Nintendo has over their history, made some questionable choices regarding the decisions made with their hardware and online services, some worse than others. Many of those criticisms are justified. However, and aspect that the Nintendo fandom should be way more critical of they are is Nintendo’s software.
As a Nintendo fan, I’m more interested in Nintendo as a software provider than a console manufacturer. They can do some neat hardware, but I don’t look at them the same way I look at Sony or Microsoft as hardware makers. Really, Nintendo is a game developer first, platform holder second in my eyes, always have been, always will be. So I couldn’t care less about Nintendo having super powered hardware and dominating the video game industry with an iron fist because times are different now, and Nintendo’s views and philosophies on gaming as a medium exist in a completely different realm from Sony and Microsoft, thus Nintendo has nothing to gain or lose by competing with Sony and Microsoft head on.
I’ll criticize hardware decisions Nintendo makes that I disagree with, but I won’t act like their consoles are suddenly “the worst of the big 3, and how Nintendo needs to dominate Sony and Microsoft” because we should all just accept that Nintendo forfeited that battle a long time ago. I have however, been very critical of Nintendo’s software output throughout much of the Wii U era. I’ll even go as far as to say Nintendo has fallen way behind other developers in terms of creativity, concept, development, and distribution. They haven fallen as hard as say Sega or Square Enix, but it was clear their games were nowhere near as important or influential as they used to be.
Many in the Nintendo fandom will pretend this is fine and act like the Wii U has the best first party lineup since the SNES (which is really quite laughable TBH). But the reality is, Nintendo has been surpassed by indie developers, mobile developers, and even some of the AAA developers in game development since at least 2010. They used to be a major force in mainstream gaming innovation, but with the Wii U, they became just a pretty good tribute band to themselves. I don’t want that. I don’t want safe rehashes with gimmicks Nintendo themselves doesn’t even use in a meaningful way, I want Nintendo to actually use their hardware in new and interesting ways. I want them to make games that turn the medium on it’s head and make the industry stand up and take notice. They did it with Super Mario Bros., they did it with Ocarina of Time, they did it with Metroid Prime, they did it with Wii Sports, but they did nothing of the sort for much of the Wii U’s life, and when the finally did, it was too little, too late. On top of that, it also felt like Nintendo was publishing LESS games on the Wii U than their previous systems. Nintendo systems have always sort of had software droughts, but the Wii U really tested our patience with the lack of games it was getting, and Nintendo wasn’t doing anything about it.
When you step back and take a look at the Wii U’s first party line up, and compare it to other Nintendo platforms, you’ll see just how lackluster the Wii U really is by comparison. Nintendo’s Wii U output wasn’t bad by any means, but as far as bold leaps in game design, or creative new gameplay concepts, or important, influential games go, the Wii U doesn’t even come close to the Wii. After all, Mario couldn’t save the Wii U, Zelda couldn’t save it, Wii rehashes couldn’t save it, co-productions couldn’t save it, not even Smash could save it. It got to the point where Nintendo needed a new hit, something that shows they still have the ingenuity and creativity they used to have.
This is why Splatoon was such a breath of fresh air. It was a title that not only the Wii U needed, but also Nintendo needed. Because it still showed that Nintendo still has the talent to do impressive, groundbreaking work. But even still, the pervasive feeling is also that of “Cool, but shouldn’t this have come out in 2013?”. This is why I’m excited for the Switch, not just because it’s a new Nintendo console with a new Zelda and Mario, but because Nintendo for the first time, in what feels like a long time, is the bold, daring publisher I expect from them. It’s not just that there’s a new Mario and Zelda, but there’s a new Mario and Zelda with honest to god effort put into them, and not just remasters and phoned-in sequels to handheld games.
So I’m certainly looking forward to Nintendo’s Switch output, I expect great thing to come from Nintendo as a game developer. But I also think that fans should be more aware and critical of Nintendo as a software developer and not just hate on Star Fox Zero or Federation Force simply because you don’t want those games. Instead, analyze and dissect exactly why games like those don’t work, and pay more attention to Nintendo’s output as a whole as well.
eSports is a part of Video Games that has in recent years, been starting to surge in mainstream popularity. More and more people are tuning in to League of Legends, DOTA 2, Overwatch, and other such tournaments, and eSports seems to keep getting bigger, with more and more big multiplayer games designed with competitive play in mind.
