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.