This is part of a much larger article. For the previous entry in this article, please click here.
4. As mentioned in Point 3, one of the main problems afflicting the modern games industry is the increasing development costs associated with modern games development. As a consequence of these changing market conditions, games are becoming more prone to following tried and tested formulae, and are also becoming more risk averse as a result.
Nintendo is certainly no stranger to this, as previously successful franchises (such as F-Zero, Starfox and Metroid) have all underperformed in recent times, with the recent Mario 3D World also coming up short at retail with only 99,588 copies sold in Japan in its first week (making it the lowest debut for a 3D Mario platformer), and charting at 14th place in UK (behind games like Knack).
In the wake of these revelations, it’s worth taking the time to ponder exactly as to how much cultural currency Nintendo still has with its age old franchises. And whilst it’s arguable that Nintendo have always served a different sector of the market, with most of the company’s intellectual properties catering towards children, it’s also worth pointing out that Nintendo’s last major new IP launch was Wii Sports (back in 2006), with many of Nintendo’s recent games being sequel updates to old IP that have only really pandered to the faithful and preached to the converted.
Certainly, the relative flop of AAA first party titles (such as Mario 3D World) does little to dispel the argument that this rabid audience isn’t large enough to sustain a company as large as Nintendo – as already proven by disappointing Wii U sales figures. But what is also interesting to learn is that many gamers (who grew up with Nintendo in the 80’s and 90’s) don’t consider Nintendo as having been able to keep up with their increasingly sophisticated gaming tastes, so as to cater to their present needs and requirements. After all, where are the in-house Nintendo equivalents of Gone Home, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Call of Duty, Shadow of the Colossus, The Last of Us and Forza?
Again, it can be argued that the reason as to why Nintendo’s library lacks the necessary diversity to cater for more mature gaming audiences is because their games cater towards children. But to accept this would be to miss the point. The best selling games don’t always incorporate “shooty shooty bang bang” mechanics, and (in a clear case of double standards) Nintendo have also never shied away from pandering to the needs of mature gaming audiences when it has suited them in the past. The Wii U was originally bundled with ZombiU, and will also have Bayonetta 2 released for it. Nintendo has also previously released games such as Goldeneye, Excitebike 64, Wave Race 64, Eternal Darkness, and Project Zero 2 Wii – which have all gone against conventional Nintendo practices, in order to dispel the notion that Nintendo is just a toy company and their games are only just for kids. Nintendo President Satoru Iwata even stated as far back as 2011 that “there should be software which adults can enjoy further”.
But the argument of creating compelling “software which adults can enjoy further” isn’t the only problem facing Nintendo’s software development arm. Many gamers are also arguing that they are bored with Nintendo’s software offerings, and that disappointing sales of Mario 3D World are more symptomatic of a market that is ultimately suffering from core Nintendo franchise fatigue, where the games being offered are the real problem, as opposed to any fingers pointing towards the Wii U console as being the main culprit in being an undesirable product. In support of this, the resounding success of the 3DS (with its incredibly dated tech and awkward use of 3D) certainly quells some concerns about the technology housed within the Wii U as being the main detracting factor when it comes to a lack of sales. And again, one would like to reference Hiroshi Yamauchi’s famously wise words when he argued that “people do not play with the game machine itself. They play with the software, and they are forced to purchase a game machine in order to use the software”. In short, it’s the games, stupid.
Of course, and in such a risk averse industry, software publishing houses would be more inclined to offer tried and tested formulae. And judging by the best selling games of last year, Nintendo’s strategy of developing sequels to its more successful franchises doesn’t seem like a bad idea either, as 7 out of the 10 best selling games for 2013 were either sequels (like FIFA 14) or benefited from being associated with a licence (like Lego Marvel Super Heroes).
The problem however arises when a company starts relying on a few stock intellectual properties (like Activision did previously with Guitar Hero and now with Call of Duty), and this is readily apparent when watching last month’s Nintendo Direct broadcast, as all one saw were Mario or Zelda universe characters that were shoe-horned in with practically every game shown.
Fashions and tastes change, and what if a certain sector of the audience doesn’t care about stock Nintendo characters (such as Zelda, Mario, or Luigi) anymore? And what if the market doesn’t care for 2D platforming games, as I am certainly not expecting Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze to do incredibly well in the marketplace when it’s released later this month. Is DKC:TF honestly of blockbuster calibre, or is its pre-release hype being over-inflated because of the lack of games currently scheduled for release on Wii U in 2014? In short, and despite Nintendo’s abundant capital reserves, there is nothing to suggest that Nintendo aren’t creatively bankrupt themselves. Their profit-centric approach to relying on a few big selling franchises alienates gamers, especially when their core IP’s are mis-managed so badly so as to not be in line with modern gaming expectations.
What will the Nintendo do when their future releases under-perform, and how will they go about recapturing the market when their stringent dedication to their existing franchises and staple genres only acts to alienate prospective gamers in the process? After all, and apart from the fresh new IP which Shigeru Miyamoto is working on for Wii U, Nintendo hasn’t announced any new intellectual properties, or offered alternatives to games like The Puppeteer, Tearaway, The Last of Us, and Max: The Curse of Brotherhood etc. And the worst thing is that (apart from The Last of Us) most of the aforementioned titles from rivals Sony and Microsoft didn’t even cost that much to make and were low budget projects in comparison. In short, Nintendo should stop releasing so many iterative games that are tied to over-exposed franchises.
Hopefully with the announcement that Nintendo is now prepared to relax its licensing policies, we’ll be seeing more unique, low budget experiences that resurrect under-utilised IP. And hopefully Nintendo will be contracting eminent developers to work on them (eg: Fatal Frame – Grasshopper Manufacture and Shinji Mikami collaboration, 2D Metroid – Koji Igarashi, Earthbound – remake with Yasumi Matsuno at the helm, Kid Icarus – Hiroshi Iuchi, F-Zero – Sega / Toshihiro Nagoshi, Starfox – Hideki Kamiya and Katsuya Eguchi collaboration, Eternal Darkness – Masashi Tsuboyama or Mark Simmons) so as to allow Nintendo’s less popular franchises to steal the limelight, and to be able to cater to more niche tastes by having a more eclectic catalogue. After all, “the true value of entertainment lies in individuality”, and Nintendo should be doing their utmost to cater to each and every gaming interest.
In short, Nintendo should create something so that it feels new. Build compelling software that evolves with the times, and the gamers will come.
Click here to go to Part Six.