Nintendo has up until a few years ago, been historically indifferent towards the concept of competitive play, or in the case of Super Smash Bros. been completely against it. This sort of indifference wasn’t a big deal back when eSports were a developing niche. But by 2013, it was starting to become an outdated stance. With the release of Super Smash Bros. For Wii U and Splatoon, Nintendo started to catch on to the potential competitive play has for mainstream, especially with non-gamers. Nintendo, being all about “expanding the gaming population” finally decided they wanted a slice of that pie.
With Nintendo Switch, the company’s two first party flagships, Splatoon 2 and ARMS, are designed to make eSports and competitive gaming more accessible to the casual gamer, Following in the footsteps of the original Splatoon, and Super Smash Bros. For Wii U. On the surface, Splatoon 2 and ARMS look like very simple games, with basic, intuitive controls, and streamlined mechanics. Of course, that’s on the surface. As you dig into these games, you’ll find out there’s a lot more meat to them than what first appears. But it’s that simplicity that makes things important. Nintendo is good at streamlining traditionally daunting mechanics, into easier to digest pieces for newcomers, and it shows with these two.
The simplicity of Splatoon 2 and ARMS are an important part of getting casual gamers interested, especially in the case of ARMS since its more involved motion controls makes the game instantly accessible for a casual gamer. However, the game is also designed so that as they play more, they can get deeper into the game, hone their skills, and tear shit up online. Eventually, they’ll gain an aspiration to be just like potential pro players they see in tournaments.
So why is it important that Splatoon 2 and ARMS remain accessible for casuals? Well just like how Nintendo’s philosophy is to create new gamers to help grow the industry, Having competitive games be accessible and fun for casual gamers and spectators is important if eSports are to continue to grow as a mainstream gaming sub-culture. There are a lot of competitive games that look fun to watch, but require a very steep learning curve to even get somewhat familiar with. But accessibility goes a long way to making a healthy mainstream eSports scene.
I think Nintendo can do some pretty amazing things for eSports, maybe even completely revolutionize it. So let’s see how Splatoon and ARMS will stack up in the future.
In entertainment, and really many industries in general. There is a Yin and a Yang. Two companies with very similar ideas and philosophies, but differ in style and approach. One is fairly safe, very recognizable, and the most popular in their field, while the other takes more risks, is more in-your-face, and is able to offer a bolder alternative for those who want something else. Disney Vs. Nickelodeon, McDonalds Vs. Burger King, Pepsi Vs. Coke, Apple Vs. Google, Facebook Vs. Twitter, DC Vs. Marvel, and in the case of Console Gaming, Sony Vs. Microsoft.
Back in the 16-bit era, Nintendo and Sega were on opposite sides of the same coin. Both Nintendo and Sega actually shared many of the same philosophies and ideals in regards to gaming. They both focused on gameplay first, they both pushed console hardware, they both focused on quirky gimmicks and new ways to play, both believed in simplicity and accessibility to newcomers, and both specialized in brightly colored and at times, cartoony video games, with a marketable mascot staring in platformers. The differences between the two companies, were in their style, tone and approach. Nintendo was focused on longer, home console style games, and specialized in wholesome, safe fun for the entire family. Sega however, was bolder, louder, and more experimental than Nintendo, and pushed the envelope more in terms of content, game concepts, and even controls, specializing in fast-paced, twitch arcade games. While they were very different in terms of how they handled things, they both competed for the same audience, the same goals, and the same ideals.
But in the 32-bit era, a massive change occurred that ended that Yin-Yang duality between Nintendo and Sega. Sony arrived onto the scene with the PlayStation. And with a focus on story-driven, adult oriented games with richer content and more cinematic presentation, the PlayStation changed audiences perceptions and expectations of Video Games as a medium. Sega, on top of the laundry list of other problems with the company, was unable to compete as their ideals and philosophies as a developer, were incomparable with Sony’s. One last ditch effort Dreamcast later, Sega was forced to quit the hardware market, and be restructured as a 3rd party publisher. Meanwhile, after the Dreamcast died, a market newcomer, Microsoft came in with the Xbox, and adopted many of the ideals and philosophies of the PlayStation and Sony, and put their own spin on them. To this day, Sony and Microsoft continue to duke it out for the same developers, the same types of games, same ideals, and same audience.
