Nintendo has always followed its own quirky path. The game giant has a lot of good ideas ... and bad ideas. What matters, though, is that it's always trying something new. As long as it stays creative, Nintendo will avoid the game-over screen.
I remember sitting on my grandma’s living room floor, the autumn colors of the carpeting beneath me, the A-frame ceiling above me, the stone fireplace to my right, and the wood-enclosed behemoth of a television in front of me. My hands grasped the gray and black plastic of the Nintendo Entertainment System controller. My thumbs were sore from mashing buttons in the dim morning light, long before anyone in my family was awake. The disappointing, yet somehow motivating, message flashed on the screen: “I’m sorry but your princess is in another castle.”
One does not easily forget those words. They remain in the mind of many children from the ’80s and ’90s. It was our call, our battle cry if you will. The fight was not over yet. Hope came from knowing that our princess was still out there, somewhere, waiting for a plump, mustache-bearing, mushroom-munching plumber to rescue her.
But here we are, some 30 years later, and I’m coming to a realization. Mario isn’t as good as before. Well, not Mario specifically but the organization he represents. Nintendo is falling behind. I know it hurt me to write that even more than it hurts you to read it. I love Nintendo. It embodies the nostalgic innocence that brought many of us into the world of video games. But taking a step back and looking at Nintendo from a wider angle, I’m seeing a dismal future at best.
Let’s journey back to Thanksgiving 2006. The sci-fi console of the future — called the Nintendo Wii — was about to hit shelves. The Wii accomplished so much. It took video games back from the nerds and opened them up to the family again. Its motion-controlled experience gave it an edge that made gaming relevant to the general public.
No one in my family outside of my brother and I played games. They were for kids. The Wii changed all that. Everyone and their mother (literally) bought a Wii. And if you didn’t have one, your friend did.
The Wii made gaming social again. Not in the sense like we think of social today (i.e. Facebook, Twitch, or Twitter). I mean, you would physically play together. Needless to say, the console was a huge success.
It made such a huge impact that competing consoles scrambled to release their own motion peripherals. Thus, the Kinect for Xbox 360 and the PlayStation Move came out. Nintendo was on top for a good portion of the next five years. And it seemed that after a bleak season in the company’s lifespan (the Gamecube’s tenure), it was back.
Above: The Nintendo Wii came packaged with Wii Sports.
Image Credit: Pixels for Breakfast
But, as time went on, Nintendo lost sight of what made it so welcome in the home. The firm thought people liked gimmicks when, in reality, they liked the magic. Nintendo suddenly went on a peripherals crusade. More and more extra stuff started coming out for the Wii: the Classic Controller, the Balance Board, as well as awful nonessential things like fake golf clubs, tennis rackets, and steering wheels that would snap onto your Wiimote. It got out of hand, and it was then that I lost my passion and love for the Wii.
Fast forward to Thanksgiving 2012 and the onset of the Wii U. Six-year-old graphics, a battery-sucking tablet controller, a baffling amount of gameplay configurations, and basically no titles to play. The console had no chance from the start. But I, being a person who enjoys Nintendo, bought one shortly after Christmas that year. I picked up one game in addition to the one that it came with. Since then, I have acquired only one more title for the system. And it had nothing to do with the Wii U. It’s because a year later, few games are out for it!
You can’t blame developers for avoiding the console like the plague. It’s a nightmare to develop for. You basically have to redesign the Wii U ports of PlayStation and Xbox releases. Companies have to come up with some nifty way to incorporate the screen on the controller that doesn’t make you want to toss the thing against the wall. Every time I have to look down at that screen, I get so disoriented. I can hardly stand it.
The Wii U is only a year old, and it’s completely irrelevant. Now, Nintendo is hinting at a new system!
Oh yay! It’s going to fix this!
A new system that’s basically just Wii Fit.
SON OF A…. (Rips phone book in half.)
This is a mistake. Nintendo still thinks gimmicks sell its product. Once again, allow me to say it’s not about gimmicks. It’s about magic. When I sit in front of my Xbox One and it instantly recognizes me, bringing up my personalized home screen, that’s magical. What it does goes beyond my ability to comprehend science.
If Nintendo thinks that it will be able to stay in this game … of games … by making fitness equipment, it is gravely mistaken. But, then again, maybe the company isn’t into the console war anymore. Maybe it feels its portable line, which is doing very well, will carry it through. But if Nintendo as a home-console producer ceases to exist, I’ll get disappointed. I love a good Mario or Zelda game just as much as the next guy.
If the Wii maker continues down this route of fitness machines and niche gimmicks, I’m afraid that in 10 years, our kids will laugh when we say that Nintendo made our favorite system, just like we laugh at grandparents who say Ronald Reagan was their favorite actor.
Nintendo did, however, just recently hold a third-quarter financial results meeting where it was straightforward about the current state of the company. It put forth many promises on how it plans to succeed and make a place for itself in the console market. You can read more about the briefing here.
The bottom line is that times change, and, sometimes, that sucks. Although my son will never have that nostalgic memory of my grandmother’s living room floor, he will have new memories — maybe with Nintendo and maybe without.
GamesBeat 2014 — VentureBeat’s sixth annual event on disruption in the video game market — is coming up on Sept 15-16 in San Francisco. Purchase one of the first 50 tickets and save $400!