Death of the fanman: How Nintendo lost one of its most avid evangelists

Jack Loftus was one of the first contributors to Infendo. He began writing for the blog in 2006, a year after I founded it. Known for his wit, provocative writing, and unabashed subjectivity, Jack lovingly referred to himself as the “fanman.”

When gamers prematurely wrote off the DS, and later Wii, Jack was quick to champion each platform and its maker. Over the last half decade, if there ever was a leader of the unofficial Nintendo Defense Force, Jack may have been it.

Not anymore.

Since the announcement of the pricey 3DS last year, and the unveiling of the technology bloated Wii U three weeks ago, Jack has lost almost all faith in the company. “Nintendo just doesn’t interest me anymore,” he said via email this week. Here’s why.

Infendo: You were vocally in favor of just about everything Nintendo did last generation. Why?

Jack: I was vocally in favor of what Nintendo was doing, specifically with the Wii and DS, because it represented a serious effort to grow the industry. Gaming in 2005 was the domain of the 15-25-year-old boy. Most people snickered if you called yourself a gamer, and most gaming systems were basement dwellers in a majority of households because they were considered toys or something a family wouldn’t really be proud of displaying next to their primary TV. Gaming was complex. It did not actively recruit new players or cater to demographics outside the age group mentioned already. Girls, women and people over 35 just didn’t game.

Along came Nintendo. At the time, they seemed to get it. They saw an industry that was moving toward stagnation. The blockbuster series, usually involving guns of some kind, with its $100 million budget was the future. Innovation and risk-taking were shunned in favor of franchises, sequels and anything but indie-developed games. Console prices were high. Game prices were being bumped up to $60 with the only real “improvement” being 1080p resolution.

In reaction, Nintendo zagged. Specs and testosterone took a backseat to simplicity, motion control and fun.

When specifically did you start to view Nintendo in a more negative light and why?

The pessimism toward Nintendo began for the same reason it did for Sony in 2005: Nintendo stopped developing for the consumer and started developing for themselves. Bad sales? Customer’s fault. 3D not taking off? Customers didn’t understand it. High price? Worth it because the tech is so innovative.

Notice any similarities there? This is basically how Sony talked about the PS3 for the past five years. Couple that with the fact that the Wii U is literally the antithesis of what Nintendo has sold to us for the past five years and I think the reason for my pessimism is quite clear. It’s the reason I wrote Nintendo doesn’t have any idea what it’s doing.

My “glowing interest” in Nintendo was always dependent on its ability to honestly provide people with the “surprises” they often talk about, seemingly with honesty, at their press events. The Wiimote surprised. The DS surprised. More importantly, the games that populated these two systems in their first few years of existence surprised in ways that no games have done in quite a while. Wii Sports was an amazing surprise. It put gaming on the map for millions of people who would have never picked up a controller. Can anyone say a game on Xbox or PS3 has ignited the industry the way the Wii did with its low tech specs? It was an amazing underdog story, and that’s part of the reason I was so into the company from 2006 until a few months ago.

What Nintendo did with the e3 2011 conference was cut all those new gamers out of their plan. They didn’t even use their own hardware to pimp the “hardcore” games that are allegedly coming to Wii U next year. This once-powerful company, with console sales that topped the next two competitor, combined, looked as though it was legitimately scared of the vocal minority forum talk.

Would you still be as untrusting as you are now had you never owned an Xbox 360?

Owning an Xbox had very little impact on my opinion of Nintendo. It allowed me to scratch Mass Effect sized itches that simply were not possible on the Wii. It complemented my tastes and did not supersede the Wi or DS.

Is there still hope for the fanman?

The fanman has moved on to more bit sized experiences, mostly due to time constraints and work. iOS games have “surprised” me more with their 1-minute game play bursts these past few months than anything Nintendo has teased, put on sale, or promised.

Nintendo just doesn’t interest me anymore. It’s been exposed as this shallow company that accidentally stumbled upon a great idea–a great gaming movement–and had no idea what to do with the success once it came. 3DS will be their first major failure in a while, and this failure will have a profound effect on Wii U, whenever the eff it comes out.

It sounds as though you view the Wii and DS as success anomalies for Nintendo. If so, what would you call NES, Game Boy, and SNES, and to a lesser extent, N64 and GameCube?

How do I explain the SNES, NES, et al? Easy. No company is perfect. Again, look at Apple. Killer 1980s and then a series of bad decisions that were so outside of what made them great they faltered and nearly failed. Now look at them. Same thing could happen with Nintendo, but right now they’re scattered and developing more for their personalities (Miyamoto, the arrogant Metroid guy) than for the customer.

What would it take for Nintendo to restore your faith in the company?

To restore faith they’ll really have to knock my socks off with the Wii U when it arrives… When? We don’t really know, which is another example of how this company is lost or spooked in some way. They used to be similar to Apple in this regard: New product, almost available immediately after it was revealed. Hands on time, and not with journalists and “experts” but the “common people”

PS – Few developers are as effective as Nintendo at making their franchise characters worse with each new generation. Mii’s in Mario games? Mario games with talking and elaborate stories? Metroid: Anime Sexist Interactive Movie Disaster? Zelda: Puzzle Quest? Failure.

Editor’s note: Jack will continue to to contribute to Infendo as much as interest and time permits. Since he’s such a fun read, do encourage him once in a while.