That brings us to Nintendo, who became the odd one out of the big three. You see, even though Nintendo technically competes with Sony and Microsoft in terms of overall attention from consumers, they don’t compete for the same goals, audience, and ideals. The reason Nintendo stopped competing with Sony and Microsoft directly is because as a hardware and software developer, Nintendo has nothing in common with Sony and Microsoft aside from making video game devices. In terms of philosophy, ideals, goals, types of games, and audience, they exist in a completely different world from the other two. Now, I like that about Nintendo. The fact that they have a very different agenda from the big two adds a bit of flavor, to the otherwise, heavily homogenized console market. But because they’re the only company willing to do so, it makes Nintendo feel lonely as a company. They can’t really compete with anyone because they don’t really have anyone to compete with. They exist in a very different world from Sony and Microsoft, and that world is only populated, by them. This is part of a reason why Nintendo seems so unwilling to improve in certain areas because, they have no direct competitor doing their shtick, but in a different, often improved fashion. Thus, there’s no incentive for the company to fight back, because they really have nobody to fight. In short, there really isn’t a platform holder like Nintendo, and believe it or not, that’s actually a bad thing.
What Nintendo needs, is a “Marvel” to their “DC”. A platform holder/hardware maker with very similar ideals and philosophies as Nintendo, but with with a bolder, and riskier style. Someone who was like what Sega was in the 90s. Someone who also makes under-powered, yet novel hardware, believes gaming should be accessible for everyone, focuses on quirky, gameplay focused-games, has a marketable mascot, is a Japanese company, and fights for a predominantly Japanese audience, as well as western audiences too. But with their own style, approach, and spin on these ideals. This create a scenario where Nintendo is forced to compete and improve, because now there’s a company with so many things in common with them, but doing their shtick in a very different, and potentially better way than their approach, thus prompting Nintendo to adapt, and fight back against this new company threatening to take control over their bubble. Thus, this leads to a more dynamic console market, and in turn, we gamers get to benefit from it, especially Nintendo fans, since there’s now a solid alternative to Nintendo’s approach, and we get more options in the under-powered, quirky, first-party focused, secondary console market. This also benefits Nintendo as a company, since they have more of an incentive to modernize and improve several key aspects of their hardware and software, leading to a better, more refined Nintendo in general.
The trouble is finding a company that can fill that role. It can’t be any existing company since they’re already well established in their own areas. It’d have to be an upstart, someone new who has the potential to challenge Nintendo directly in their field of expertise. Sadly, with the state of console gaming in Japan, such a competitor is unlikely at this point, but maybe they can compete in the 2-in-1 space against the Nintendo Switch. Either way, Nintendo’s unique philosophies and ideals for video games will always be it’s greatest strength, but I feel they could use some company in that lonely bubble of theirs.
Look, we all know Nintendo can be stubborn as hell as a company. This is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it’s good because it shows Nintendo is not you’re run-of-mill faceless corperation that blindly follows market trends based on what numbers and spreadsheets say is popular, without waiting first (VR for example). However, it also means the company can be frustrating to watch due to their archaic approach to basic things like the Internet. As well as not always listening to their fans when all we ask for is good games.
But I wonder root of the problems with their arrogance is because the company as a whole has too many creative people in executive positions. In most major gaming companies, The creative types and the business types are usually separated. The Executives are the ones who do market research, conduct play tests, provide input, and do what they can to make a return on the publishers investment. The Creatives are usually given enough freedom, but often the executives at the publishers have the final say. The suits in the executive position aren’t usually gamers or developers, they’re just using games to make money, and in a day and age where AAA experiences are getting more and more expensive to make, these games need to be as profitable as possible in order to appease their overloads at the publishers. This approach isn’t bad per-se, as it can make sure a game is high quality, while still being profitable (unless the developers have little to no creative freedom). Plus it has birthed games like The Last of Us and the Bioshock series which while still having creative vision, are still made to be profitable.
