There probably isn’t a person on Earth who doesn't know who Nintendo are. And if these people exist they've clearly taken the term 'living under a rock' literally. Nintendo are known as the giants of the gaming industry. Established in Kyoto Japan 1889 their original business venture was producing playing cards. It wasn't until about 90 years later (and various other business ventures) that Nintendo moved into the industry that would make them known throughout the world, Video Games.
Just about any video gamer will have happy childhood memories of playing NES / SNES games with their friends or on their own. During this time Nintendo built a strong foundation of memorable gaming icons which has proven to be extremely valuable and a key component to Nintendo’s success.
Fast forward to today however and for the first time in what seems like forever, Nintendo are claiming huge losses. With a current system that has lost momentum since its initial release and a general lack of approval from gamers around the world in regards to their new Wii U unveiling, this journalist will take a general look at Nintendo's past / present and possible future to see where Nintendo are, where they're heading and where they seem to be going wrong.
For all us 'westerners' the first iconic Nintendo device would probably be the NES which was released in 1985. For Japan this was the Famicon (Family Computer) and was released in 1983. Many of the games we look forward to today on current Nintendo systems debuted on this system. Mentions of Metroid / Super Mario / Donkey Kong will bring instant nostalgia to gamers around the world.
Needless to say the NES was fantastic and was quite ahead of its time. In terms of technology, the NES was considered to be the superior console on the market surpassing the Master System / Atari 2600 and Atari 7800 to name a few other big name consoles around at the time. With an extremely vast library of games, many of which are even re-playable today, the NES easily solidified itself in history as an iconic gaming system.
During this time Nintendo also updated its game and watch line of handhelds into a single unit with multiple carts called the Game Boy. A console that was popular enough to spawn its own TV Series (no we're not kidding). The Game Boy line evolved slightly throughout the years with a slimmer version (Game Boy Pocket) and then Game Boy Color[sic]. Some game close to out doing Nintendo, such as the Neo Geo Pocket, Sega Game Gear (this journalist’s personal favourite) and Atari Lynx. But none seemed to loosen Nintendo's stranglehold on this market.
With technology increasing and other company’s trying to work their way into the market, Nintendo released their next juggernaut, the Super Nintendo (SNES) or Super Famicon for those in Japan. Moving from the 8bit era into the 16bit, Nintendo's ace in the technology hole was its use of Mode 7 which allowed for moving backgrounds. It was around the same time that brought forth the infamous Sega vs Nintendo war, with Sega's Mega Drive console offering near identical specs and its own line of good exclusive titles.
Many would argue who came out on top here, in our eyes both were winners with Nintendo probably taking a split decision victory. Sega tried to go further by increasing their Mega Drive line with the Mega Drive 2 and add-on devices, the 32x and Mega-CD. Both were considered failures due to a lack of games and thus had little interest and a short life.
Nintendo on the other hand just stuck with their base console and thanks to grade A titles like 'Donkey Kong Country' they extended the life of their console.
Other companies tried to jump in the ring with their own consoles but fell apart very early on due to shoddy hardware, poor marketing or in most cases a lack of quality game titles. Victims of this include the CD-i, Jaguar and 3DO to name a few. All of these actually surpassed the SNES in terms of specifications but in the end people didn’t pay for a console without good games to play on. Oddly enough though many of these are highly sort after by collectors and can fetch a high price due to their limited numbers.
What followed next showed that this was no longer a two sided war, with Nintendo and Sega both releasing their new addition to the console market (The Saturn and Nintendo 64). A new player was on the scene, Sony and its PSX (Playstation). And boy did Sony hit it out of the park! Nintendo and Sega were left gob smacked. Whilst Nintendo also had a lot of success with the N64 it didn’t compare to Sony’s success. Some may call it luck but thanks to an extremely high catalogue of games and its appeal to the adult gamers they out sold both Nintendo and Sega by a large margin and left Nintendo with the perception that their console and games were aimed at the ‘kiddie’ market.
If there was a key moment where Nintendo started to fall it was clearly this moment here.
Sony went from strength to strength with their next addition the Playstation 2 (PS2). Offering DVD playback which at the time was new technology and despite its initial high cost (AU$700+) the PS2 did extremely well. Many buyers justifying the purchase of a unit with the line "well we wanted to get a DVD player anyway".
Nintendo fell even lower with their GameCube doing quite poorly in sales. The unit itself was fine with some great titles like Super Smash Bros Melee, Super Mario Sunshine. With what seemed like even less titles to choose from than the N64, Nintendo seemed to be fighting a losing battle.
It was at this point that Sega burnt out, with a terrible marketing of their Dreamcast System. The unit itself got the drop on Sony and Nintendo by about a year, it had wonderful games and was a sturdy unit, but Sega’s inability to market it correctly meant it was doomed from the beginning. Sega then made the most obvious choice decided to purely be a game developing company and produce / distribute their IP to other consoles on the market.
A late comer to the party of this generation of consoles spelt even more doom for Nintendo, Microsoft and the XBOX. Microsoft with their vast billions of dollars in petty cash produced the XBOX and spammed every news crew / channel and celebrity within reach. Despite its huge controllers and the unit itself weighing 9 metric tons the XBOX proved to be a contender in the console wars despite its shaky start.
