An Ode to Perrin Kaplan

Nintendo marketing“The princess is in another castle.”

I really, really hope some diminutive Toadstool re-utters those famous words next month. Just once. It’s cheesy, sure, but the blatant nostalgia, combined with what are shaping up to legitimately be the best visuals and innovations on the system to date, could make my head explode.

You know what else makes my head explode? Ignorance.

Perrin Kaplan, Nintendo’s quirky marketing workhorse for the past 15 years, will be leaving the company very shortly. We know her for some wacky one-liners and questionable Wii-related promises to the press, but believe me the majority of what her and her team did for Nintendo was done behind the scenes with careful study and execution. A major reason for the success of both the DS and Wii today is one part product, one part marketing and one part execution. I doubt Kaplan had her hands in the cogs and wheels of the Wii when it was being built in China, Korea or wherever, but you can bet once it was all shined up and ready to go she and fellow marketer George Harrison were on that system like white on, well, a Wii.

Fairly or unfairly though, Kaplan will probably be remembered for her celebrity personality rather than her professional one. Case in point: “A major insight that Nintendo had early on was that they saw that gamers were getting bored, even though they didn’t know it yet.”

And the vocal minority when apoplectic with rage. How dare she tell me I’m bored. How dare she dismiss the fun I had playing Gears of War and Halo 2 and 3! And so on and so on. The thing is, as usual, these chaps (and they are definitely ALL males), were dead wrong. Kaplan wasn’t talking to YOU, you short-sighted, selfish twits, she was talking to all the people who aren’t playing games anymore–or who never even started in the first place.

The thing is, people were getting bored with gaming. Revenues were rising every year over the past 5-10 years, but the population was shrinking. That’s bad for business. The trend has actually physically manifested itself on one of the current systems as well: the Xbox 360. The attach rate for the 360 is incredible. Some places have it at 5.2 IIRC, others slightly less than that. Those are great numbers, especially when compare to the Wii’s anemic +-2. But there are more Wii owners today than there are 360 owners, and there will be even more tomorrow.

Nintendo saw this, Kaplan saw this, and changed their strategy accordingly, probably as far back as the GameCube. I, for one, welcomed Kaplan’s strategy. I still do today, in spite of all the flirting she’s done with Matt Casamassina at conferences in the past. I’m cool with it.

So if you aren’t bored of gaming that’s great. Get over yourself. Kaplan wasn’t talking to you. As it will be from here on out, you are no longer the center of the gaming universe. Tough luck. The center belongs again to the real core gamers; those of us who were too bored to bother participating for the past 5-10 years. The cas-core. We’re back, and it’s pretty much solely thanks to Nintendo and people like Perrin Kaplan, George Harrison, Reggie Fils-Aime, Satoru Iwata and Shigeru Miyamoto. Deal with it.

So I say adieu Perrin, George, and all the rest of the Nintendo sales and marketing crew that have decided to remain behind in Washington to pursue other goals (just please, please don’t make it EA, ok?). At the very least you got this bored old battle axe back into gaming after a hiatus, but I imagine I’m not the only one. For that I say thank you.