Saturday, January 10, 2009


How Nintendo Lost the Console War

Something interesting is happening.

As of this writing, Nintendo seems to be on the cusp of a 50% market share in the current generation of home video game consoles. That means that the Wii will have sold as many units as the Playstation 3 and the X-Box 360 combined.

Go to video game discussion forums. What are people talking about? PS3 versus 360.

The battle for second place. That's what interests gamers these days.

Nintendo? Everybody hates Nintendo. Nobody wants to talk about them. Nobody wants to remember it exists.

Sure, why not? They're number 1 right now. Everyone hated Sony when they were number 1. But the funny thing is, not even the Nintendo fans are really all that happy. Just look at all of the bellyaching over a Christmas full of Wii Music and Animal Crossing.

The Monolithic Nerdcore Video Game Kingdom is in turmoil. Listen to what they say. There is an anger here that goes beyond the typical fanboy stuff, the "I need to justify buying Box A by cutting down Box B" brand identification that has dominated the conversation for as long as there have been multiple game systems on the market. If it was just that Nintendo made games that people didn't like, then Sony and Microsoft fans would just laugh off Nintendo's new system the same way they did for the past two generations now.

People hate Nintendo. They're pissed off. There's an overwhelming feeling among gamers that Nintendo has betrayed us. What happened?

I have an idea.

Remember that when Nintendo came out with the NES in the mid-80's, they were a breakout success. Nintendo became synonymous with video games. They were the only game in town.

Then Sega came out with the Genesis. Nintendo answered with the Super NES. Nintendo fans remember it as a golden age, but even then, their market share was getting nibbled away. Even a transition from the only game in town to the biggest game in town is a pretty hard one. And Sega's assault -- with a color handheld, a CD add-on, and aggressive marketing -- earned them a lot of cool points. Whatever the market may have said, the anecdotal buzz made Nintendo seem like the dorkier of the two big companies at the time.

And then the Playstation slam dunked the industry. When they went up against the Playstation and eventually the Dreamcast with the Nintendo 64, they started earning themselves a sour reputation that would only get worse into the next generation. They were technically inferior. First they chose cartridges over discs, then they chose small discs over normal discs. They didn't have online. They only made "kids' games".

I still remember what happened during the Gamecube era. I remember how embarrassing it was, watching Nintendo try to reach out to people who just didn't give a fuck. They tried to get the hardcore titles on the Gamecube. They got the exclusive deals to Resident Evil and Eternal Darkness. They got Metroid Prime and Geist to prove that they could do FPS games too. They tried again and again to prove to people who played video games that they were just as cool as Sony and Microsoft.

But why would people leaving Sony and Microsoft? Nintendo wasn't offering anything they couldn't already get. And they struggled for market share.

And so they announced that their next product was going to be a Revolution.

They showed us the controller and we laughed. They showed us the graphics and we laughed. They told us the name and we laughed.

Look at everything that Nintendo is doing wrong, we said. This system will never appeal to us. It will fail spectacularly, and then Nintendo will have to drop out of the console business just like Sega did.

Ah. Remember what happened to Sega?

The Dreamcast didn't make them enough money, and so they decided to stop selling consoles and start making multiplatform software. But then they had to compete on an equal footing against other companies, and they saw how difficult it was, and they've been struggling for relevance ever since, particularly when it comes to making good games that feature their mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog.

There was a time when we all thought Nintendo was going to do that. That we would kick them out of the console market for good and they'd be forced to do what Sega did. We thought that Nintendo would be destroyed just as Sega had been.

I wonder.

I wonder if the truth is that it was never Nintendo's intention to make another video game console in the traditional sense. I wonder if Nintendo wasn't destroyed. I wonder if the real thing going on here is Nintendo's transition from Video Game Company to Something Else.

Look at what they're doing. Look at Touch Generations. Look at all of the non-game software they do these days. A cooking trainer. Wii Fit. Wii Music. Remember when they'd crank out a Mario Party every year like clockwork? We haven't heard a peep in a while now. Remember when Mario was on everything Nintendo did? When they couldn't even release a god damned DDR on Gamecube without Mario on it? Now we find that Nintendo's face is, well, a Mii's face.

Nintendo has been in business for over a hundred years. They began as a playing card company. They'll change what they're about if there's money to be made from it.

We expected to see Nintendo just keep doing the same old things to try and please us and to keep failing over and over until they faded into obscurity and then oblivion. That's what we expected their defeat to look like.

Hypothesis: Nintendo lost the console race with the Gamecube. And with the Wii, they willfully left it behind. And I don't think there could be a surer sign of this than the fact that the Monolithic Video Game Kingdom doesn't give a fuck about anything they do anymore.

Just think about what that would mean. This is what we've done to Nintendo by marginalizing them for the past two generations. This is what we've pushed them into becoming. We created this. We pushed them straight out of the video game business and into... well, Something Else.

So why the hatred? Why don't gamers just enjoy their PS3s and 360s and get over it? Because Nintendo did something that we can never forgive them for.

They proved that they don't need us.

After ten years of pushing all of their resources into trying to make us like them again, they've given us up as a lost cause. And by giving up on us, they've once again become the biggest game in town. They've shone a light on what a puny, insignificant, closet hobby this really is. They've shown us how small we really are when it comes down to it. How little people at large truly care about the things we care about. They have invalidated all of the things that we value -- gorey shooting games, high-definition graphics, complex controls, online communities -- and, by extension, they have invalidated us.

And so we seethe. And we scream that Nintendo's going to be in big trouble if all they do is crap like Wii Fit and Wii Music, that they'd better start listening to what we want if they know what's good for them. And when they stand at the brink of 50% market share, we seethe some more because we don't want to see our glorious hobby eclipsed by Something Else.

So what's next?

I guess we watch Nintendo go down the road of making elegant, friendly entertainment and self-improvement software and occasionally video games. We watch Sony and Microsoft try to horn in on this suddenly lucrative market. And we watch modern nerdcore gaming quietly dwindle into a tight little niche.

Maybe. I'm guessing. What the hell would I know? I'm just a blogger.


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