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Remember when Nintendo was relevant?

Matt Riggleman 5 Comments

Recently,Nintendo has been in the news, first, for their latest foray into the gaming arena, the Wii U .. and 2nd because they posted their first loss. I want to be excited. I grew up with Nintendo. I feel like I knew who  Mario was before I could walk. I’ve been playing video games since I was 3, and I played Nintendo first. Now at 29, (sigh…) I want to get excited about the new P.U…I mean..Wii U…but I can’t…and though I’m quick to say it’s because I’m getting older..I just don’t think that’s what it is.

As a marketer, I look for ways to spin things in a way that presents them in a unique fashion, to the audience I’m trying to impress. Nintendo was the master of this. Beginning in 1985, they offered the first video game system to truly become ubiquitous. There were literally 1000s of titles (Check this out..and they don’t even claim to have the entire list). Every kid that was born in the 80s has at least one original theory on how to get their NES to play. Personally I preferred hitting the cartridge on the floor a few times, then hitting the reset button 3 times. Mario, and Link to an extent became cultural icons. Then came the Gameboy and SNES..further spreading Nintendo’s brand and carving (the first) niche into portable gaming. Nintendo then reached a point where their brand was so strong, people like me bought their latest systems just because they were available. But what did they do that was so special?

Nintendo understood before anyone else the value of gameplay and game mechanics 

Nintendo got this. Immediately. And it worked for a very long time. They knew that if they could reward you…and this is the key part…quickly….and would enjoy the game and continue to play it. More importantly, this worked for EVERYONE…not just hardcore gamers. Think about it. It felt great to jump the flag pole in Mario 1…and you got to do that in EVERY level. Everything action created a reaction and a reward – the sound that was produced when you crushed a goomba…the sound when you grabbed a fire flower…and that just made you strive for more. Actually beating the game was just icing on the cake. Now, compare this to Sonic the Hedgehog..which represented the first challenge to Nintendo’s dominance. You collected rings..freed small animals, and spun a sign at the end of each board. The small rewards just aren’t there. It’s just not the same…and Sega eventually sold to Nintendo.

Each action was its own reward..and like rats..we continued to hit the feeder button.

Eventually the Xbox and Playstation came along to challenge Nintendo’s dominance. The Xbox has traditionally been niche marketed to the more advanced gamer. Their games require a greater amount of control, feature greater graphics, a higher price tag, and a general perception that they’re just a little too involved for the casual gamer. The Playstation was a great system but suffers the same fault…they just weathered it for awhile because they attracted a lot of great games because it was so cheap to produce a CD rather than a cartridge. Both great systems, but they never (and won’t ever) mobilize the world.

Nintendo launched the original Wii in 2006 and they sold a buttload. The unique motion controller gave the casual gamer a new, original way to play games..and living rooms around the world welcomed a Wii console. Moms became energized to get them..they were popping up in old folks homes..and this was unique even for Nintendo. They had truly created a system that EVERYONE could enjoy..and this  was the pinnacle of over 20 years of work.

But then something happened.

Like cheap Chinese knockoffs, companies began to understand that it wasn’t about the graphics..or content…it was only about the reward..and…to a lesser extent…the ability to rub that reward in your friends’ faces. And, as Nintendo understood, this combo works for EVERYONE, not just already established gamers. Just check out this story on the now-famous cow-clicker game on Facebook.

This theivery of Nintendo’s “secret sauce”… coincidentally coincided with the Wi-fi boom and the launch of those little Gameboy killers – Smartphones.

Companies like Apple & Facebook began to make it simple for game designers to crank out quick, low cost games that could be distributed fast & cheaply to a growing market of smartphone (and now tablet) owners & social networks.

To add insult to injury..all of those kids that grew up with the “hit the feeder button” mentality that Nintendo bred into us..were now old enough to buy these devices..and we are because the quick reward mentality is bred into us.

Why the Wii U Will Be the First Nintendo System since Virtual Boy to Flop

Because it’s going to target a niche market with features that don’t matter or already exist and are too advanced for the casual owner. Just take a look at the features –

1080P – It’s totally cool if your TV has it..but the masses don’t care. Facebook & Smartphones have proven this. And, Nintendo agreed, until now (no system has gone over 720P res).

TouchScreen Controller – I already have an Ipad2 and touchscreen is awesome..but how does this spell unique gaming experience?

You Can Write on it – Nice, but why would my Mom buy this?

Different information on the controller than the TV – Again, sounds kinda cool, but it’s a little too much going on for the casual gamer.

It doesn’t appear to be tied to social networks – Maybe it is and I haven’t seen it yet..but EVERYBODY wants to share EVERYTHING now. A lot of the preview videos discuss how this  system will offer a “new unique” experience. Yeah..pretty sure people like to share those these days.

Where does Nintendo go from here?

License their content to smartphones, streaming services etc. en masse – For the masses, it’s no longer about the’s about the message (Thank you Marshall Mccluhen). They want their games wherever they are first and foremost..even if that means sacrificing graphics. Plus, all of we Nintendo fanboys are older now…we’d love to play our favorite games on the devices we already have (can I get a Bubble Bobble app?!)..not just on the newer Nintendo consoles. Quit forcing us to illegally download emulators..charge us a small price for  our favorites..optimized for phones and tablets. Set me up a Netflix-like feed to a low-cost box that lets me access EVERYTHING from EVERY prior console…and I will subscribe. And those in my generation will subscribe too.  Anybody remember Sega Channel? Let’s get on this Nintendo! I pose this question – would you pay $10 a month to stream any Nintendo or super Nintendo game on your Ipad or WiiU? Yup…I think I would.

Socialize EVERYTHING – This is where everything is going. Nintendo needs to provide the tools for game players to A. Play their entire catalog easily from anywhere..and B. Share these experiences with friends. It is no longer about the console is about the games..and nobody has EVER done games better than Nintendo. When’s the last time you’ve seen a game update, other than a Facebook app…on your wall? I would have told the world when I beat Mike Tyson…..[youtube]

Suck the price out so much, that even casual gamers may try – They did a great job doing this with the Wii in comparison to the options available at the time. Unfortunately, now it’s tougher. How do you compete with smartphone apps..or even smartphones for that matter. The simple fact that people NEED a phone..puts it ahead of a game system even without price concerns. And this economic recession isn’t going anywhere…

Nintendo’s been around a long time so there’s no reason to panic just yet. But the storm clouds are gathering – don’t let this be their flagpole moment.

Until next time  –