Nintendo isn’t really like that. With the exception of current CEO Tatsumi Kimishima, nearly everyone in a noteworthy executive position at the company is either a developer, or a gamer. Hell, the company was formally ran by Satoru Iwata, a game developer himself. As an artist, you tend to become very passionate about your work, and when creators like Miyamoto were in executive positions, things can get out of hand. Developers working on Nintendo IP like Mario or Zelda often had to answer to creator Miyamoto, who insisted on unneeded elements and gimmicks not because he thought they would sell better, but because HE wanted those things. HE wanted a Paper Mario game with little story, HE wanted a Star Fox game that used the Gamepad’s second screen. HE wants his creations to be what he wants them to be. I can understand where he’s coming from, I mean the company’s mascot is HIS baby, but I always believe art should be left open to interpretation. And by that accounts, I’m glad Miyamoto has less influence over most of Nintendo’s software as a whole now. The guy is a genius and should be respected, but his ideas don’t always work to the games favor or make good business sense, and when developers want to explore an IP further, it’s best to give them as much creative control as you can give them.
However, the concern of too many creative types at Nintendo extends to nearly all other aspects of the company. Metroid in particular. The way that series is handled is a mess. 2 producers with completely separate views on the IP are in charge of two different series in the IP. And once again, neither are what the fans ask for. Metroid: Other M, was largely a vision of Yoshio Sakamoto. He wanted to flesh out Samus’ Backstory and make her feel like more of a character than an avatar. However, his vision to make Samus a more fleshed out character ultimately backfired as giving her too much personality ruined what many consider to be a great aspect of Samus. Instead of a Bad ass bounty hunter who fights aliens and has an ambiguous past, we were instead given a whinny, mopey timid girl scared of her past and fawns over her commander and chief. What Sakamoto wanted for Samus, wasn’t necessarily what the fans wanted for Samus. I applaud the risks took with Other M, but they just weren’t put into aspect that fans of Metroid wanted or expected. On the other side of the coin, there’s Kensuke Tanabe, head of the Prime series. After 6 years of hiatus after Other M, Nintendo decided to bring the series back, but in what form? A chibi style co-op shooter staring the Galactic Federation. Tanabe wanted to make first person shooters more accessible to the Japanese gamer, a market where the genre hasn’t really taken off. And also wanted to make a game based around the Galactic Federation, to expand the Metroid universe. Federation Force was a game that he spearheaded not because statistics told him to, but because he wanted to. This. Failed. Miserably…. Federation Force is actually a decent game as those who played it can attest to, but it was a product of bad timing. It was not only the first Metroid game in 6 years, but it was also coming right off the heals of a very divisive entry in the series. Just because it was a game Tanabe wanted to make, doesn’t mean it was what gamers wanted to play.
This can also apply to New IPs that Nintendo publishes. The Wonderful 101 for example, had they given it better marketing and a good release date, might have done better. But it’s clear it was never going to be a major success. It’s a very niche game, with a steep learning curve and fairly complex battle system. Nintendo didn’t really provide enough input into the game to make it a major success. They simply let Platinum Games do their own thing without interference. It feels like they didn’t even focus test the game to see if it would be a success. Because the executives at Nintendo again, are also game developers and gamers, not businessmen. Splatoon is another example. While it’s perhaps Nintendo’s most successful IP in recent years, it only ended up that way because it was a sleeper hit. When the game was first announced, it was criticized for lacking in content, looking to simple, and too in-line with Nintendo’s family-friendly image. In a time of rehased Wii concepts and phoned in Mario games, fans were desperately begging Nintendo to make a brand new IP in a genre that most gamers want. But they did so in the most Nintendo way possible. Another more recent example, is ARMS. Fans were annoyed that this is once again, another gimmicky motion controlled game, instead of a hardcore gamer IP that could really excite the masses. While hands-on impressions are fairly positive, gamers are still playing a wait-and-see approach to the game. Whether it becomes the next Splatoon or not is anyone’s guess.
