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.