Google rocked the boat this week as they paraded into the gaming industry with something not entirely expected: Stadia, a video game streaming platform accessible directly through Google Chrome. Nintendo and its cohorts in the gaming industry are likely already sizing up Google as a real game changer (no pun intended). After all, the first thing to remember is a key fundamental of a strong business model: accessibility. The closer and quicker you can bring your product to your customer’s doorstep, the more likely you are to actually acquire and retain a customer. Stadia’s capability of utilizing a myriad of devices that most people already own while integrating games with streaming and online social structures for instantaneous jump-in/jump-out play is threatening. Of that, I have no doubt. And Nintendo is likely taking notes — or at least it should.
The present: Does Nintendo react or stay the course?
While the entrance of a new player in the game with fresh, progressive ideas can be threatening, Nintendo has absolutely no reason to break out in a heated sweat at this very moment. Stadia challenges the status quo, but being so new and fresh-faced to the gaming industry already produces a boatload of hurdles for Google. At the moment, Nintendo doesn’t really have to do anything but continue planning their future.
A sturdy, unique brand
Why? For starters, Nintendo has curated one of the oldest and most loyal fanbases in gaming history. The company didn’t do this simply on the fly with a big statement at the launch of its first console. There were certainly other competitors at the time. Nintendo’s ascension in the gaming industry came from simply not relying on third-party support as a business model. Nintendo properties from Mario to Zelda that have reeled in decades of fans will ensure the support of those crowds. The biggest Zelda fans are not simply going to walk away from Nintendo because they can join games in an instant on YouTube.
If you noticed when Google was comparing it’s “flops” to the other high-powered consoles on the market, Nintendo Switch was nowhere to be found. Some might say that Switch isn’t even worth comparing to in terms of power. But I think it also has to do with the fact that Nintendo has never made its purpose or focus all about performance. The company has always been about its first-party games and experiences. That is the reason it continued to outsell PlayStation and Xbox in February — it’s largely not competing with them. It’s different.
Google provided very little indication of what it’s planning with first-party IP, and the service is launching in a few short months. Furthermore, we don’t even know the extent of the platform’s third-party support beyond Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Doom Eternal. As Forbes noted, the presentation didn’t share the stage with firm, long-term partners or even logos of studios working to support the platform. That’s not to say such support won’t appear. But if a display like that wasn’t made just mere months before launch, it indicates that third-parties might be a little timid about this new arena and are waiting to see how its reception shakes out.
The internet debacle
Yes, as many have already exclaimed, internet connectivity is not reliable or quite where it needs to be for constant gaming access. Google has stated that Stadia can output 1080p resolution at 60 fps with just a 25 Mbps connection — the minimum broadband speed. This is a bold claim. It’s almost too good to be true. I have a difficult time with decent frame rates, resolution, and lag on PlayStation Now and I easily get beyond 50 Mbps. I’m not saying Google is lying, but it’s a more “we’ll believe it when we see it” type of situation.
The selling point of being able to play on a wide array of devices anywhere also collides with the real possibility that your hotel’s Wi-Fi will completely suck, or you’re traveling to a remote area. The world is not covered with reliable networks yet. These possibilities aren’t few and far between. But do you know what is certain? I can take my Switch with me to the top of Machu Picchu (like one Twitter user) and still enjoy a local multiplayer game — internet connection or not. That’s just the reality at this moment and perhaps for a few years to come, until networks and internet connectivity are where they need to be.
The future: Doing what Nintendo does best — innovate!
While it may feel like Stadia is a bit early on the streaming-only Netflix approach to gaming, the future in this realm is all but certain. In the long term, Nintendo will have to prepare for that. I’m not the right person to dictate the shape of Nintendo’s future. Their own streaming service may or may not be the right call five years down the road. Whatever they end up pursuing, it’s clear that they have to at least plan for a change. That’s something Nintendo seems very comfortable with. But aside from a structural change, there are things Nintendo can do right now to embolden its market position in the future.
Nintendo should continue to cultivate this budding relationship it has with Microsoft. There’s no telling what these two powerhouses might be capable of in the future. You know what they say — keep your friends close and your enemies closer. I’m not sure which one Microsoft might be classified as at this point, but this is a rather good idea in a rapidly evolving market.
Support the brand
Furthermore, as storefronts for digital-only purchases or streaming become front and center, Nintendo will be expected to “get with the times” and conform. Their plan should include this prospect. But first things first, Nintendo should definitely continue to focus on cultivating its first-party audience. The company must continue to put out hits like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey to build its loyal consumer base. One day, Nintendo might have to rely on the foundation of these brands to support its own streaming service or digital storefront to compete, and it should certainly plan for that inevitability.
Bring everything to the table!
This goes hand in hand with producing stellar first-party options, but Nintendo really needs to utilize the strength and ageless character of its classics. It’s a drum I’ll pound time and time again. Super Mario 64 isn’t like next year’s Call of Duty. It can’t just be replaced by a new game the following year. The same can be said for everything in Nintendo’s back pocket.
In order to compete, even if the company eventually adopts a streaming platform, it must recognize its historical library and now! Before a streaming or digital-only platform becomes a necessity, Nintendo should be introducing new generations to their classics at this very moment in whatever way they can. Despite their age, they are still bankable assets that are the identity of Nintendo’s brand.
From now until the time Stadia launches, and even beyond that point, the industry will be constantly discussing its own evolution. We’re always in the throes of change, and if businesses don’t adapt they’ll become irrelevant. Nintendo has built a sturdy buffer between its success and irrelevancy. However, it’s also not 100 percent immune to the pressures of competition. Nintendo will have to adapt, but it has time.
Accountant by day, video games enthusiast by night. Somewhere in between all of that, I’m a husband, dad, and generally a giant man-child, too. If a game is all about action, there’s a safe bet I’m playing it. I started laying waste to virtual worlds as a youngin’ on the ol’ Atari and haven’t stopped since.