There’s a decent chance you don’t have a WiiU yet. I can’t really blame you, because there’s a simple lack of software. Going into E3 week and looking ahead towards the Holiday season, many analysts have already written Nintendo off. Nintendo has been characteristically tight-lipped about what games it might have in the works, so consumer confidence has been low. Notwithstanding a bizarre blip in the UK where WiiU sales climbed astronomically after the XBox One announcement two weeks ago, the WiiU has sold only a paltry 3.6 million worldwide since its launch last fall, millions shy of its predecessor’s sales from the same time period.
There’s also the puzzling move of not having a proper E3 press conference, but instead doing an online E3 Nintendo Direct address on Tuesday, June 11. We’re at a lull in the game industry, the calm before the storm, and gamers are incredibly curious about what the new generation of consoles has to offer. They’ve been hesitant to buy the WiiU because of the lack of software, extant or promised, and they’re waiting to see what Microsoft and Sony have to offer before they decide where their money goes. Not doing a huge press conference could be a missed opportunity by Nintendo to assuage those doubts — or perhaps it suggests that the Big N just doesn’t have anything strong to offer.
Despite all this, it’s too early to write Nintendo off completely. This doesn’t mean I have blind faith in Nintendo. I’ve been a Nintendo fan my whole life, through thick and thin, but I’m a realist. Nintendo’s made some mistakes that are just too weird and ludicrous to ignore, like the Virtual Boy, and we can’t ignore the fact that it’s a profit-driven company, not some benevolent sky-god that doles out perfect software from its immaculate heavenly cloud. Don’t forget, no figure has a more fearsome and cutthroat reputation in the game industry than Hiroshi Yamauchi, former president of Nintendo Co, Ltd., and still its largest shareholder.
What I have for Nintendo isn’t faith. It’s more of an ingrained response, almost Pavlovlian. Nintendo has surprised game analysts time and again since the NES was first released, defying the oracles who predicted its demise. Through it all they’ve been stoic and tight-lipped, the classic closely-held corporation, even in the face of enormous pressure to say or do something. So when I hear that Nintendo’s staying quiet, I don’t take that as a sign that it’s on the verge of collapse. To me that’s just Nintendo being Nintendo.
When I was a kid, we didn’t “play video games,” we “played Nintendo.” Now there’s this whole video game industry that rivals Hollywood in scope and is packed with high-budget projects and celebrity voice actors. In this new industry, it’s expected that the major players will be extremely open about their plans so that they can please shareholders. The voices the industry listens to are those like Michael Pachter, a professional game industry analyst at Wedbush Securities and perennial Nintendo nay-sayer, who doesn’t understand how Nintendo can hope to compete with titans like Sony and Microsoft.
With all due respect to Mr. Pachter, who really is an intelligent and reasonable person, he’s sort of missing the big picture. Nintendo isn’t really part of the game industry — it never really has been. The NES was released in the US at a time when video games were thought to be dying, yet Nintendo succeeded by branding itself as the anti-Atari. It didn’t sell video games — it sold “game paks.” It wasn’t an elite gadget for computer geeks, but a simple and inexpensive toy. The NES was laughed at when Nintendo took it to trade shows, and analysts remained extremely skeptical. Yet the NES became an unmitigated success.
With the advent of competitors like Playstation, and XBox, Nintendo is no longer the dominant force it once was. Many see this as a failure on Nintendo’s part, and in some ways that’s true. Nintendo made a serious misstep with the N64 thanks to the difficulties of development, allowing the original Playstation to claw its way to the top. It would seem that Nintendo has failed in its quest to be number one.
But here’s the critical problem with that line of thinking: everyone assumes that Nintendo is trying to compete with Sony and Microsoft, when in reality it has absolutely no interest in doing so. As a closely-held company, Nintendo has no obligation to shareholders to constantly show profits and growth, or to be forthcoming about its upcoming plans. It can do whatever it wants, beholden to no one, and what it wants to do is make inexpensive toys that play fun games. Nintendo’s not trying to make an all-in-one multimedia device. It isn’t trying to make blockbuster games with cutting edge graphics and celebrity voices. Nintendo is going do what it’s always done, which is to make interesting and innovative games that make the most of the tech at hand.
I’m guardedly optimistic about the upcoming E3 Nintendo Direct because if there’s one thing Nintendo does well, it’s surprises. I don’t subscribe to the idea that a game company has to behave like other game companies to be successful. It bothers a lot of game journalists that Nintendo doesn’t give them enough to write about, but it’s unfair to compare Nintendo to Sony or Microsoft. Those companies are multinational, publicly-trade conglomerates. Nintendo is a small company from Kyoto whose name means “leave luck to heaven.” It was here before there was such a thing as a “game industry,” and it’s not going anywhere.
Are you stoked about Nintendo’s E3 plans, or have you written them off already? Let us know in the comments!