I've been following a good number of opinions about Nintendo's new console. The WiiU is still doing poorly, and President Iwata is “unlikely” to meet his 9 million unit shipping target! Nintendo is now a publically traded corporation. This means that they have taken money from investors and are obliged to pay a return on investment.
The 3DS may yet keep Nintendo in the black for the whole year. While this is laudable, and prove that Nintendo is far from finished, Investors will want to hear good firm plans for how the 3DS will be alleviated of this burden, especially as the portable is entering its third year on the market and will shortly need a replacement plan to keep up with surging competition (Nintendo works on a 5 year replacement plan and needs more than one year to design a new piece of hardware).
The core gamer market is irretrievably lost at this point. Nintendo has essentially lost the propaganda war, and those no longer paying attention will be so much harder to reach through the noise of the competition. Even when the new consoles’ honeymoons end, Nintendo faces more competition from the Steam Machines by Valve, and persistent threats from both the PC and Tablet markets. If Nintendo hopes to disrupt the market today and going forward, they need something a lot louder than their best on the WiiU!
More vexing for me is the sense that Nintendo cannot yet capitalize on the WiiU’s biggest strength, the tablet controller. The Gamepad could give Nintendo the ease of use and adaptability of a tablet to ride the incoming tablet wave, but each of those tablet makers have legions of app makers lined up to release their content on glutted markets. Nintendo still has essentially none of that mindshare, and hence no apps to compete directly with the tablet market (It could do everything, if only…). All of this is quite tragic, as the WiiU at a good bit of value at its current price, which is half the price of an iPad Air and already has gaming buttons.
So what could have gone so very wrong for Nintendo? The whole internet is abuzz with speculation: formerly we all suspected that Nintendo did not advertise enough. This holiday has proven that idea wrong, as a significant uptick in advertising has yielded only a little new momentum to the WiiU’s fortunes. Some speculators now turn on the next likely target, Super Mario, as it is unquestionable that Super Mario 3D World is not moving units, nor machines. Certainly we’ve been seeing a lot of the mascot plumber recently. Is it possible that the mighty plumber has finally been over-exposed?
Mario is so visible, that a wide swath of Nintendo’s spin-off properties are caught up in the net, from Luigi’s Mansion (because we all know that it is a Mario game, even if you can’t jump) to Donkey Kong (because we all know that it is exactly the same as a Mario game anyway; I’m trying to be funny-sarcastic here ;). The problem going forward isn’t just the branding of the WiiU, which appears to be a touch of death for all Intellectual Properties that land on it, but the significant brand fatigue of Mario himself. There is room for a vociferous debate here, I think, but in any case with all the following Mario games landing on the WiiU in about a year, the value of the Mario franchise may be at risk:
A 2D Mario by EAD4 (New Super Mario Bros U)
A 2D Luigi spinoff by EAD4 (New Super Luigi U)
A 3D (ish) Mario game by EAD Tokyo (Super Mario 3D Land)
A 2D Donkey Kong spinoff by Retro studios, that was essentially ready but was put off for February to avoid the crowded holiday market (Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze)
A new Mario Kart by EAD Kyoto set to launch sometime in the New Year (Mario Kart 8)
The harshest medicine may have the greatest truth behind it. It is time to bench Mario, if only for a little while. Maybe one more of his games at the most can be funded for 2014, and maybe one total for 2015. In short, 2014 needs to be the “Year of Other Franchises.”
Smash Bros could certainly be a banner product for such a marketing push, as few other companies do so much as Smash Bros to push their rich back catalog. Nintendo has another powerful tool for pushing this idea, in its Virtual Console. The service has several items on its fans’ wishlists, but Nintendo has a wealth of old names to trot out Earthbound-on-WiiU style to generate hype and attention throughout the year.
As profitable as EAD4 has been with the New Super Mario Bros series, it might be time to shuffle them along to the next icon in the lineup. Nintendo’s back catalog is so impressive, there must be some sort of hop and bop platformer somewhere in there that they can turn their talents to. I might suggest Yoshi, but I already know of two Yoshi titles expected soon(ish), and I fear Yoshi may be another easily dismissed Mario-clone as Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze. If we really can’t find another IP, maybe they can take a turn at making a new one!
It could be super weird for Nintendo of all companies, but perhaps this year advertising dollars are best spent correcting the erroneous impression about Nintendo’s Indie support. Indies can always use a plug, and last year’s Nintendo of Europe indie trailer was a great way to pad the lineup and give the perfectly true impression that the WiiU has more going on than merely more Mario. If you happen to have a WiiU already, the following is a short list of promising Indie titles to keep an eye on.
We’re all pulling for you Nintendo, but it’s time to face facts. Nintendo needs to expand its base of appeal, especially in the highly contested battleground that is home console gaming. Mario is always an excellent start, but it is a mistake to rely on him alone. It’s also not fair to other legitimately different franchises that they get caught up in a wave of anti-Mario anger, or that the company’s, and Mario’s future be put in jeopardy for it. The last thing that I want to address is simply a contradiction in my words above: I stress that this is a marketing fix, not a game design or priority change.
Personally I would love some new IP from Nintendo, and have been enjoying all of the new IP for a while; I would like to take issue with the idea among fans that Nintendo never makes new IP. This was true … since when?
A vast number of my games on my shelf are games from new or relatively new intellectual properties, either produced through Nintendo itself (ex. Picross 3D, Elite Beat Agents, Brain Age 2) or simply paid for by Nintendo as 2nd party games (Lego City Undercover, Geist, Excitebots: Trick Racing). This is something of a trick question, as Nintendo has long been looking to reach out with other companies to better exploit either its own underused IP or otherwise promote others games exclusively to its system (ex. Bayonetta 2). But nothing Nintendo does at any time shakes the impression that Nintendo only makes Mario games.
And that is the (suggested) fix for Nintendo: share the spotlight a little more evenly. Granted, they want to give presence to their top grosser, but that idea is simply not working now. The only thing to do is build the WiiU’s install base, and the most ludicrous and untrue claim ever, that it has no games beyond Mario, is the biggest challenge to its image.