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Game Over: 6 Horrible Choices Dragging Down Nintendo

Mario's papa has run out of warp whistles. Time to gracefully exit the hardware business and focus on games?

Walter Hudson


April 11, 2013 - 7:00 am
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6. Gamers Grew Up, Nintendo Did Not

Don’t get me wrong. I love a good Super Mario yarn as much as the next nostalgia-prone thirty-something. However, like so much else in life, there comes a point where one’s palate demands more sophistication.

The last console generation saw the beginning of a divide in the video game market between family and mature play. In that period, the Nintendo Gamecube fought the Sony PlayStation 2 and upstart Microsoft Xbox for a piece of the same home entertainment pie. Nintendo made the decision to focus on family-friendly titles like their flagship Mario and Zelda franchises, and shied away from adult content.

Microsoft went the other direction. With a vision to import the PC gaming experience to the living room, the creators of the Xbox welcomed development of first-person shooters and eventually led the market in online multiplayer with their revolutionary Xbox Live service. Sony played it down the middle, serving as a platform for everything from gruesome survival horror franchises like Resident Evil and Silent Hill to kid-friendly fare like Crash Bandicoot.

As that generation of consoles approached the end of its lifecycle, cross-platform titles which released on two or more competing platforms became all the more frequent. By insisting upon marketing their console almost exclusively to families and children, Nintendo positioned itself to land outside the cross-platform AAA market. Fortunately for Nintendo, their first-party development remained consistently outstanding. However, older gamers who craved something a little more gritty than Mario Kart were forced to decide whether that itch was worth the scratch. Unless you could afford multiple consoles, it was Mario or Halo. It couldn’t be both.

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All Comments   (8)
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No doubt Nintendo's made plenty of frustrating calls. Their choice to underpower the Wii seems to have paid off financially, but sacrificed a lot of third-party support and its appeal as a streaming device. It also hurt them not to have a defining system-seller ready at launch, like Gamecube's Rogue Leader or Wii's Twilight Princess. But I don't think they're in nearly that dire a situation.

Aside from whatever internal issues were going on at Sega during the Dreamcast's last days, there's a huge difference between them and Nintendo: they had lost their edge as a software developer in addition to hardware. The Sonic Adventure games provided some great thrills, but they were amidst atrocious camera controls, laughably synced cutscene animation, and half-baked gameplay mechanics for most of the characters other than Sonic. The Sonic franchise has been stumbling for a direction ever since, mostly ranging between awful and mediocre until their most recent attempts. Sega's games were no longer in demand enough to justify hardware specifically to play them on.

Nintendo doesn't have that problem, and shows no signs that it will anytime soon. Its lineup of first-party franchises are the envy of the entire industry in both quantity and quality, which means even if Mario, Mario Kart, Zelda, Smash Bros, and Metroid are the only things they'll ever be able to play on their console (plus the hope that maybe Nintendo will remember Starfox exists), enough people will consider that enough to keep them in the hardware game. Sure, it'd be nice to play more games on more platforms - when I think about it, Halo and Fable are the only Xbox titles that matter to me that I can't get elsewhere, and it seems silly to spend money on a whole machine just for 2 franchises. But if that's enough for Microsoft, then Nintendo's lineup is more than enough to sustain them for just as long.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
Some of my favorite games, including on the PC, were ones with detailed storylines and good character development. These also had low to moderate graphics by today's standard. Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights, the older Civ series games, etc. A lot of the games now put their emphasis on graphics and such and not so much on story and character.

As for the social aspect: that's not why I play games. I play games to relax and get away from people for a while. I tried playing social games when they first started in the 1990's and a few times since. Didn't care for it. I'm sure that makes me in the minority of gamers (supposedly). That said, if I want to play with others, I'll have them over for a game.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
My kids love our Wii - they play it all the time. We have an xBox too and the two platforms are very different and unique.

I think it was smart for Nintendo to carve out a niche market all to themselves. Why battle with the sharks of Microsoft and Sony when you can have a quiet pond full of indulgent parents to yourself?

They did make a huge mistake as you discussed in #4 and #5. They had a giant market completely cornered (understand: they're market is not youngish children - it's the parents of those children). I would have happily paid 30% more for my Wii since it's SPECTACULAR at keepsing the tots happy. Add in HiDef (the lack of which is simply bizarro) and I'd pay more. Nintendo left a lot of money "on the table"
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I believe the idea behind the handheld screen is that Miyamoto believes that asymmetrical gaming is the future (i.e., One player is on the touchscreen while 2 or 3 players are on the TV, they interact, but really are playing different games).

Nintendo has two related problems. One is that Miyamoto has too much control. He can make innovative stuff, but he'll also fail. The asymmetrical gaming was his idea, I believe. He also has stated that story telling is far down the priority list, again slighting adult gamers. He thinks online gaming is actually anti-social, and that real social gaming is four buddies in front of a television (he has a point, but that doesn't sell as many games, and frankly gamers aren't really looking for that).

Nintendo also makes games for the Japanese culture. A culture more likely to come together to play games off-line. A culture where gaming is expected to be more child-friendly. I think the refusal to lead (or really even keep up) in hardware is because Nintendo makes games that don't need the hardware (i.e., when you're playing as a cartoon plumber driving a go-kart, you don't need exceptional graphics). But this turns off the larger American market full of mature gamers.

But honestly, I just want them to get out of the console market so I can download nostalgia onto my Xbox.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I always loved dealing with Nintendo as a company, and Mario Kart on the Game Cube is still a hit in my house. Sure, not everything they've done lately has been a huge hit, but what company doesn't have duds? I wouldn't count Nintendo out just yet.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I agree with much of what you said but, Nintendo not making consoles? That's blasphemy my friend. Not having Nintendo in the console biz would be a very bad thing IMO. For all their flaws(and you named them) Nintendo has ALWAYS been an innovator when it comes to making games and I don't see that changing anytime soon. Nintendo needs a change in leadership and their thought process; this isn't the 80's/90's anymore, they don't have a strangle hold on the market. If they get their act together they could certainly move their way back up the charts, with Microsoft pissing off potential consumers with all the rumors swirling around the NextBox, Nintendo could certainly find themselves in a more favorable position.

And the console sales with get a gigantic boost once they release a Mario/Zelda/AAA title. Look at their catalog right now, I don't see a whole lot of brand new games but I certainly expect that to change in the coming months.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I don't follow how Nintendo's continuing to make consoles fits into your argument. I agree they make great games. So why not sell them on great platforms that people actually want to buy?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Oh and learning from Atari and Sega? They don't make systems anymore so it's not a comparable situation for Nintendo to learn off of.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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