I was reading through an article on IGN tonight about Nintendo’s situation right now with the Wii U and I was a little scared. You see, I grew up with three companies when I was a younger gamer: Atari, Nintendo, and Sega. I mean, there were other companies I played games with but those were the three most prominent companies – they all made consoles when I really got into gaming. When I catch a headline as obviously scary as “exactly how bad is the Nintendo situation” I get justifiably worked up. Nintendo was a big part of how and why I got into gaming and I’ve been a steadfast follower and supporter of their causes, even if I didn’t always understand or follow their strategies.
Let’s talk about Nintendo’s past, though, before we get into what I think of Nintendo’s future: Nintendo had a great start in the console market, making two consoles that sold the best of their generations and arguably the pioneer in portable console gaming. After such breakout success, you would think their domination of the console gaming world would only continue, right? Not exactly. Between the rocky relationship that Sony and Nintendo had as the result of the great SNES-CD add-on that never came to be and the extended development of the Nintendo 64, after the SNES had seen the end of its time come and go, Nintendo lost a lot of steam. While they continued to dominate the handheld market during this time with technological advances that kept them ahead of the curve they found troubles of all sorts: in their frustration with Sony, they turned to Philips to create a CD-based medium for future titles; the resulting bitterness caused them to stick to the cartridge medium and that decision had them constantly revising the medium just to keep up with the trends; trends that were being set by Sony who basically proposed an idea and ended up having to take their idea out on their own to create their own branding, the PlayStation.
Things just didn’t look good for Nintendo but their dedication to their brand and their first-party game franchises really set them apart and that, alone, seemed to manage to hold their hardcore audience intact. Creating new franchises, such as Pokémon, didn’t hurt either. It seemed that Nintendo was barely able to hold on in a market that was continually growing and growing away from them – they needed to change things up and their answer to that was the one thing that might be their greatest weakness: creating gimmickry. With the Nintendo 64, their gimmick was a controller unlike anyone has seen – a beauty of a beast which left expansions for all kinds of potential peripherals that eventually limited itself to either system memory or force feedback but almost never both – I never saw them both in the same peripheral. Their next big system held to that same gimmick but changed up the general look of its console by making it look like – given, this is strictly my opinion – a lunch box. Their first-party dedication earned them a lot of credit but in the console race their domination only continued in the portable market and they were barely able to hold on in the regular console market. This only continued with the release of the Wii and their need to introduce motion control in their games and it got worse when Sony got into the portable gaming market and Nintendo had to start gimmicks in its portable systems, too, with the dual screens and touch screen play.
While the Nintendo DS and 3DS are still selling relatively well but the tablet and mobile gaming markets are taking its chunk out of that pie and that chunk grows from time to time. The Nintendo Wii U is not doing as well, in a sustainable fashion, as some may have predicted. This is, in part, responsible to a weak showing for the system from its first-party stand-by franchises, at launch, and a modest outing that seemed to seek only to prove that its growing towards a more mature audience, as well. I’m beginning to see shades of Sega in this trend and this is what worried me initially about this whole thing but there was still something bugging me about this whole thing that just didn’t sit right.
Nintendo won the 16-bit and 8-bit console wars.
The money they garnered from that whole fiasco set them off pretty well and it continues to pay dividends to this day. You have to realize that just on franchise rights alone to franchises such as Mario, Pokémon, Legend of Zelda, and the like, they are making millions every week worldwide. They might not be doing that great right now in the console market but the 3DS is still doing pretty great and they are literally made of money. I would not be surprised if they literally pulped thousand-dollar bills by the millions just so they could make toilet paper to wipe their ass with, company wide. According to the article I sourced above Nintendo is worth over five billion worldwide and almost just as much in “investment securities.” This is the difference between Sega and Nintendo at these relative points in their existence: Nintendo succeeded in the past in ways Sega did not and before Sega took a nose-dive they decided that the only way to secure their investment in the gaming market was to continue to make great – or sometimes not-so-great – games for its old competitors. You have to also consider that, unlike any of its competitors, Nintendo has never run at a loss for any singular financial year, aside from 2012, in its entire history.
Even if the Wii U tanks, even if the 3DS takes a sudden nose-dive, even if their stand-by franchises suddenly fall off the face of the Earth, Nintendo would survive to see the next generation and then some. They would be capable of doing something totally new and bounce back with relative ease. It’s a shame that a lot of their tactics reek of desperate measures but they are not a company in desperate need. Not by a long shot. While it’s too early to consider any iron that Nintendo has in the fire a failure it’s a definite that Nintendo certainly has a future in the console market and likely will always have a part in the console market. That makes me happy. Still, they’re walking a dangerous line for what seems to be no reason other than to just do things their way.