When it comes down to Nintendo, you know it’s a completely different ballgame from everyone else. Comparing Nintendo to the rest of the gaming industry is like going to your usual restaurant, and while the food is generally the same thing, there’s just that one dish that stands out. Somehow it’s just different, weird even. But you go ahead and you order it, and you may like it. Some oppose it for being out of character, but there’s a good amount of those who enjoy it. That’s how Nintendo is — just plain different.
Since they entered the gaming industry with the Famicom (NES), they’ve had a different aura to them than their competitors. As their franchises were birthed and built, the identifying factor between them and everyone else became more and more apparent. Nowadays, it’s as clear as black & white.
True, it’s great that Nintendo is bold enough to show some moxie and go against the current, but their endeavor to ‘dare to be different’ has come with some serious repercussions: loss of mass respect, importance and position. In the world of entertainment, those are pretty much some of the most important factors for success. With that in mind, one is left to ask: is it wise for them to continue down this path?
As mentioned before, Nintendo pretty much entered the console race with a different character than the competition. Similar to how Disney has built their own identifiable standard and theme, Nintendo has done the same. This is arguably one of the reasons why Nintendo has managed to stay in the console business for so long: people buy their systems knowing very well of the experience they’re going to have; just as people know what to expect when they go to see a Disney/Pixar film. Even though this has pretty much always been the case, Nintendo didn’t truly start their revolution until the dawn of the N64.
The Nintendo 64 was special for many reasons. It was the transition gate for Nintendo’s popular characters like Mario and Link to graduate from 2D to 3D. It was also the first iteration of Force Feedback (vibration/rumble) for a console. But what was the N64’s most notable feature was the fact that in a world where CDs were starting to become as common as running water, it still stuck with cartridges. This was Nintendo’s first true gesture of stubbornness.
While they were previously working with Sony (and then Philips) to create a disc-based SNES, Nintendo reverted back to cartridges due to the faster loading times. While it’s true that cartridges had basically zero load-times when compared to discs, they also had a lot less storage space. This quickly made things difficult for developers, to the point where they couldn’t bring their games to the system because the games were too big (remember Final Fantasy 7?) This was the first instance into what is now Nintendo’s biggest problem: lack of third-party support for their home systems.
The Gamecube adopted the N64’s problems with its use of mini-discs instead of full-size DVDs, once again turning developers away due to lack of storage. Added to this was the monstrous success of the PS2 and the flashy entrance of the XBOX, making the Gamecube sit far back in a corner by itself. With two instances of a mass decline in consumer interest, Nintendo sought to uproot everything and start anew. That’s when the Wii came in.
With the Wii, Nintendo was no longer doing things just a little differently — they built a completely new path. While their competitors were trying to woo gamers over with high definition graphics and robust online ecosystems, Nintendo simply wanted anyone and everyone to pick up a controller and have fun; and they were able to do just that.
The world fell in love with the Wii. Even the Queen of England was a delivered a custom-made unit. Indeed, the system was success. For once, Nintendo’s determination to be weird paid off. Unfortunately, that success was short-lived. After a few years, the Wii’s popularity began to slowly dwindle. The crowd that ate the system up had moved on to the next new fad. With that, Nintendo introduced the Wii U; bolstering the same name as a way to continue to push the established brand. Somehow, the opposite occurred.
Due to its similar name, this left the consumer base confused. With all the “Wii Somethings” that were already out on the market, many didn’t realize that this was actually Nintendo’s newest system, but rather, just thought it was a simple add-on to the original. The Wii U GameOad was created to be the console’s identifying feature, but it has instead ended up being its Achilles’s Heel. Even though it’s more traditional than the Wii Remote ever was/will be, developers were once again pushed away due to its intimidating difference. Added to this is the console’s lesser power than that of its rivals, which has flung Nintendo back into virtually the same position they were in during the 6th generation.
Having now gone over Nintendo’s ‘Quest for Weirdness’ from it’s beginning up until now, I believe it should be easier to see where I’m coming from.
I can appreciate that Nintendo has been deliberately trying to paint an identity for themselves. Let’s face it — Sony and Microsoft are just two sides of the same coin at this point; the only difference is that one side is somewhat shinier than the next. Nintendo on the other hand is like a whole jar of old, but still very valuable coins that can’t be mixed with the newer crowd. Even so, this decision to go against the status quo has led them down a very tumultuous path, which now has them back into a uncomfortably-unique corner.
Right now, just like coin collectors, only Nintendo’s loyal fans appreciate their value. While it’s true that the rest of the industry hasn’t completely lost sight of Nintendo’s renowned level of quality, they’ve still fenced them off into their own area off into the background. The primary focus is most certainly Sony and Microsoft’s heated battle, with the PC crowd observing from a plateau in the middle-ground.
In all honesty, for Nintendo to push their way back into focus, they’ll have to do what many have to do to make it anywhere; pay the fee. As the old saying goes “money talks“. Sony and Microsoft shell out unmentioned millions to secure deals with third-parties in order to try and 1UP one another. For Nintendo to truly have a shot at coming anywhere in between that, they would have to speak the language of the very developers who are truly in control of the industry; they could even do that now if they wanted to. See how quickly Rockstar would have ported GTA: V or how quickly Bethesda would have brought Fallout 4 to the Wii U if Nintendo blinked a few shiny green lights in their face. Even EA would probably still be actively supporting the system if Nintendo lined their pockets even further.
Looking off into the future, there’s no telling exactly what direction Nintendo plans to go in. If the NX, regardless of what it even is, does happen to be another ‘strange’ system, then there’s a chance third-parties will continue to dismiss Nintendo’s presence, even if it happens to be powerful.
Sony and Microsoft, being guided by the puppeteer-like influence of companies like EA, Activision and Ubisoft, have cloaked the industry in a dark cloud of greed and unconditional favoritism. With Nintendo not willing to conform to their oppressive ideas, naturally, they want nothing to do with them. Added to this is the fact that a lot of Nintendo’s fans don’t care for these developers either. In this highly unique situation, Nintendo literally does have only two choices: either continue down their solitary path, or simply join in with the crowd. There is no other way. If they do decide to continue on their ‘Quest of Weirdness’, then there’s a chance that they will continue to lose presence in the industry. Is that to say they’ll simply fade away similar to that of SEGA or Atari? No; not with the strength of their IPs. However, they could find themselves being even more of a niche brand than they already partially are.
The end point is this: choose wisely Nintendo. It’s a rough world out there.