Why Does Europe “Hate” Nintendo?

Sometimes, I find Europe to be a very strange place – none moreso than in our gaming tastes.

Nintendo is the oldest company still producing gaming hardware for the consumer market, however let’s say that as a result Nintendo have a long and indeed, troubled history with Europe and the UK in particular. Old wounds run deep, in both the minds of gamers and the psyche of the gaming press – wounds that are decades old and still not healed.

This has multiple reasons, of course. In the early 80s, the UK in particular was very focused on new gadgets and toys, and yet video games were seen as the preserve of the nerd – this wouldn’t change until towards the middle of the 90s. Japan and the US in contrast seemed to revel in this new technology, a new entertainment medium, and Nintendo and its then-rival SEGA made some big splashes. Since the demand was so low in Europe – it was left until last with Nintendo.

That is a sad indictment of how we’ve treated the company and how it treats us in kind, but it’s easy to forget that Europe, the UK and Australia – the PAL regions – are still left until last by pretty much every gaming publisher, developer and hardware manufacturer. The UK didn’t merely not go for it so quickly – we were afraid of anything “Not British” at the formation of many of these companies as the games industry took its first tentative steps.

However, the companies have gone and our manufacturing industry is low to non-existant, and now Britain doesn’t really make any consumer electronic goods anymore. At a time when we rely on our electronic goods from the US, China and Japan, our historical relationship with this market has sealed our fate. Europe – and the UK in particular – has no-one to blame but themselves. We’re last because we didn’t buy into it early. That’s how it works, that’s how it is and that is how it will have to be for the forseeable future. That said, Europe gets JRPGs that the US simply doesn’t – I’d say we’re hardly treated THAT badly.

Another reason is Nintendo has always tried to pitch itself as a “family console”. This idea never stuck until the Wii it must be said, however Nintendo have always had a long and troubled relationship with mature themes. Couple this with the aforementioned historical view of gaming for young nerds, and mature games have a very strange place in Europe.

No-where was this troubled split more noticable than with Mortal Kombat in the 90s. Whereas SEGA were happy to play the cool, edgy, adult angle and allowed their Mega Drive/Genesis version to be unedited with lashings of red blood, Nintendo tried to censor it with green blood, and in some regions the blood was removed altogether. SEGA left in the head-rip fatality, Nintendo made the screen black out for it. It made Nintendo seem less cool in comparison – it wasn’t edgy enough, wasn’t moving with the times as games began pitching themselves towards adults with disposable income.

However, in recent years Nintendo has perhaps been the most mature developer in the market. I firmly believe loads of ultra-gore, men with guns the size of houses compensating for their extremely microscopic penile dysfunction and scripts where the writers had just discovered Baby’s First Swear Book isn’t “mature”. It isn’t edgy. It’s quite juvenile, a little daft and not at all believable when the F-Bomb is dropped twenty-five times in a three minute cutscene. Nintendo have delivered violent games, scary games and polished games. The Metroid Prime series is sensationally mature and well done. Eternal Darkness was a slick, well-written horror story which scared not with gore, but by warping the world around you and simply messing with your own head. And then to games like Mario Galaxy, which may seem childish but there’s enough meaty content in there to keep an adult chained to it for weeks on end. Mature doesn’t mean we have to be sweary, gory or violent – it’s more explorative, growing and changing with the world and Nintendo have done at times a far better job than most with this.

PR, too, was once a fault. Nintendo of Europe is still seen by many as some kind of twisted, warped joke as Nintendo would NEVER have much to do with Europe. But again – not true, many of their newer developers are hailing from our necks of the woods. Their old PR rubbish is overshadowed now by the kind of horseradish rain that Sony or Activision brings out, and their release schedules are far tighter now than they were even a few years ago. Despite improvements, we can’t see the changes. Maybe we hate too much, or maybe the changes are too subtle – but it’s not enough it seems.

And then there’s the issue of price. The reason why I’m scratching my own head, because it was fairly obvious that the initial £180 price for the 3DS was going to be a short-term thing, and sure enough – a few months on – Nintendo are dropping the price by a third to £120. That’s a very competitive price for a machine that displays stereoscopic 3D, and has a line up that by the end of the year will include a brand new Mario Kart, Starfox 64 3D, Kid Icarus and some excellent ports of games from Yoshi’s Island (one of the best 2D games ever made) and Super Metroid (Superb game) to the rumoured Plok (Cult favourite) and Advance Wars (Still an amazing game). And that is before the retailers cut the price – I won’t be surprised to see the 3DS under £100 by the end of the year.

