The (Once and) Future King: Part 2

The (Once and) Future King: Part 2

Read the first part of this article here.

It has been a rocky couple of decades for Nintendo. Going into the mid-’90s, they were at the top of their game. The Super Famicom/Nintendo Entertainment System was a huge success, and their key franchises were ubiquitous within the industry — but then they hit a snag. Minor missteps, like the Mortal Kombat controversy, and major ones, like the Virtual Boy, revealed chinks in their armor. The Nintendo 64 was a fan favorite and a technological milestone, but new competition in the form of Sony’s Compact Disc-based PlayStation foreshadowed a shift in the industry Nintendo hadn’t anticipated.

Previously, I mentioned how Nintendo were not technologically savvy. For example, the N64, built from the ground up with detailed, textured 3D processing in mind, lacked designated VRAM, which resulted in the oft-mentioned “muddy” textures and low resolution, and necessitated the 4MB Expansion Pak later in its life. The choice to go with cartridges instead of optical media also hindered game development by severely limiting available storage. (The largest N64 Game Paks were 64MB, less than one-tenth the capacity of a CD.) When the PlayStation stole Nintendo’s thunder, and Microsoft was looming on the horizon, they tried to do what the others were doing with their GameCube, once again with mixed results. The Wii was an almost lucky fluke of a phenomenon, and helped keep the company afloat during a period of steadily decreasing consumer confidence.

Now they have reached a point where their fan base is small, but undyingly devoted. AAA titles drip out at a rate of fewer than a dozen a year, but receive critical acclaim and incredible attach rates, with long periods of interest following their release. amiibo, Nintendo’s recent entry in the toys-to-life subgenre, have been a huge success for the company, selling more units than any of their current generation console games, despite severe availability issues. Recent announcements have included an upcoming game platform, theme park attractions through Universal Studios, and there have been (thus unconfirmed) rumors of potential TV and movie deals.

So how can Nintendo continue to ride this wave of modest success into a new era, especially following the loss of pioneering NCL President and CEO, Satoru Iwata? For starters, don’t try to compete. The pride of Nintendo’s policy is that they march to their own beat. Though that does not mean they should continue to fall behind. They need to fix what’s broken first.

That should start with their broken online infrastructure. Matchmaking and gameplay operate just fine, and their eShop storefront is a huge improvement over the Wii Shop Channel, but a single, cross-platform profile and intuitive cross-buy are musts. There is no excuse in 2015 for gamers to have to buy a separate digital copy of Super Mario Bros. on each system for five bucks a pop. Hopefully, DeNA can successfully implement this feature in time for NX. The ability to sync save data between systems would be a big plus.

Speaking of NX, I think it’s about time Nintendo bit the bullet and started taking losses on their hardware. Not huge losses, but selling the Wii U and 3DS in the black has severely hindered their potential market share. 3DS sales did not take off until its $70 price cut, but following that, it became a moderate success, gaining a respectable library of quality titles, and far outselling the PlayStation Vita. Where Nintendo have an advantage over its competitors is their first party software lineup. Nintendo have proven in recent years that they can support their platforms single-handedly. They can leverage those hardware losses with software profits, not to mention amiibo and licensed merchandise.

Now let’s talk about what Nintendo are already doing right. Love’m or hate’m, amiibo are definitely a keeper. They made a few mistakes in the beginning, but things are looking better. They just need to get a handle on the stock issues (which admittedly mostly affect the United States), increase compatibility and functionality, and for the love of god, create an app that allows the player to store, manage, and transfer save data to fix the one-game-per-amiibo limitation. Their licensing agreements with Universal Studios to create theme park attractions based on their IPs will be a huge benefit to their overall exposure. They already have lucrative licensing deals with Jakks to produce high-quality collectible toys, as well as numerous clothing companies. These outside revenue sources could help offset the losses from initial hardware sales.

The biggest and best thing Nintendo could do, in my opinion, is enter the third-party publishing market. No, I don’t mean releasing Mario and Zelda games on PlayStation or Xbox. I mean buying out a successful third-party developer in need of a publisher — say, Platinum Games or Sega, for example — and reap the rewards of releasing their games on other platforms. Disney have seen tremendous profits from their acquisitions of companies and IPs like the Muppets, Pixar, Marvel, and most recently, Lucasfilm. By providing a devoted and reliable financial backing, Nintendo can likewise create a symbiotic relationship which benefits both parties. Imagine: Platinum develop Bayonetta 3, and Nintendo release it for Sony and Microsoft consoles (perhaps under different brand name, much like Disney’s Touchstone Pictures label). Platinum get a guarantee that their game will be released, series fans get their much-desired sequel, Nintendo get the profits, and we, the Nintendo fans, get to see more quality titles from the Big N that support their console and first-party games.

The crystal ball is hazy in respect to Nintendo’s immediate future; but with Miyamoto’s and the late Iwata’s brilliant ideas, along with Kimishima’s shrewd leadership, and all of their upcoming plans, known and unknown, we may once again see a day when Nintendo lead the gaming industry. One thing is certain: a world of video games that does not include Mario, Link, Donkey Kong, and all of Nintendo’s other characters and franchises is not one any of us want to ever see. So let us all continue to give them our undying love and support! Long live the king!

Justin started gaming at the age of three, on the family ColecoVision, then moved onto the NES, Super NES, and N64 before ever owning another non-Nintendo console. He is a fan of almost everything Nintendo, Disney, and Star Wars related. — He began podcasting about video games in 2008, as a co-host of the Game Nutz Podcast. In 2009, he started his own video game blog while working for an independent, hole-in-the-wall game store. Though he writes infrequently, he always writes out of passion and personal interest, and for the Infendo Radio podcast, he contributes a wealth of useless knowledge and off-color irreverence.