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The dangers of Nintendo's newfound ambition

To condense the root of Japan’s troubles into one line it should suffice to say it all began when the insatiable ambition for bigger and better put development costs well beyond what their shrinking domestic market alone could support.

Countless times previous I have talked at length about the woes of Japan. Though my discussions were often worded and somewhat unfocused the message was simple. That being that there is no stagnation in place in Japan to blame for their recent financial woes. This shortsighted explanation is the produce of the same persons who are blind to the stagnation of the dominant West’s largely FPS focused lineup.

 To condense the root of Japan’s troubles into one line it should suffice to say it all began when the insatiable ambition for bigger and better put development costs well beyond what their shrinking domestic market alone could support.

 With the dawn of the current generation the spiraling budgets of making a modest console game made this a feat unpalpable for the economic prowess of almost all Japanese development houses. One can draw parallels to the film industry where Hollywood has been able, despite the onset of a decades long rot of stagnation, to dominate on the world market due to economic muscle alone. Meanwhile a great deal many wonderful film markets like Europe and Asia has been putting out much better, vigorous and inspired efforts that go largely ignored in all but their domestic market, which puts a upper limit on the prospect of their economic success.

The West’s sudden overshadowing dominance on the console field with shooters has turned into a mirror image of Hollywood’s dominance of world cinema despite infinite number of remakes, either of older hits from their cinematic golden era, or remakes of great foreign movies, which are always ruined in translation to Hollywood’s mechanical bland filmic language, or my personal favorite decades long trend, comic book movie adaptations, now with increasingly obscure properties!

To aggravate the matter everyone’s interpretation of these developments is that Japan needs to morph into some hideously bland looking tiny moth in the radiant image of the uninspired success of the giant grey beastly moth that is the West.

But this is of course only on consoles, the handheld field is about as different as one could hope for. There things are arranged exactly according to when everything was right in the world of videogames. Handhelds are where modest development budgets mean that Japan is still the driving force here, they make all the worthwhile titles, and the uninspired efforts of the West are as insignificant as they are often duly ignored.

In short the handheld market is like a Jurassic pocket that time forgot, everything functions like when the PS2 was the dominant console, and there were no troubles to be seen ahead. Alas, I seem to see now a parallel to SONY’s hubris, which prevented them from detecting trouble ahead when they were putting the overly ambitious designs of the PS3 onto paper.

And in whom do you ask? Why, old McScrooge Nintendo of course. Nintendo’s long history of success and dominance with their handhelds, not least of all the DS, very much mirror’s SONY’s success story with consoles. I fear then that the same tragic end might be them in wait.

Nintendo has a history of being a very conservative and prudent company with their hardware designs. His was a somewhat strange marriage for the consistently innovative creative efforts of their game developers. Going back a few years when Nintendo and SONY were both prepping to provide their answer to the future of handheld gaming, SCE first historic failing was to make their answer an extension of their usually ambitious console hardware designs.

The PSP, while a success in its own way, was always left in the shadow of Nintendo’s dominance with their much more modestly outfitted DS, which forwent technical prowess in favor of control innovation designed to make better and more interesting playing games, instead of better looking ones.

Well, it is that time again, that time where the air is thick with anticipation of a new platform. SONY’s almost decade long string of blunders demonstrates that they are every bit as inelegant, clueless and aloof now than when they were designing the lemon that turned out to be the PSP. Thus it is easy to plot the outline of their next generation handheld efforts, almost as easy as it would be to gauge its future success.

Nintendo on the other hand, has already shown their cards, and my how overwhelming success, in both handheld, as well as console domains has shattered their historic miser prudence. The 3DS is nothing like Nintendo consoles or handhelds of old which always preferred affordability and cheap development over technical prowess.

The 3DS comes sporting the latest craze, stereoscopic 3D, which, honestly, though unlikely to do anything for gameplay innovations, is nevertheless a good enough hook. But the 3DS also comes sporting rather impressive technology powering it, these surpassing the PSP, and coming at great cost.

The price I am talking of is not just referring to the cost of the unit to the end user, although at 300 ducats this is certainly the most expensive console Nintendo has ever put out, and get this, it is a handheld. But more importantly the cost that is likely to have the most cataclysmic effects is the increased development budgets.

The 3DS was one of the most successful platforms in history due no doubt to the overwhelming support from many Japanese development houses for which it was a last refuge. All the smaller scale developers who would be ruined in trying to provide even a fraction of the capital needed to make a single risky PS3 title could easily turn that budget into several profitable and worthwhile DS efforts.

Nintendo being drunk from success, in combination with apprehensions towards the continued success of the Hannibal at their gates, the iPhone, might be the motivators for this much more ambitious handheld. But, with SONY being a lost cause at this point, Nintendo, and specifically, their handhelds are the last refuge for a great, rich ecosystem of Japanese developers. Nintendo’s sudden found technological bravado, and need to sweep the carpet from under the feet of the new contender, Apple, might end up disrupting the fragile balance in the Japanese handheld milieu.

Inflated budgets without the increased sales to support them was a paralyzing blow to Japanese console development. Now this heinous act might be being prepped to be repeated on the last vestige of the entire Japanese game industry, the handhelds, and once again the death knell is coming from within Japan itself.

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