This is also the case with hardware. Ever wonder why Nintendo systems are so unconventional and “gimmicky” (hate that term)? It’s because they’re not made based on the input of gamers, they’re made based on the input of Nintendo’s own creative staff. software developers within the company are spearheading the company’s hardware. Yoshisaki Koizumi is a recent example, as he’s currently lead producer for Nintendo Switch. You wanna know what else he did? He was the lead director of things like Super Mario Galaxy, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and helped make games like Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, which uses a set of plastic bongos! And the talk about the Switch inheriting nearly 30 years of Nintendo “gimmicks” and the fact that the Joy-Cons have things like IR capture cameras and HD Rumble, are all due to the fact that software engineers at Nintendo, also act as hardware engineers. They make systems based on what they want to create, not what the mainstream gamer wants or major developers want to make.
It’s also a reason why their systems lack third party support. Their platforms are so different, you can’t just change some code and port games over like on the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, you either need to do something original, or scale back your game so dramatically, that it’s not worth the extra work. This leaves indie games and/or smaller Japanese titles as the only form of reliable support Nintendo can get. Because their method and design philosophies are so radically different from Sony and Microsoft, who build their platforms by going to all the biggest developers, conducting tons of market research, and doing countless focus groups and play tests to make sure they’re giving the mainstream gamers what they want. Nintendo doesn’t do any of that. They don’t do proper market research, they almost never conduct focus groups, and generally do whatever they want to do, and pray to god that other people like it. This ultimately means that they occupy a weird spot in the gaming industry, now more than any point in the company’s history. Mobile gaming has soaked up much of their former casual gamer fans, core gamers are now fed up with the company not adapting to their changing tastes, and Kids are increasingly being raised on Minecraft, Angry Birds, and the deluge of Free-to-Play games on iOS and Android. This leave Nintendo in this weird spot where they can only rely on diehard fans and the small Japanese gaming market to sustain themselves. Nintendo knows they don’t want to be in this position, which is why they entered the mobile market in the first place. And you have to give them credit, they really do try to better themselves, they WANT to get better, not just for shareholders sake, but for their sake. But more often than not, their own passion for their work and pride of their legacy ironically gets in the way of the company’s growth.
This passion for their work is also another thing that extends to many aspects of Nintendo. Their games rarely get frequent price drops because their too proud and passionate of what they released. They often take down unofficial fan games because their afraid of someone tampering with their art. And they forgoed traditional F2P tactics with Super Mario Run because they want it to be a safe one time purchase for kids. With Nintendo, it’s not necessarily about what gamers want, what their fans want, or what their shareholders and bottom-line want. It’s about what THEY want. It’s about what they want to explore, what they want to create, what they want to curate, and what they want to do and contribute to the industry. And when it doesn’t work out, they’ll act like the consumers didn’t really understand the product, when really sometimes the product just wasn’t really appealing, case in point, The Wii U.
And that’s where we are with Nintendo, they’re the video game equivalent of a frustrated film maker, always wanting their art to go their way. Regardless of what their fans clamor for, what’s actually popular in the industry, and what gamers expect and deserve from their systems, they stick to their philosophies and creative visions through thick and thin. Why do you think they’re still the only major publisher in the market that still heavily focuses on local multiplayer, when nearly everyone else in the industry has moved towards primarily online? It’s because it’s a creative philosophy that’s deeply rooted within the company’s culture, and thus, affects their business decisions greatly.
As I’ve alluded to a few times, I feel it’s because the company is run by too many artists who want to keep making what they want to make, while ignoring the reality and condition of the market, and because of their corporate culture as a Kyoto-based firm, this also creates a massive power struggle within the company’s inner-workings. Yeah, starting to sound like Sega all over again isn’t it?
