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Why is Nintendo doing things that seem counter-intuitive? And do they actually see potential in the Wii U for the years to come? Read this blog post for my opinion.

Darius Drake, Blogger

February 16, 2014

9 Min Read

[I'd like to hear from you: what do you think of Nintendo's marketing strategy and how things will turn out? Got an answer? Comment it!]

Nintendo released the Wii U two Novembers ago, though it hasn't brought the success that either the company or fans really wanted. I'm a Nintendo fan. I was looking forward to the new system being a big hit--but moreso, I was looking forward to what it had to offer.

This isn't another article about how the Wii U has fallen short. I'm not going to really touch on what Nintendo should do to "regain the market," either. As a fan and player, I'm going to take an expository but subjective look at what Nintendo is doing in the game industry, and more importantly...why.

Is Nintendo really just slow in catching up with current trends? Is the company just being stubborn about giving in to the streamline market? Hm...no, probably not. I have other thoughts.


Their Own Style

A Mario game is a Mario game. You get flashy, shiny aesthetics, jumpy music, and expressive personality; it doesn't matter if you're playing Mario Kart, Mario Party, or any of the other many, many, many spinoff titles of the series. Nintendo has done quite a job at putting a definite signature on Mario titles to set them apart from other games. And if you're a fan of Nintendo, you don't just see that with Mario. 

The gaming giant produces a unique breed of games in general. The quality of Nintendo games stands out. Not just any developing studio can get the Nintendo logo stamped on their game's cover art. I don't know the kind of screening Nintendo requires to grant a game the green light, but there must be high standards.

I won't say that every game published by the company has been a jewel or a AAA title (of course not). But almost every game I've owned from Nintendo has had something special about it. My game library is composed of about 80% Nintendo titles. Nintendo has standards, they have a legacy, and they have a fan base that they are not about to put in jeporady for the sake of a couple more millions gained through mobile Mario apps.


I've read the online news articles. Depending on which ones you've read, a likely first thought may be: "What in the world are they thinking?" It almost seems like Nintendo is making bad decisions on purpose! At least to me.

I remember when I was first learning about the design of Miiverse. It wasn't going to be as personal as I expected. I didn't think I would like the social interactions it offered, because it seemed to be more like a bulliten board than a place to chat with friends. But the company had a reason for this. One of the reasons probably has to do with who Nintendo is marketing towards.

Well who are they marketing towards? Long time fans? Not quite, as least not as much as they're leaning towards kids, families, and casual-type gamers. That marketing technique obviously has a direct affect on the decisions Nintendo has been making.


Who's The Market?

I received Super Mario 3D World for Christmas and was eager to try it out. The game is a cross between the many recent 2D Mario sidescrolling games and Super Mario Galaxy, though it favors the the 2D counterparts more than the 3D ones. It is a pretty enjoyable experience, but it feels really buffed or polished you could say. The level design, even the personality of the game, gives me a hint that Nintendo was hoping to appeal to young players. It feels like it was designed to be a game for "the family."

Okay, Mario is a likely candidate for that kind of treatment, perhaps. He's admired by many, young and old. But this polishing isn't limited to the red-hatted warrior. The much awaited Pikmin 3 gives a similar taste. Nintendo did well in not alienting Pikmin fans, and it is a well made game. However, one can tell that more work was put into smoothing out the edges for non-conventional players than was done for Pikmin 2. Such lubrication is a good thing, but there's a way to not do it the way Nintendo did with Pikmin 3, not that what Nintendo did is bad in and of itself.

This idea of what is happening to Nintendo's games isn't limited to just the games, per se. The way game descriptions are laid out gives me the idea that this is what the company is trying to do: appeal to the broader audience, namely casual gamers. I've seen it in Nintendo Direct broadcasts, on the official website, and in advertising. It appears they're attempting to rally the players who just want to have "fun" and not so much the hard-core devoted gamers. In fact, if I were to name the one type of gamer that Nintendo is trying to add to their fan base, it would ironically be the non-gamer.


Preserving a Legacy

With the advent of games like Wii Fit and Wii Sports, this seems like a likely culprit. Look at the success of the Wii. It sold hundreds--repeat--hundreds of millions of units! Name one middle-class American family who doesn't have a Wii system. No don't actually, I won't believe you (just kidding). But with the success of such game models that invited the whole family to the livingroom, it seems like common sense to keep appealing to that audience. That, I believe, is reason one why Nintendo seems to have a strange business strategy to some.