With Nintendo scratching their heads about what to do next, one thing was abundantly clear. They were the underdogs in the console industry and had a big fight on their hands.
With the release of the XBOX 360 and PS3, Nintendo decided to gamble and try a different take. They released the Wii, a console that would separate them from the PS3 and 360 and put them in a league of their own.
The Nintendo Wii boasted something that either the PS3 or 360 could offer, motion controls and a new immersive gaming experience that you couldn't get from a mere gamepad! Gamers around the world were extremely excited. Imaginations ran wild with fantasies of holding up the Wii Mote like a gun, moving it around like a sword and having that duplicated on screen and the immersion we would feel when we finally got to experience this.
Needless to say, the console initially sold extremely outselling the PS3 and 360 with ease. Everyone wanted a piece of this action the marketing from Nintendo was perfect, I'm sure we all remember the videos of Red Steel and the gentleman darting around his lounge room blocking sword strikes, aiming his gun and taking out a horde of enemies. The potential was there for things like lightsaber battles and FPS aiming that would trump the Keyboard / Mouse combo, indeed this made many gamers excited!
Alas it was not meant to be, it was as they say, too good to be true. The Wii didn't even come close to how it was advertised to be. With a slight lag in motion from hand to screen, the vast majority of games used simplistic motions to replace a button with a simple 'up / down' or 'waggle' movement. Immersion in the game that many fantasised about was left in the dark.
Nintendo’s online setup wasn’t even close to what Microsoft and Sony were offering. Online play, the store overpriced and limited, to compare it to what else was on offer, other companies were simply doing a better job.
As the months progressed it was clear many game developers felt the same way and decided to produce for the PS3 / 360. The consoles weren't as limited and the motion controls seemed like more like a dwindling gimmick. Because of this the 360 and PS3 got progressively stronger over time, all while Nintendo's Wii lost more and more momentum with poor titles like 'All Star Karate’ being released.
The old outdated hardware (which many suggested was merely an over clocked GameCube) couldn't even come close to the visuals and raw power that were being provided by Sony and Microsoft.
Things only got worse for the gaming giant, Apple released a phone. Not just any phone, but what is commonly known to many as smart phones. Suddenly portable gaming everywhere now had competition from an area they never expected. Gaming apps would sell for $1 - $2 and give the user many hours of enjoyment.
Suddenly $60+ for a handheld game seemed like quite an excessive amount of money to pay with questions and correlations being made to games that took years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce would be selling for $80 brand new on day one.
In conjunction with this people seemed to find that the spot in their pocket which was once reserved for a gaming device, is now taken up by their smart phone.
Realising the deep shit Nintendo were in they made a few moves in the right direction. For a start then got other gaming developers to create games based off their IP. This is why we saw new big titles like: Goldeneye: Reloaded, Metroid: Other M and Donkey Kong Country Returns. All of which are very good games. In addition Nintendo release the Wii Motion Plus, which basically turned the Wii mote into the unit it was advertised to be years before.
Sadly this all appeared to be too little and way too late, Goldeneye: Reloaded was re-released and re-done on the XBOX 360, with better visuals and better online play, and developers had already jumped ship and not bothered to work games around the new device.
Long story short, other companies were just doing a better job than Nintendo were. Nintendo still had its popular IP but that's all it has. They have hardware specs that are vastly out of date, a poor gaming list to choose from, a dismal online system and clearly aren't listening to what gamers want from a gaming console. Nintendo seemed to be making the mistakes that so many companies have made previously, what's the point of a gaming system that doesn't have many games to play?
Last year at E3 Nintendo unveiled its Wii U. And what a poor reception this got. Apart from the terrible name many people thought it was just a Wii with a tablet device. Whilst this wasn't the case, Nintendo didn't have a whole lot to show for it, and like the Wii with its motion controls, it yet again seemed like a gimmick that probably won't catch up with gaming developers.
With so much myth and conjecture surrounding this Nintendo seeming to go into recovery mode and tried to release assurances to gamers that the system would have high specs, a totally new console and many other features. There's talk about this in the lead up to this years E3 but it remains to be seen if Nintendo will even be able to compete with the current 360 and PS3. Largely because the world hasn't seen any proof of this, it's simply all talk.
So what could happen? Well the Wii U could fail miserably and probably harder and more louder than the failure of Sega’s Dreamcast. There's a lot riding on this and if it were to turn out as a dud there could be a good chance Nintendo will take the Sega way out and simply be a game developer. As stated before, their IP is still to this day extremely popular and powerful. There's no doubt that they could release these games on better systems and be pushed to their full potential with stable / good online game play and up to date graphics. This wouldn't even be a bad thing. When you think about it, people have fond memories of the games themselves, not the consoles, the consoles are merely the bridge that delivers the experience too you. And if it's a crap bridge, the game might not get there.
Another thought of course is that the Wii U will blow everyone away, with amazing specs, evolved online systems and a massive game library of tiple A titles. Plus Nintendo will have quite a big lead on Sony and Microsoft who aren't even releasing info on their next console this year.
Sadly if Ninty’s trend is anything to go by, the Wii U could spell the end for Nintendo's stakes in the console hardware department. This journalist hopes that if that is indeed the case, then it doesn't mean the end of Nintendo as a whole.
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