First impressions matter. Nintendo has been the family-friendly choice for gaming since 1983’s NES (the Family Computer or “Famicom” in Japan) and that idea has persisted through the past few console generations – but is there any truth to it? Is Nintendo still the domain of everybody who can hold a controller or is it time for the brand to double down on the millennials?
Making a customer “profile”, a design map for determining who does (or might want to) use a service, is an important part of marketing; after all, there’s no point trying to sell a product to people who won’t use it. Nintendo’s core player is generally brand-loyal and enjoys first-party products like Donkey Kong and Zelda, while the first two iterations of the Xbox were the almost exclusive home of first-person shooters and their young, male fans.
For good or ill, profiles are ubiquitous in gaming. To borrow an example from poker, players are sometimes categorised by their personality traits and style of play rather than their age or years of experience. A guide and quiz made by 888poker pegs aggressive and belligerent players as “bullies” while a strategic, thoughtful type is a “shark”. In poker, understanding personalities is of direct benefit to players. Brands, however, spend extensive amounts of time and money on figuring out their target audience in order to appeal to it. Therefore, looking at the poker player types is a useful exercise for unravelling the quirks of an audience. But who are we talking about exactly when we speak of the Nintendo fan? Are they more “shark” than “fish”?
With the Wii, Nintendo’s customer profile included people aged 12-30 years old but with “alpha mothers, pre-teen girls, [and] senior citizens” included, to quote The Guardian. Put another way, Nintendo diversified its marketing to embrace the significant “casual” audience created by smartphone games, and in fact did so before most brands realised the emerging casual gaming trend was even there.
Just over ten years later, there’s some evidence that the Japanese company is changing its tactics, aligning its offering with the interests of people aged 18-25. For instance, the “young adult” demographic is the only one represented in the Nintendo Switch’s “First Look” trailer, a three and a half minute video of people partying on rooftops, heading out on road trips (two rather adult endeavours), and playing basketball with friends. Compare that to the Wii trailer, which included pretty much everyone, from five-year-olds to grandpa and every age inbetween.
With young adults rapidly becoming the group with the most purchasing power and technological prowess, marketing to youngsters is just good sense.
The presence of eSports (Splatoon teams) and a violent (for Nintendo’s standards) action title like The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim in the Switch’s launch titles is also significant, especially as 56% of the eSports audience is aged 21-35. However, it’s probably fair to say that Nintendo isn’t narrowing its target audience so much as trying to make the Switch appealing to the Xbox and PlayStation demographic, the latter of which has a monopoly on 28-year-old male gamers with lots of money.
The official company stance, as explained by Shinya Takahashi, a general manager at Nintendo, is that everybody is welcome, from hardcore gamers to casual “moms”. The latter group failed the Wii U though – with 13m units shifted, the console experienced just over a tenth of the success of its predecessor, which had sold 101m as of July 2016 – so, like it or not, Nintendo needs the 20-year-old FIFA-playing gamer on board.
Nintendo doesn’t really have to change – many of the company’s IPs will always be suitable for everyone (it’s hard to imagine Mario or Yoshi any other way) – but better third party support from Bethesda, EA, Ubisoft, etc. would mean that Nintendo could cater to a vast audience on the Switch without having to move away from its core product, the creative, family-friendly experiences that put the company where it is today.