But far from reaching out to a new audience, is Nintendo holding on to old ideas? It was the last major game company to implement HD graphics into it's home console. The motto has been--whether implicit or explicit--that the game is more important than the glitter; "fun" has been the emphasis. I'd say the company backs this up with several of the games it markets.

For one, I believe Nintendo is trying to hold on to its reputation. Therefore it's not letting go of this fun emphasis that I speak of. Behind that reputation is an unfolding legacy. Nintendo keeps making platformers, games with tried and true game mechanics, and other games that make the company seem like it's trying to revive old ideas because they want to keep the legacy stable. Sure, they're appealing to nostalgia-happy gamers, but there's another problem.


I can't speak for everyone, but I personally am tired of release after release of games with similar feels and playstyles. I'm over the Mario platformer. I'm good if Nintendo doesn't make another one for a few years. I see games like Donkey Kong Country as just another platformer for the most part, so an upcoming sequel for Wii U isn't exciting for me personally. And then we have the remakes of various old titles like Legend of Zelda: Ocarnia of Time 3D, Star Fox 64 3D, etc., along with Gamecube-to-Wii ported titles like New Play Control Chi-bi Robo.

This is not to say those games are not fun. But the Japansese gaming giant seems to be overusing old magnificence to try and keep the company going strong. And as already stated, the company is using the Mario platform all over the place in reccurring iterations.


And as for us Fans?

So with appeal to old-time players, non-gamers, and children, what about those other Nintendo fans...like me?

There are a few things that haven't seemed to change. Kirby games are coming in at a steady pace. Really, I'm not sure I've seen a change in the development of other Nintendo series' either, but I don't follow many Nintendo series. I'm a fan of the Pikmin series, the Kirby series, and the Mario series believe it or not.

Here's the dillema from my perspective: apart from looking for sequels, I just look to Nintendo to produce enjoyable games in general. With the seeming overabundace of reiterations, games aimed towards familes and non-gamers, and Mario games, I'm feeling less pleased. The Mario games are just getting plain redundant; the reiterations aren't exciting; and putting games like Pikmin 3 through an easy-peasy-lemon squeezy filter, sacrifices fun for the sake of more overall appeal.

I'm sure I'm not the only one seeing a change in what the company is doing. Though I speak of Nintendo in general, it's the Wii U that is getting most of my attention. I haven't seen how the claims of the tablet-like controller making things has come to pass. The features haven't really done anything significant to enhance any game (that I've seen).

Somewhere, Nintendo still sees potential in this home console. "Really?" you might be thinking. The Wii U sales don't compare to PS4 and Xbox One sales, and Nintendo is selling the system at a loss. The company's president, Satoru Iwata, agrees that there's a need for the "GamePad profile to be increased." [1]  I do think that Nintendo still sees potential in the system. It's just that many others don't.

I've had fun with my Wii U, though I wish there were more. I'm honestly looking back a few years to the Gamecube and early Wii days, comparing it to the current time.I'm being kind of particular with what I'm looking for, but there's no doubt that Nintendo isn't exactly like it was years ago.


In Conclusion

So, basiclly, I put forth my argument that Nintendo isn't being narrowminded, strage, or trying to hold to ideas just for the sake of tradition. It's a marketing strategy. If nothing else, the company is distinguishing itself from the other major gaming giants. Other ideals are behind Nintendo's actions, too. I'm not sure if these are definite, but Nintendo seems to communicate to the world things like "the players' physical/mental well being is important," and "pure old time fun is the key."

Another thing they seem to be communicating is, "we're trying many new ideas to try to appeal to people," and this really seems so plainly obvious watching Nintendo Directs to see what marvelous new features the company has for the us. *nonchalant face*

Keep in mind that Nintendo's probably not really stuck in a corner--regardless of what speculators say, mobile games aren't the only hope. Even if Wii U sales look dismal, the 3DS industry is doing well from what I know. Also, who knows how much money the company has left to turn the situation around (in emergency stores and whatnot). It's not as if the gaming industry has them over a barrel just because of the Wii U.

Nintendo has a plan and they have a reason. Whether or not it works, we'll see. I'm eager to see what Nintendo will do, and how far they'll go, to save the Wii U. June's E3 convention should shake things up a bit.  But if nothing else praiseworthy comes to store shelves this year, Super Smash Bros. will do just fine.




[1] Quoted from an article on Nintendoeverything.com : Nintendo Q3 2014 earnings – investor briefing roundup – GamePad focus, NFC titles at E3, Mario Kart 8 in May, non-wearables/quality of life platform next year; (C) 2014 Nintendo Everything




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