Nintendoesn’t Any More
I was over at Joystiq just now, and I was reading an op ed entitled, Nintendo’s creeping doom: how the company came to misplace $926 million, by freelancer writer, Russ Pitts. Russ, an industry veteran formerly of The Escapist, and The Screen Savers, makes some interesting points about how Nintendo got to where they are today – having misplaced almost $1 billion in just six months. It’s a very good read, and I highly recommend you read it when you have the time. In summation, Russ ultimately gets to the crux of his piece, that the true source of Nintendo’s problems, one that even Nintendo refuses to talk about (at least outwardly to the rest of the world), is their seeming lack of ability (or desire) to create great games in a timely fashion for their fledgling hardware. Not to be confused with good games, or “me too” games, but great games. And he’s right on the money with the assertion, but more on that later.
So I’m reading through the comments section, and as can be expected, there are a lot of them, until I come across a singular comment, that actually made me want to respond. The comment is from user, Kagiroi, and this is what he said:
” . . . Lately, Nintendo consoles have been launching with ports or remakes. New stuff doesn’t come down the pike until *much* later. The newly released 3DS is the worst offender thus far.”
The comment is right on the money, and has been up voted to the point, where it is in highlighted in blue – a good sign at Joystiq. You know what is so amazing, is that I said the exact same thing months ago (you can check my profile, those comments are in their somewhere), and caught a lot of flack for it. But when you are right, you are right. And in the end, the truth usually will bear out . . . given enough time.
In all their fiscal success over the years, Nintendo has simply forgotten the first rule about video games: the games sell the hardware. And somewhere along the way, they have also forgotten the second rule of video games: don’t shit on your own fans. This is all conventional wisdom, sure. Yet somehow Nintendo has completely lost it in said respect. In hindsight, we originally begin to see it as far back as the N64, there is a decided vibe of putting what the company wants, well ahead of what the consumer wants. But you don’t notice it at first. And it does not become readily apparent until they launch the DS, which launched with nothing. A year after the DS comes out, you finally begin to get good games on it. The string of good games lasts for a couple years, and then it’s mostly casual fair afterward. By the time you get to the Wii, Nintendo is flaunting it in the face of gamers everywhere. I think by the time you get to the 3DS, core gamers have really begun to take notice (whether consciously, or subconsciously, I cannot be sure), and begin to pay back Nintendo in kind. The 3Ds comes out, and every game on the system is some form of rehash or other, as if Nintendo cannot be assed to create new games geared towards the core gaming audience, and is happy just to rush out nothing but games that are largely some form of port, or other. Almost everything worth buying on the 3DS, can be purchased on another bit of pre-existing hardware. Seven months out from the launch (eight months after the Japanese launch), and this is the best they can do in that time? Seriously?
Even the new games that are surfacing this holiday, at their core are remakes of classic Nintendo properties – how many versions of Mario Kart since the series started using 3D graphics, does one have to play in a life time before one realizes that all of them are largely the same game?! And as for the truly new stuff from Nintendo, stuff like Kid Icarus getting a series reboot. Well that won’t be out until the 3DS is at least a year old. Who waits a year for truly new games to surface on their system – especially a system they were charging $250 out the gate? If Microsoft, or Sony had done the same thing, they would have caught a lot of hell over it . . . oh wait a minute, Sony practically did that when they launched the PlayStation 3. But even Sony had the likes of Resistance, MotorStorm, Uncharted, and Heavenly Sword, all show up within the first 12 months the system was out. Even Sony at their worst, has developed a software track record better than Nintendo, and Sony still caught shit over it from everybody – I should know, I was one of the ones giving Sony grief over it until they improved the PS3.
And here is the core problem at Nintendo – and I said as much several months ago. Even when making so-called new games, they are mostly just the same game, or same IP we’ve played to no end for the past 25 years. When was the last time Nintendo created a new IP entirely? Pikmin? Miyamoto created Pikmin over ten years ago. You mean in the past decade, Nintendo has not been able to create any new IP of note – much less any new IP that has turned into blockbuster hit that rivals their hits of yesteryear? When was the last time Nintendo created a brand new IP, totally from scratch, that was as popular as Mario, or Zelda, or even Metroid? And no, Wii Sports does not count, as it’s long term success is not sustainable. The casuals are clearly showing their true colors by not floating these new casual IPs the way we, the core gamers, have floated Mario and Zelda for almost 30 years. If the casuals were buying up software like we do, then Nintendo would not be in so much fiscal trouble to begin with. But Wii sales plummeted 43% in 2009, from their peak in 2008, plumeted an additional 31.5% last year, and are expected to continue in free fall this year. And along with the plummet in hardware sells, is an equally impressive plummet of Wii software sells. So taking that into account, Nintendo has not produced a truly sustainable and blockbuster hit IP the size of Mario or Zelda in over 12 years, when they released Smash Bros on the N64. And in a business where software moves hardware (not the other way around), there is Nintendo’s biggest problem in a nutshell. They don’t produce software like they used to. They don’t offer anything new in a changing industry, and all too often when they revisit an older property, it is usually in the form of a blatant remake – how many times are we really expected to buy Ocarina of Time? The upcoming 3DS remake of the game, will be the fourth console that Nintendo has offered the game on since it’s debut on the Nintendo 64. I know Ocarina is tied for the best game of all times, but still. I’d much rather Nintendo put the effort into creating successful, new core IPs, or even a new Zelda game with a truly fresh take on it, that is as good as, or dare I say, better than Ocarina of Time, than to see yet another obligatory remake of OoT.
So to recap, Nintendo’s last new IP of note was made over a decade ago, and their last new blockbuster IP was made over 12 years ago. I know Sony fans, and Microsoft fans, and even PC fans of largely various 3rd party game companies all see the problem inherent with that. But do Nintendo fans seem to understand the problem this poses? And most importantly, does Nintendo even realize that you can only milk a cow for so long, before it finally runs dry?