console’s lifecycle. I’d say the decline is due more to no games and bad games at that (Really? Metroid: Other M and Skyward Sword?). As an ‘Expanded Market’ user who bought the Wii, I think many people’s experiences was that they TRUSTED Nintendo enough to buy the Wii and then, how Nintendo was managing it, ended up with nothing but DISTRUST. The decline from Wii to Wii U can be explained in this. It’s not the only reason, but it the big one.

There are two Western companies that I think are completely different to one another. The first is Blizzard. Despite their current setbacks, I still like Blizzard and trust them. Their games are very well polished, supported forever, and tend to stand the test of time. I can install the original Starcraft and play some Internet games. The game is still viable, still sold, and still supported. This is unheard of with most game companies. Blizzard uses message forums and various statistical trackers to determine how players are consuming the content. The point is that there is a ton of trust between the gamer and Blizzard. With a game like Diablo 3 which sold very well (15 million so far), should the expansion not sell well it not be due to ‘changing definitions of the console or PC’ or other crap that Iwata says. It will be due to gamers buying Diablo 3 due to trust they had in Blizzard and not buying the expansion because they lost trust due to their experience with Diablo 3. Blizzard’s response is to fix Diablo 3 so gamers will trust the company again and keep buying the products.

There’s another Western game company out there called EA. No gamer trusts EA. EA milks its franchises, locks down sports licensing agreements to get a monopoly on the sports games,  devours other game companies which destroys them, and has become one of the most despised companies in the world. EA is not interested in making masterpieces. EA is interested in making a factory that spits out incarnations of games over and over until the cow is spent. Then, EA finds another IP and do it all over again. EA’s games age like milk.

Both Blizzard and EA are highly profitable, yet they got there through totally different ways. I don’t know about the reader, but I want Nintendo to act more like Blizzard instead of acting like EA. I want Nintendo to make masterpieces, to make games I will buy and replay for decades, and to make games that I can get truly excited for using the latest in technology and content. I have made an assumption that Nintendo wanted to do this as well. I figured, “The reason why Nintendo is screwing up is because of the 3d obsession and other pet peeve issues going on inside the development.”

I believe Nintendo envies EA and wishes to become more like EA. Nintendo is actively trying to emulate EA. From a business perspective, it makes sense. EA keeps spitting out yearly versions of their games, many of them sports games, and they keep selling like hotcakes. EA is the company Nintendo loves highlighting. There was an interview I read a long while back with someone who worked at Nintendo of America. This person wasn’t a top guy but an under-guy. He kept saying, “Despite what people say, EA is an amazing company. Look at the profits they bring in.” If an underling at NOA is expressing such admiration for EA in a mere interview, this suggests to me that the underling is mirroring what his superiors are saying.

The proof is in the games themselves. In the past, each iteration of Mario and Zelda were major events. The games also represented the peak in console gaming quality. The games were seen as special. Today, Mario and Zelda are largely factory made. They have become like sports games. Nintendo even makes sports games with Mario which annoyed everyone to hell back during the Gamecube Era and even today. Unlike EA which does yearly updates, Nintendo does generational updates. The reason why no one is excited for Nintendo games is because they resemble EA’s yearly sports games iterations. Nintendo games are no longer special.

The reason why everyone and their dog bought NSMB and NSMB Wii is because 2d Mario was special. NSMB was special only in that it was a new Mario game after 16 years. NSMB Wii was special only because it was a new HOME CONSOLE Mario game after 20 years (plus four player mode but that was never new in platformers). Yet, the games are aging terribly. NSMB DS is practically unplayable today with how bad it is. NSMB Wii is extremely boring to replay. NSMB 2 and NSMB U are nothing more than ‘the next update’. People aren’t interested in Super Mario Brothers turning into a EA sports iteration. This is why the NSMB “series” collapsed… because it was never supposed to be a “series” or “franchise” in the first place.

The same can be said about other games such as Zelda. The reason why Zelda no longer excites people is, beyond Aonuma’s eccentricities, Zelda has become an EA style sports iteration. Ocarina of Time is special just as prior Zelda games are special. It is why so many people bought a 3DS to get to Ocarina of Time. Nintendo thought Zelda: Link Between Worlds would have a similar effect as NSMB DS had. The game did not have that effect. The game isn’t selling hardware AT ALL. Why is someone like me not even remotely interested in buying Link Between Worlds? It is because I can plainly see that Nintendo may have adopted certain gameplay aspects, the game is just another EA sports style iteration. The game is not special like Link to the Past. The game was made in large part so Nintendo can try giving multiple items to Link at the beginning to spice up the beginning of the game. It is as distasteful as NSMB 2 being designed as “In this Mario game, we’ll just have Mario collect a ton of coins!”