As a Nintendo fan, I personally greatly appreciate their passion for gaming and and confidence in delivering a product exactly how they intend it to, even if it is frustrating to watch a lot of times. But as a business, it makes me wonder if the company would be in a better position now if they have more business experts running the company to balance the creatives. Ones who are more in tune with what gamers, particularly in the west care for, expect, and demand from their games and systems. These are the people who can keep the creatives in check, and make sure the product is above all not just “fun” but profitable and healthy for the company. Sony learned this the hard way with the PlayStation 3, after Ken Kutaragi made the system he wanted to make, which costed Sony billions of dollars in losses, losses of which they’re still trying to recover from, the company made a wise move to not only bring the PS3 more in-line with what gamers want, but also put a western executive in charge of it’s successor, the PlayStation 4. Designed specifically for gamers and developers from the ground up, the PS4 is currently leading the console market, and it’s success is barely keeping Sony afloat. The PS4’s western gamer first design was so successful, that Sony Computer Entertainment eventually saw where the wind was shifting, and relocated from their Headquarters in Tokyo, to it’s new campus in California under the new name, Sony Interactive Entertainment.
While I like Nintendo’s quirkiness and unique approach to game design. I’m a Nintendo fan, and to most non-Nintendo gamers, Nintendo’s style of game design is just seen as outdated. Whether you think that’s right or wrong isn’t the point. Gamers are getting older, their tastes are shifting, and they expect to proven familiar concepts on their systems that they know will get a lot of support. Not IR capture cameras that people are already hesitant on.
I still stand by the fact that the Switch could still be a success if Nintendo is on to something here, but the way they’ve been operating for the past 10 years, may not keep the company relevant for much longer, and I think the problem, is that Nintendo is just too creative for their own good.
With some controversial aspects of the Switch from it’s price, online, launch lineup, and relative lack of 3rd party support, some are already proclaiming the Switch is a failure and Nintendo will Dreamcast itself into 3rd party status. While there are perfectly valid reasons to be concerned about the Switch, I wouldn’t call doom and gloom just yet. Yes, there are worrying aspects to it, but then again, it calls to mind to other Nintendo platforms that were supposedly going to fail because they were under-powered, had terrible launch lineups, and were overpriced for what they were. The DS and 3DS.
The Nintendo DS in particular was ridiculed for it’s ugly design, “gimmicky” features, under-powered hardware and perceived lack of 3rd party support during it’s initial launch window. Many thought the system would be crushed by the far more attractive PSP. In fact, for a brief time in 2005, the PSP was actually outselling the DS despite it’s higher price tag. One revolutionary game, and one much needed hardware revision later, the DS became only the second most successful platform in gaming, with the PS2 edging it out by only a few million.
The 3DS had a much simmilar story. It was overpriced for what it was, it was under-powered compared to the PlayStation Vita, had a weak launch lineup, and many thought it would be crushed by the Vita as it was the same price, and seemed like a much better product. Well after a huge price cut, and improved stream of quality software starting in 2011, the 3DS, while not the same sales juggernaut as the DS, went on to become a very successful platform.
I’m not saying the Switch will follow the same trajectory per-se, but it feels like history repeating itself. The Switch may struggle out of the gate, due to some valid criticisms, but I don’t see it being a Wii U failure. A big reason why the Wii U failed was because it had some fundamental design problems that made it a pain to market clearly. The Switch doesn’t seem to have anything wrong with it design wise. It’s already much more straightforward than the Wii U ever was. So while it may start off slow, there’s still a chance for it to succeed in the market. The Wii U TBH, would’ve still failed no matter what Nintendo would tried to do to salvage it, as it’s problems go much further than just bad marketing. The Wii U’s overall design was just bad. From the gamepad, to the slow OS, to the overall look and execution of the core concept. It had failure on it from day one.
The Switch, so far has no fundamental design problems that could hamper it. Really it’s only biggest problem are it’s price, weak launch lineup, and confusing online strategy (seriously, they better explain how this nonsense is going to work come launch). The Switch I feel is the beginning of a new Nintendo, but it’s not going to happen overnight. It will take a while for it to find it’s footing. That’s why I get annoyed at people calling this Wii U 2.0 because they’re not weighing out the pros and cons of the Switch, and are instead only focusing on the negative aspects.
But, who knows, maybe the Switch will fail spectacularly and Nintendo can do nothing about it. All I’m saying is, don’t write it off just because of a handful of controversies. The Switch has an uphill battle to face, but I doubt it’ll be another Wii U.