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Does Nintendo care?

posted on October 8th, 2007 by matt

With games like WiiFit and Face Training becoming the staple of Nintendo’s wares in this “new generation”, most hardcore gamers are left asking, “Hey, what about me? Where are my kind of games at, son?” I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but Nintendo doesn’t care about you anymore. They have moved on to greener pastures. Which is to say they want your mom’s money now, not yours.

The number one indicator for this theory was their show at the 2007 E3 conference. We had nearly 20 minutes of WiiFit, but only 20 seconds of Mario Kart Wii.

They didn’t want to show more because Nintendo was in front of all the world’s media, and they wanted to send out the word that they’re all about the non-gamers now. That’s why they focused so much on WiiFit. It was a signal to everyone that hardcore gamers are not Nintendo’s main market anymore. Iwata was on stage for nearly 10 minutes trying to defend what their company was doing now:

“Basically, non-games make us mad cash money, and we want more.”

Prime suspects.

And I’m willing to bet that they could have shown off a lot more of Mario Kart, since it appears to be running on the Double Dash engine.

You can also gauge the seriousness of the situation by looking at the Japanese software charts for the last few months. They are consistently dominated by games like Brain Age and English Training; software that is only useful for non-gamers.

And because they are on the charts for extended periods of time, Nintendo is doing what any good business would do and is taking advantage of it. When they make millions of dollars on games like Nintendogs (which has sold nearly 15 million copies at this point), you can’t expect them to forget about that and go back to making “hardcore” games only. It’s money in the bank for them, whereas most of their “hardcore” games would get on the chart one week, and quickly fade into obscurity the next.

It’s just good business. They’ve found a huge source of income with the non-gaming crowd, and they would be foolish to pass it up.

But what happens to their legendary franchises, like Mario and Zelda? Surely those games will always be a part of Nintendo’s portfolio. We will definitely get those kinds of games at some point, but don’t expect them in a continuous fashion like before.

Recently Iwata was quoted as saying that the Wii platform is going to be left open for 3rd party games in 2008, with Nintendo titles taking a back seat for a while. While not explicitly denying fans “hardcore” games, this is going to make it even harder for Nintendo to justify putting millions of dollars into a game that only sees a moderate return. If they are only going to release five games next year, they’re probably going to make those games “non-games,” as they generally realize a much larger profit from them. Nintendo has fans to please, but they also have shareholders to please. Hardcore gamers can go on blogs and bitch all they want, but shareholders can pull up stakes, which would leave Nintendo in a bad financial situation.

At this point, it seems Nintendo wants to use just enough resources to keep their old consumers content. They’re not trying to outdo themselves like they did before. You’re never going to have another situation where Nintendo teases you by alluding to an unknown property, and then introduces something like Pikmin. If Nintendo is planning some crazy, out-there kind of game, there is a 75% chance that it’s something like WiiFit. And what helps justify this theory is what people were predicting before WiiFit was officially announced. Everyone assumed it was going to be something as unusual as Pikmin, positioned as some innovative game that “hardcore” gamers would enjoy. Nope, it was just WiiFit.

The future of gaming.

From a hardcore Nintendo fan’s point of view, this is somewhat tragic. You are the reason why Nintendo is even around at this point. They didn’t make Brain Age or Nintendogs on the NES; they made Zelda, Mario, and Metroid. Nintendo wouldn’t be here had they not focused on the “hardcore” gamer. It now seems like they have forgotten their roots and act like the “hardcore” gamer is just dragging them down.

But is this situation necessarily a bad thing? Nintendo isn’t the only kid on the block nowadays, so if you really want to focus all of your gamer dollars on “hardcore” games like BioShock and Metal Gear Solid, then Microsoft and Sony have you covered. And playing a non-game like Brain Age or Nintendogs isn’t the worst thing that could happen to you. I do like the fact that Nintendo has created a genre of games that most never expected on a video game console, but I do agree that moderation is key in this situation. You need a good balance between the two kinds of games, and I don’t see Nintendo doing that. Not right now, anyway.

In the end, Nintendo will keep making Mario, Zelda, and Metroid to appease the few lingering hardcore gamers they have. Just don’t expect them as often (which is really scary, as they were never that frequent in the first place). Nintendo is too busy counting the stacks of cash that Brain Age and Cooking Navi have made to really care about them.

8 Comments

  1. christian said on October 8, 2007:

    Two issues arise here, one of which is relevant to discussion

    1) Hardcore gamers feel like Nintendo continues to owe them for support, and can’t stand the fact that someone isn’t paying attention to htem.

    2) Will this casual and non/new gamer crowd be a sustainable market?

    Of course number 2 is the one worth discussing. I want to say the answer is “yes” because theere are so many of them, but I want to say “no” because reactions to the Wii right now seem to scream “trend”, and trends never stick around forever.

