The myth of the hardcore gamer

The hardcore gamer mythOk, OK. There are certainly hardcore gamers out there, but there’s a point to made in here somewhere. The point is that for Nintendo, the phrase “hardcore gamer” is about as relevant to their bottom line as tube socks. Microsoft themed tube socks. It’s irrelevant to Nintendo because I seriously doubt Reggie or Miyamoto or Iwata sit around big stuffy conference rooms sweating bullets over whether or not the big and all-powerful hardcore gamer is going to like their shiny new systems. And it’s not that they can say this now, after 18 months of Wii and DS successes, it’s that I doubt they said anything like it when they were first designing both systems back in 2004 or 2005.

So why would they do this? Why would they ignore the “base” and pander to the sporadic, unreliable “non-traditional gamer?” Isn’t it obvious? It’s because they’re both a myth, at least as far as Nintendo and its strategy is concerned.

Information Artbitrage:

An interesting point to note about Nintendo is that its “core,” unlike Microsoft and Sony, is not in its user base but in its IP – namely, its stable of timeless characters. Mario. Zelda. Donkey Kong. Characters who have had appeal across generations and have acted as the glue of the Nintendo franchise. This kind of core – a mass-market, family-friendly core – is invaluable. And is something possessed by neither Microsoft nor Sony

But Jack, Nintendo just puts the same characters out there year after year! True. Absolutely true. But, like the GameCube, those franchises are always successful IP that make the company tons of money. When he wasn’t being a wise ass, Infendo reader Matt recently made a good point about the GameCube being a moneymaker for Nintendo despite the negative perceptions heaped upon it by the gaming press and, wouldn’t you know it, the hardcore gaming community.

And speaking of negatives, there are far too many Mario titles floating about in the ether these days, aren’t there? I say that sarcastically, because I happen to think that question doesn’t really have any bearing on Nintendo’s strategy, nor will it in the future. But let’s address it anyway. When you go to Disneyland, do you care that the characters are the same as they were 50 years ago? The whole experience is pretty stale, and yet generation after generation goes there year after year. How about when you fire up up your 3rd generation iPod? Nothing new there either. And there’s nothing “new” in Mario games either, at least aesthetically speaking. Fun factor, well, that’s another story. One told in dollar signs and satisfied consumers. When Nintendo launches a system, their characters are built in. Their development teams are built in. Their insane attention to detail (and yes, all the product delays associated with them) is built in. When a Nintendo system launches people know what’s going to come down the pipeline. Widespread appeal is built in.

Nintendo doesn’t pander to the hardcore gamer because it’s a losing strategy. It isn’t? I’d argue it is and that the proof is out there plain to see. Pandering to the hardcore gamer gets you multimedia platforms that do many things, but none of them particularly well. It gives you and HD system that has been designed to appeal to a technophile that wouldn’t be caught dead designing an HD entertainment system around a console when there are more than enough specialty items out there that do it far better. When you’re talking hardcore, after all, you aren’t talking price or discounts or savings, because those are irrelevant to the hardcore sect. It’s a sect that I’d argue is much, much smaller than the press or the actual hardcore gamers themselves would like to admit, and is therefore not the driving force some would have us believe, but that’s a rant for another day.

Information Arbitrage calls Nintendo supporters evangelists and those of Sony and MS faddists. No, not fascists, faddists. As in “fad.” People, as odd as this will sound, are impassioned about Nintendo products, and do most of the selling for the company. All Nintendo had to do was plant a seed at a few dozen Ambassador Parties late last year and they let the people do the rest. All kinds of people too. From Mom’s to little kids to the crew over at 4cr. Aside from a few commercials in December and January with the two Japanese guys peddling Wiis from a Smart car, I have seen exactly zero commercials for Nintendo products. What I have seen — or heard is more like it — is the incessant requests from family members and friends for information about Wii shipments at Best Buy and Toys R Us.

Incessant, eager requests for more, sustained month over month, as strong as the day I brought the system home for a holiday break to show off. That was Thanksgiving. It hasn’t been back since. Doesn’t matter. The demand persists unabated.

Hardcore gamers? To Nintendo they’re a myth.