There are reasons for this. One, technically we all knew Nintendo were making an awful lot of profit per machine shipped. The early estimates of £50 per machine now don’t seem quite as exaggerated as they once did, and consumers probably saw through that. We’ve wised up to Nintendo and their rather cruel pricing abuses, and simply didn’t go for it. That’s actually good – consumers shouldn’t bend over backwards when profits are so exceptionally high. There’s making money, and then there is ripping off your loyal customer base…

Secondly, the 3D industry is down 45% since last year, movies and tech combined, and that probably has put the willies up Nintendo a little bit.

And finally – the PS Vita. Basically PSP2, Sony are prepared to make crushing losses on the hardware to challenge the dominance of Nintendo in the handheld marketplace – a machine where the tech costs about £500-£600 a time, being sold for £250/£300 wifi/3G.

Also is a rarity that Nintendo made a fiscal loss in the last quarter – there are of course extreme circumstances in Japan of late, as well as the global financial crisis continuing to roll on like Godzilla with irritable bowel syndrome. However, despite the fact $195 million does seem to be a lot of money, Sony and Microsoft will look upon that as positively amateur in nature. Sony are only just turning a profit on the PS3, and Microsoft – with their overall spend on X-Box Live, have confessed they may never actually make any sort of profit on the 360. Also remember this is not a yearly functioning loss either – if the price drop works, the games come and the Wii U is pushed out a little quicker, that may be corrected.

Nintendo are notoriously famous for being very good with their finances. And if Nintendo are having problems, I think it may be safe to say Microsoft and Sony’s books won’t be looking too healthy either.

All said and done however, £120 for the 3DS is superb value for money considering what is already out there, and what is to come by the end of 2011. And to compensate early adopters to the 3DS, Nintendo have announced 20 free Virtual Console games and ports to those people. 20 free games – and not rubbish ones either, Metroid Fusion, Yoshi’s Island and more are scheduled to be bundled in with this massive pile of love and awesome-sauce.

However, what happens? Gamers immediately scream Nintendo is in trouble. They say Nintendo is doomed, and will be out of the market within two years (a prediction they’ve been making since the Game Boy, I might add, and they’re still here annoying them). The media is unimpressed and always seems to come down on it as some kind of failure, even though they are clearly thrilled with the idea that Sony losing half the value on the PS Vita isn’t in any way commercially risky. People are shouting. Still angry. Still hurt. Still unable to forgive and forget.

The sad thing is, despite the reality that Nintendo have been easily one of the better ones in recent years, with less delays and less faults and better customer service records, the general opinion in the PAL/EU regions is – we still can’t bring ourselves to embrace Nintendo in quite the same way the USA has. And whilst the Wii sold lots here, as did the DSi, the general grumbling grumpiness and general venomous hate that we reserve here for Nintendo always surfaces when Nintendo make good decisions, or bring welcome news.

Nintendo, it seems, cannot win here this side of the Atlantic. And they probably never will – despite that here in the UK, we’ve largely brought about our own delays with our own historical relationship with technology in the 80s and 90s. The roots of the discontent have penetrated far deeper than thought possible – whereas Nintendo is a general byword for videogames in the US, in the UK Nintendo is a dirty word for a nerdy gamer, a wet fish, a geeky geek.

It’s kind of depressing and I’m so embarassed for my country and the many who partake in the kicking that Nintendo gets whenever it has anything to say here. All I can say is, I see how hard Nintendo have worked for years to patch up the damage of the past – the Wii many not have been tailor-made for me, but I won’t hold that against it. We’ve had some cracking games on it, and I can’t fault the financial success the Wii has been – 100million+ sales, £10 profit per sale = at least a billion in hardware profits to this point. Ker-ching. That’s how you do business.

It’s a real pity we can’t forgive Nintendo… besides, the UK doesn’t exactly have a superb track record on electronics either…

Amstrad, anyone?

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