Nintendo – To Do Right Might Be To Do Wrong

Change! Do we need it?

Nintendo has attracted a lot of criticism since its lackluster E3 conference. We’re all aghast and disappointed, but to be perfectly honest, it was the perfect conference for Nintendo to demonstrate where its priorities lay – and where they will lie in the future may not be a place we can all agree on, either…

 

Nintendo had a boring E3 conference. There. Let’s not beat about the bush here.

The E3 Conference was heavy on words, short on Nintendo games – with focus dedicated to some third party software, a raft of ports set for its release window and the introduction of Nintendo Land, something one person has recently convinced me was not a total waste of time and money. There was little for gamers to get excited about – we had to wait for multiple websites and press packs to give their impressions to the selection of Wii-U games on offer to even begin to kick off the traditional Nintendo Hype Wheel.

“This isn’t Nintendo!” I hear people scream. And they’re right, it’s not the Nintendo of old. If you want the Nintendo of old, you’re out of luck. Because Nintendo have realised that to remain a part of the industry, and an important part at that, they need to not just change the controller and the output of their games – they, themselves, need to change at a fundamental level.

The story has been told by the market for nearly two decades, but let’s run through it; Nintendo make games. They are heralded as some of the best games ever made to boot, which in turn puts more emphasis on Nintendo making software – which, in turn, sadly starts to alienate the third party developers and publishers. Nintendo machines are seen as being for Nintendo games – a specific kind of game with a specific quality, and anything that fails to match those high expectations is often roundly criticised, panned and left to rot. People can’t take risks on a Nintendo console because there is no space to take risks on a Nintendo console – their games have to match up to Zelda, Mario, Metroid Prime and Eternal Darkness. When you are being compared to these games, it’s far too easy to look bad – and far too hard to forgive them their faults in the process.

Nintendo have also been notorious for delaying games releases that conflict with their own schedule. This isn’t to say Nintendo are difficult, but when their business revolves around their own content, third parties just tend to need to take a back seat. The resulting conclusion is as inevitable as it is depressing; Nintendo doesn’t really “Do” third-party stuff.

And it is in this that the E3 conference begins to make a little bit of sense.

The focus was on third parties – Nintendo left themselves and their big hitters out of it, quite rightly, so that those making release games could have their little moment of glory on stage. Nintendo were big on the future and light on the past mostly because they know that if they continue to dominate their own console, that the costs involved – especially going into the Wii-U – may never be recovered.

Nintendo Land was also, as I have been made aware, a genius move even if it wasn’t immediately obvious (and it really isn’t). Nintendo Land will be a mini-games collection, yes, but it will feature a large majority of Nintendo’s core franchises. It is true this may not be immediately as appealing to core gamers, or as interesting as Wii Sports. But what it will provide is a basic, entry-level history lesson into what Nintendo does and what they have under their belt, so those who may not be big gamers or more casual can begin to scratch away at what up to now must have seemed an impenetrable wall of content. Starting them out lightly, and drawing them in, Nintendo Land isn’t an example of control methods – it’s an example of getting people interested in what Nintendo do, so when the games do come out (and they inevitably will), people won’t see them as alien or too hardcore, they will already have a basic knowledge of the game, its genre and its content. It’s genuinely cheeky, and sadistically brilliant.

In this, Nintendo have obviously left the first year or so in the hands of the third parties to play with. Nintendo can afford the time and patience to work on its new content, brilliant it will be of course, whilst at the same time affording EA, Capcom, UbiSoft, THQ, Sega, Activision and others a good 12-18 months of creative and market freedom (within reason, of course) where they know they can explore, innovate and renovate the landscape because Nintendo wants them to. Nintendo NEEDS them to. It can’t afford to piss them off too quickly, or become the sole reason for buying the Wii-U. Nintendo needs initially, much to our horror and disgust, to take a back seat and be light on releases, and heavy on allowing its third parties to get their games out.

If this seems like a horrific approach to you, then you are an old-school Nintendo gamer like so many of us. And it’s true, we aren’t meant to like this. But this isn’t about us anymore – Nintendo knows we’d wait forever for a new Zelda, or Mario. But it doesn’t want you to. This is not healthy for Nintendo. This does not help Nintendo as a key player in the industry. It wants you to buy based on games – be that from EA, Capcom, UbiSoft, Activision or whoever. It wants you to want a Wii-U for games in general, not just traditional Nintendo games.

In the process of this, Nintendo may seem like they’re playing far too cautious or coy. They may be. No doubt they probably do have some bombshells they’d love to have dropped – games in the pipeline they are desperate for you and I to know about. But this isn’t the time for that. They need to open the playground and let everyone play in it, rather than have it chained up with a depressed looking Shigeru Miyamoto alone on the swings.

In effect, the scariest part of the E3 conference was Nintendo shifting its focus from being a games maker, to being a hardware manufacturer. And it needs to be seen as a good, open hardware platform as well as a maker of great games, or it will never command the same level of market respect and interest that are often afforded to games on the Playstation 3, or X-Box 360.

Nintendo is changing, deep down, because it has to. For all the commercial success the Wii has afforded them, they have not enjoyed the same level of industry respect and interest that should have perhaps been afforded for those 100 million sold units. It’s still a joke. It’s still mocked. Still treated with irreverence, despite all the amazing good it has done, all the innovation and all the amazing games. The general consensus has never really seen Nintendo machines as for anything other than Nintendo games.

In order to change that, Nintendo has to hold off on its games. And that is a great idea, but it carries with it inherent risks; if the general attitude pervades, it may end up finding out that without a proper Nintendo big-hitter, the Wii-U doesn’t really sell very much at all…

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