During the PS1 generation, Nintendo became mired for a time in the delay of the 64 console. Because of that and the strong ability to fill the great desire for (what was at that time) the next step in gaming, Sony took off like a rocket, and Nintendo lost a large chunk of the gaming audience that it had helped create. Keep in mind that at this point, 14 years ago, today’s hardcore 20 or 30 something gamers were for the most part receiving their consoles and games as gifts rather than buying them on their own. The average kid does not get a $200 system a year and a half or two after his parents bought him a $200-$300 one.
Nintendo 64 still ended up doing well, with around 33 million sold, but the Playstation had sold just over 100 million consoles. Sony had seen a market ripe for harvest, and took the next step before the prime cultivators were able to. Nintendo had lost the vast majority of gaming market share and developer support in the proverbial blink of an eye. Those who remained “loyal” to Nintendo typically were amongst the relative few who could afford both of the consoles, or the hardcore faithful, who lived for the tried and true classics that the Nintendo label provided.
We all know the rest of this story. By the time Nintendo realized that the N64 was losing the battle and released the GameCube, the PS2 had already been released for over a year, with the ever-growing in popularity DVD integration into its design. To compound the trouble, Microsoft’s Xbox would release a month after the GameCube, further shrinking Nintendo’s console market share, and largely changing the dynamic by capitalizing on the desire for more sensational first person shooters. Nintendo’s clout with developers shrank even more than its market share. At this point--with a few bright exceptions--if Nintendo had an exclusive, it was either a game that no one else wanted, or Nintendo had developed it themselves.
Those were the beginnings of the 3rd party developer woes of Nintendo. Because of their inability to spread the wealth with what little was left, they gained a somewhat false reputation for having a base that only enjoyed Mario, Zelda, and Metroid games. Now, enter the Wii.
With another proverbial blink of an eye, Nintendo’s fortunes were reversed. The company not only took advantage of rival Sony making the same (perhaps unavoidable) mistake that they had with the N64, its strategy to expand the base number of those called gamers was a success. And yet the reputation regarding 3rd party games remains. Why?
Yes, the history includes some big reasons, but it is also the little things that complicate this problem. Some would say that it is the user base refusing to buy games that is the problem. However, anyone who would spend $250+ on any product, by default would be interested in ways to further or optimize their experience with that product. But where is the advertising? How do these customers know what is out there if they aren’t constantly perusing the game aisle at Target or Wal-Mart?
We’ve seen Nintendo Wii commercials, and even a few for Super Mario Galaxy, but those commercials have been few. That being said, I have never even once seen a commercial for a 3rd party Wii game. Not once. Despite the fact that Wii games cost as little as 10% as much as it takes to develop a PS3 or Xbox 360 game. For the comic book or video game magazine reader? There are plenty of ads for Xbox 360, and PS3 games, but never for Nintendo games unless the ad is for a multi-console game. Do these developers really expect their products to sell when they don’t make the product known to the target audience? This is Business 101, not too complicated.
While advertising is a problem, so is the combination of 3rd party game quality and Nintendo’s policies of unnecessary strings attached. There was a time when there was no such thing as an Anubis 2/Ninjabread man on a Nintendo console. The Nintendo seal of quality on the cover of the game assured gamers that whether you liked the game or not, it was a first class effort. No longer. Even many average 3rd party Wii games have a problem in that they are ports or dual released titles with the PS2, with little effort put into creating the appropriate difference in quality between the two systems. Add to this the list of annoying, unnecessary little things that hinder the game experience, and even a decent 3rd party game has to be thought about twice before being bought.
What little things, you ask? Let’s start with online policy. Not only is Nintendo’s online service terrible for certain games, it is innately impersonal, which makes it unappealing right off the bat. Not only are your opponents silenced by lack of voice chat, for the most part, they are by default nameless unless you use the tedious and limiting Friend Code process. The result? The majority of online play feels as if one is competing against the game’s AI. In their desire to protect children from the dangers of online connections, Nintendo seems to have forgotten that their system has a Parental Controls system.
Next? Regional alienation. Nothing makes a gamer feel more unimportant to, or disrespected by a company than when a game is released in their region at a later date, or with less/different features compared to elsewhere. For example, Suda 51’s highly anticipated “No More Heroes” debuted in Japan (with very little support), but not yet anywhere else for at least a month after. No More Heroes is an intentionally corny game with a somewhat unique art style that balances that corny-ness with hardcore violence. Yet in Japan, the blood in this game was replaced with shadowy, fly-like creatures that quickly dissipate. The result? Any intended element of Bad Ass also dissipates, leaving only the corny. Even though gamers in that country aren’t as much into excessive violence as compared to America, the Japanese version of No More Heroes is a slap in the face to the Japanese gamer. Combine that with the late release in other regions (after Christmas) for this game and we see that Suda 51 has cut themselves on the double-edged sword of their own creation.
After all of the profits Nintendo has been making, it is time for them to once again start taking risks by spending. But in addition to spending, these 5 things would revitalize the 3rd party market on the ever popular Nintendo Wii.
1. Nintendo should demand the appropriate difference in quality concerning Wii games that also have a PS2 counterpart. People are sick of PS2 ports with unimaginative, forced “waggle.”
2. Nintendo should spend more money on TV ads promoting Wii games in general. Not just specific Nintendo created games. If Mario and Zelda sell well by default, advertising money can easily go into building overall game demand.
3. Nintendo should insist that 3rd party developers put in a comparable investment both quality, and time-wise to what Nintendo does. Super Mario Galaxy and LoZ: Twilight Princess weren’t great games because of the main characters, they were great games because of the time and effort put into their creation.
4. Stop with the unnecessary experience hindering policies, and revamp the online system. That, along with treating all gamers fairly and equally regarding content and release dates.
5. Create a Nintendo Network channel on the Wii, backed by a Nintendo owned cartoon studio, where developers can use the choice of their game engines or the animation studio to create a few cartoons (Cartoons can cost as little as 40-$100,000 apiece) and/or commercials of varying length to play for free on the channel, (which would also have paid advertising from whatever companies they chose). For filler time, Nintendo could play their old, classic cartoons from decades past. In conjunction with their TV Guide-like feature currently limited to Japan, all Wii games programs would be known and accessible to the most target of all audiences; the console owners themselves.