  2. Tyson said on October 8, 2007:

    I can see the point you are trying to make but I think you may be worried over nothing. No one will argue that Nintendo is making less games and more applications these days and I think there is a reason for it that you are overlooking. Games take a lot more time to develop than a Spanish Tutor for the DS. Nintendo is in a win-win situation because they can unload all of this self-improvement stuff very quickly and that provides them a steady cash flow while they ready games like Smash Brothers, Mario Galaxy, and Nights.

    I don’t think Nintendo has forgotten about true gamers, I think they are trying to develop quality games for us and those take more time to get to the market than Wii Fit.

    On a different note, I think it is refreshing to see productivity applications getting developed for the DS. I am especially eager to try out the language tutors. What better way to pick up some aspects of a language in your free time than to turn on a DS and do some vocabulary or conjugation review? I think these are a good idea and would like to see more of them.

  3. Matt said on October 9, 2007:

    Haha, I anticipated nuclear fallout from this article, so your comments cannot faze me:) This isn’t a complaining piece (which it does come off as, though). It’s more of a “get you to think” article, which I think worked. As I said, Nintendo will always make games like Mario, and I agree good games like that take time. But what about the ones we don’t know? They canceled PROJECT HAMMER in favor of casual non-games, and I didn’t see anything new at E3 concerning software for hardcore gamers.

    And as I said, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just an interesting situation, where Nintendo has such a huge sect of fans, but they’re not giving them a bone, really. Once Mario, Smash, and Mario Kart come out, will we see what we’ve always had, or will they keep some franchises sitting on the sidelines to make room for Face Training 2? I think so, yeah.

    But again, this isn’t me being a douche, calling out Nintendo for not accommodating me. I enjoy games like Cooking Mama and Brain Age, and Nintendo can do whatever the hell they want. I was just saying is all.

  4. jay said on October 9, 2007:

    The two issues I see here are –

    Will the market expand enough to actually increase the number of “hardcore” games?

    Will Nintendo phase out hardcore games?

    The first question seems like a likely yes to me. Take these arbitrary numbers, for example – SRPGs are 2% of all games now and the total market size is 100. If the market expands to 150 and 2% of all games are still SRPGs then there will be more people buying SRPGs. Think of film and music – as markets expand niche markets become sustainable. The growing pain right now (where everything seems to be some crappy casual minigame fest) should end and in the long run adding to the gaming audience should be a good thing. Think of how many niche titles the PS2 could support simply because there were so many PS2s int he world.

    Now the second issue worries me. Of course there are other companies making traditional games, but Nintendo makes them well and it’d be a shame if they phased them out. It does seem like a real possibility, though. Miyamoto said in an “Ask Iwata” interview on nintendo.com that he felt as if Twilight Princess may be the last huge game he may ever make. He feels the shift in gaming habits, and he pulls a lot of weight there.

  5. Tyson said on October 9, 2007:

    I wouldn’t be too alarmed by what Miyamoto does and doesn’t do. He is not a spring chicken as game developers go and lately he has been more of a spokesperson than an actual developer anyway. It is a shame but that tends to be the way things go. If you look at Will Wright and Sid Meier, they are both about the same age as Miyamoto and they are pretty low key these days. Wright has Spore but he is more of a conceptual person than an actual programmer anymore. The thing about Miyamoto and game developers of his generation is that most of the successful ones do very little other than conceptualize.

    I don’t think Nintendo is going to leave hardcore gamers out more than they have since the beginning of the Nintendo 64. They have up and coming talent in guys like Suda 51 and I am sure many others. I know they just opened a Tokyo branch last year and I am sure they will continue to expand.

    Looking at the vast majority of the titles Nintendo has come out with, especially for the Gamecube and now the Wii, I think they know they don’t have hardcore gamers’ attention anymore. They have people that like creative titles and are willing to try something new. They ceded the hardcore gamer systems as soon as the Playstation was released in my opinion and until they get some horsepower under the hood of their consoles, it will stay that way.

    I love Nintendo, they are like the Ford Motors for our generation. But for younger kids that have the attention span of a walnut, glitter and loud bangs are all most of them care about. That is why the Xbox is doing so well and the PS3 would if it had any games worth buying.

  6. Tyson said on October 9, 2007:

    I also forgot to mention that something that many people haven’t gotten yet is that Nintendo is a very fluid company with regards to what they are willing to try. They have had more failures than any other gaming company that is still around and now they are back in the driver’s seat. I say let them take the reigns for a while and see where they drive us.

  7. TrueTallus said on October 9, 2007:

    Does Suda 51 actually work for Nintendo now? I know Grasshopper Manufacture has made games for Playstation stuff in the past (Michigan, Samurai Champloo etc.), so I’d be surprised to learn they’d put their eggs in one basket.

  8. Matt said on October 9, 2007:

    Suda51/Grasshopper Manufacture is independent, but they seem to focus solely on Nintendo platforms. Those guys are like the rock and rollers of the video game industry. Suda5-1 does stuff just to say he did them. And remember what he said about Killer7? He didn’t finalize the game’s gameplay until very late in the game, which never happens. That’s just crazy.

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