“The Nintendo Revolution.” This was the code name Nintendo used for its current home console “Wii” back in 2006. Nintendo has always been tight lipped about their internal projects and next move in the market. Thoughts of Nintendo releasing a power house system to compete with the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 were conjuring up dreams in Nintendo fan’s heads. I remember thinking to my self “they figured it out this time, THIS time they will go for gold.” Then the Wii was released, and the remains of hope for my childhood gaming juggernaut slowly faded. Sure, Nintendo’s quirky innovations have played dividends to them in the past; the Nintendo DS is direct representation of that. But Nintendo’s inability to change and push top tier technology has taken its effect even on their mobile market. Just looking at the sales of the Nintendo 3DS it’s easy to see that people are quickly giving up on the “Big N”. And their recent $923 million dollar loss for the first half of this fiscal year is an even better representation of that.
Don’t get me wrong, Nintendo is my favorite company within this industry. They are bold, innovative, and have first party titles that are rivaled by no one, but the fact remains: they have been behind the curve since 1996. The Nintendo 64 brought us innovation: the analog stick, rumble pack, increasable RAM, and 4 built in player ports were all game changers in its day. But all of these innovations were minimal to its greatest failure on the technology front: cartridges. Nintendo’s reluctance to use a compact disc based media for the N64 no doubt contributed to its short comings on every technical front. Having minimal space (the first N64 cartridges only offered 4MB of space as opposed to a CD’s 640MB) limited developers in what they could offer the gamer. Added expense from the cartridges manufacturing cost caused even more third-party developers to drop support of the system. Couple this together with Nintendo’s strict rules about mature content (at the time), and you have the beginning of the downfall.
Fast forward to late 2000, nearing the end of the Nintendo 64 era. New competition has reared its head. The Sega Dreamcast has already been on the market for a year, boasting online gameplay and a boost in graphics. Sony also released its Playstation 2, offering DVD playback and unmatched graphic/sound quality. To top off the competition from its old rivals, Nintendo had to face a new challenger in the Microsoft Xbox, a system that promised to topple Sega’s internet connectivity, blow away Sony’s graphic abilities, and introduce its own innovations as well. Critics, industry insiders and fans alike knew Nintendo needed to deliver.
The title given to the “Big N’s” new console was the “Gamecube”, and with it gaining steam upon its release with industry chatter, everyone waited to see how Nintendo would redeem its self for the N64’s short comings. Long story short: old habits die hard, and Nintendo followed the same destructive path. Although the system boasted competitive hardware performance, Nintendo limited it by using proprietary “miniDVD’s” that lacked both the space and multimedia abilities of a standard DVD. As if Nintendo did not learn from alienating its aging fan base with its previous system, the company decided to release the “lunchbox” in “Indigo Purple” nailing a steak in the hearts of its diminishing fan base. Adding all these short comings together, Nintendo quickly fell to third in market share behind both Sony and Microsoft (While surviving Sega’s demise) due to both a lack of sales, and third party support.
Fast forward to today’s market. Nintendo has just posted a record loss both in profit, and physical sale numbers. I can’t help think that the industry and fans alike saw this coming. Sure the Wii was popular the first year of its release, so popular in fact that is broke every record the home console market had to offer in terms of sales. The motion controls it offered combined with Nintendo’s “Blue Ocean” marketing strategy targeting “non-gamers” worked in the short run. But 5 years later, look where that got them. Their refusal to offer a gaming console with competitive hardware (the Wii is basically an updated Gamecube), has forced the developers of blockbuster games to stray away from it as a valid source of making money, once again abandoning the few true gamers Nintendo had left as fans. Offering unmatched first party titles is not enough to keep the interest of gamers that have countless grade A titles coming out for both the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.
So where does this leave Nintendo? How does a company that thought “High Definition gaming is not the future” no less than 5 years ago reinvent itself for the next generation of gaming? Surly their near $1 Billion in fiscal losses will light a fire somewhere in the corparte office. They announced the WiiU a couple months back, promoting “ground breaking high-definition graphics and sound”, a revised internet gaming experience, and signed enough third party developers on board to make any gamer smile. To top it off, they are trying to reinvent how games control with a tablet based controller. This type of thinking has helped Nintendo survive this long, and maybe it’s enough to help them rise from the ashes of their former self. I can only hope that maybe, just maybe, Nintendo has learned from its past mistakes and will take the necessary actions it needs to regain the faith of gamers and developers alike. For Nintendo’s sake, let’s hope enough gamers still care enough to notice.