Here is why it is distasteful. The early Mario and Zelda games were special because the developers were determined that they would be the last ones. There is so much technological difference between Super Mario Brothers and Super Mario Brothers 3. Then came the 16-bit machine where Yamauchi forced Miyamoto to make yet another Super Mario game. These games were special because they were not developed as EA Sports iterations. Mario Kart even used to be special. I can tell you right now, before Mario Kart U was even been released, that there will be a MASSIVE DROP from Mario Kart Wii to Mario Kart U. This is due to more than the small install base. People do not associate Nintendo as EA.

To those who don’t believe this, imagine if Nintendo did look at their games as ‘sports iterations’ as EA does. What would the sales be? The sales would be extremely bad because no one associates Nintendo as EA. When we look at the plummeting 3DS sales and dead Wii U sales, we can make a connection with the software being terrible. The Nintendo software is terrible because it is being designed as an EA yearly sports iteration. Gamers sense it, and do not wish to invest in ‘iterations’.

People have said to me, “Malstrom, if you say that Wii U is selling poorly due to low quality software, then why is the PS4 selling well? Is it due to Knack being high quality? *snicker* *snicker*” The answer is YES. Knack isn’t intending to be a yearly iteration EA sports game. It’s just a game. The Mario or Zelda games won’t be just games. They will be “iterations”. They will have lost their uniqueness. They will have little value to the consumer.

The cause of this is due to the Nintendo Board being obsessed over sales momentum to move the hardware. We saw how Iwata thought Super Mario in 3d World was going to rocket the Wii U to the top of the charts. The reason why it didn’t happen is because everyone associates the 3D Mario with being EA style sports iterations. It’s not special to people.

Have you wondered why Nintendo has made little more than just sequels? Nintendo sees its franchise fans as factions. They must put up a 2d Mario game for the 2d Mario fans to buy the console to ‘create momentum’. They must put up a Zelda game for Zelda fans to buy the console to ‘create momentum’. It is all about ‘creating momentum’ these days and little to nothing about making excellent games. When Yamauchi directed the company during the making of Mario, Zelda, and Metroid, Yamauchi insisted on hits but he left the game making to the developers. He didn’t say, “We must make More Donkey Kong in order to continue the hardware momentum we had from the Coleco-Vision.”

Nintendo games were something I used to collect. They were special. Today, I no longer wish to collect Nintendo games. I don’t even wish to play the new ones. I feel like I’ve played them all before. I am not interested in spending so much money to buy a hardware and games to play the ‘next iteration’. I demand excellence in gaming. I do not wish to play an Update. I predict Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze will have the same performance pattern as 2d Mario. While many people bought Returns, Tropical Freeze sales will go down the window. The reason why is that while people bought Returns thinking the original Donkey Kong Country games were special, they will not buy what they perceive to be an ‘iteration’.

Think back with Mega Man. Mega Man 1, 2, and 3 were special. 4, 5, and 6 did not feel special. Why? It is because everyone perceived them as iterations. You just can’t keep making the same game over and over again.

This collapse will hit Smash Brothers as well. I’m not so sure Smash Brothers is as popular as it used to be.

“But what about our iterations of Pokemon?” Iwata would respond. Iterations aren’t an issue with Pokemon because only kids buy Pokemon. Iteration #9 of Pokemon is a young kid’s very first Pokemon game.

If Nintendo wishes to make games of value again, it needs to trust the market and stop trying to force the lifecycle. The console lifecycle isn’t determined by Iwata; it is determined by Malstrom. It is consumers who determine how long a game or game console will sell. Nintendo should make the best games and let the people come. Instead, it seems like the board is scared to death of the transition phase so they ordered a bazillion sequels to the top selling games of the prior generation.

Other M aside, Metroid games are still seen as special because there hasn’t been an EA sports yearly iteration to them yet. Let’s hope it never comes. When the next Metroid game comes, people want it to be special. They want the game to stand the test of time like Super Metroid or Metroid Prime. The last thing they want is a game that ages like milk and ‘the next iteration of Metroid’ to be made like some mass produced crap.

I’m noticing my disgust at Nintendo’s latest games mirrors my disgust I have at EA’s games. I see a game console as something I hold on to forever. Nintendo sees the game console as an ‘iteration’, as something to be thrown away in a few years. This is not why I buy consoles. I don’t believe there is some magical six year mark where it is ‘time’ to make a new console. The time to make a new console is when the games are ready to take advantage of such hardware. I will not invest money in entertainment hardware that self destructs after half a decade. With the future being always-online consoles, this collapse is going to be larger than ever.

I’m tired of buying the same Nintendo games over and over again.


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