I love you, but I fear for your future
There has been a big change in the way that we buy our stuff now. Gradually we are losing the intrinsic materialistic mentality towards everything we give our money to. Even the concept of money is slowly becoming more and more lost as just another web site you go to – transferring numbers from your account to someone elses account on a different site. But none of this means as much as it does to digital content being distributed digitally.
It’s no secret that I love Nintendo. I love their products, and I love the worldwide spanning appeal to the things they create when so many of their competitors seem to place themselves in more niche markets, but that they also retain the feeling of Japan – I experienced this when I visited Japan (specifically Kyoto) earlier this year. I haven’t though bought a Nintendo 3DS. And I have been wondering why, considering I love the company so much.
There are a multitude of reasons, firstly I was actually travelling in Japan when the system was launched, so I missed the furore over it by the time I came back, and there haven’t been that many stellar games out for it since its release. And probably more importantly I remember getting a DS when it was first launched and the line up of launch games was not really that great (same can be said for the Wii). Having looked at the launch line up for the 3DS, I came to the same conclusion.
Move on a couple of months and we get the launch of one of Nintendo’s most revered and critically acclaimed products – Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Surely this was a system seller, and surely it would be enough to pursuade me to invest in one? Well, you see, I am a huge Zelda fan – it’s probably easier to count the Zelda games I haven’t completed than have – and different opinion though it may be, Ocarina is not my favourite Zelda game. When I was of the age to ask for a games console of my own, I chose to leave behind my beloved Nintendo and ask for a PlayStation instead – a decision I in no way regret, even now. However, I missed quite a lot of cherished games from the Nintendo 64 platform, including Ocarina. I have since played it (I had the special edition Wind Waker, which included the extra bonus disk) quite a few years ago now, and it still had the feel of Zelda games, it just didn’t feel as good as some of its successors to me.
This is why not even the mightiest of Zelda games could not pursuade me to buy a system. I read plenty of reviews about it and it makes me so happy that in a slew of remakes at the moment, Nintendo have taken the time to recreate the game properly, with incredible attention to detail, and should be held up as the pillar of quality expected by us as consumers for the remakes that are coming out. All this being said, Nintendo are releasing some pretty awesome looking games in the next few months, but they are once again, more Mario games. Even though they are brilliant games, sometimes you’ve got to wonder why Nintendo can’t point their very talented staff at new creative projects.
Where I think Nintendo really need to nail the 3DS, and which I don’t think they have done so far, is a way to compete with iOS’s App Store. Nintendo created a broader, casual market in 2006 when they brought the Wii out – everyone and their Granddad knows what a Wii is (mine probably knew anyway, but that’s because my Granddad is cooler than yours, he and Nan still play on the NES every day after Countdown). However, it was Apple who have inadvertently created a market for the kind of games that the casual player is more likely to buy and play. It’s not even that the quality of those games has to be very high, for 69p a shot you’re not going to put in the same kind of resources in as you might for a full length 3DS title. They are cheap enough for there to be no risk as a consumer. If you’re a parent, surely you are more likely to let your kid buy a few 69p games which will probably keep them happy for a few hours, rather than forking out £30 a time for one game that they could potentially lose interest in. What this means for those of us who do enjoy full length £30 3DS/DS games is that the market has now shrunk.
Nintendo need their e-store to be competitive with the App Store. But even offering every game that is available on the App Store on the e-store will not be enough. The gamer who is likely to have bought the 3DS because of the opportunities of playing full length boxed games, are also likely to be the kind of person who is old enough to own and use an iPod Touch/iPhone/Smart Phone in general, and having a dedicated hand held gaming device now seems a bit redundant. The 3DS is becoming a niche product. Nintendo need a slew of awesome software, a decent amount of support for their e-store and a clever advertising campaign to take back some of the market that Apple now has. At the moment, Apple don’t seem to be terribly interested in supporting gaming, but it is definitely only a matter of time before they do, and when they do Nintendo and Sony will be in trouble if they haven’t laid down good enough groundwork to support their platforms. Obviously I’m using Apple as an example, the stores on Android and Windows Phone likely give the same impact.
Speaking from a business point of view, I think Nintendo were wrong to call the device a 3DS. Yes it’s a cute play on words of both 3D and DS, but in broadening the market for the casual gamer, you also have to bear in mind that the majority of them don’t subscribe to Edge magazine or read IGN, so when they see any form of the acronym “DS” they’ll immediately realise that they’ve already got one and that’s good enough, not realising that it is an entirely new piece of hardware. Also, if you’re selling both the 3DS and DS on the same shelves, an uninformed shopper is going to buy the cheaper of the DS products. I also now think that the Wii-U is a bad name and potentially holds the same kind of confusion to uninformed consumers.
Nintendo have historically always released a revised model of their hardware some time after their initial launch- the DS lite was released a mere 15 months after the DS phat in Europe. The obvious move Nintendo are now making is trying to improve the form factor and I assume battery life of the current model, however I have to disagree with their move earlier this year to release the extra slider hardware attachment. Don’t get me wrong, the first DS and first 3DS are not exaclty ugly, but they’re not the best looking devices Nintendo have released, but the slider looks like an admission of failure, it looks rushed and it does not fill me with confidence that they actually know what they’re doing. There is nothing more that would put my off buying a first generation 3DS than this cheap and tacky add on.
It saddens me that I am writing this because I believe that Nintendo are somewhat the mirror image of Apple in the game industry, always providing unique and innovative gaming experiences. Even re-using Mario, they have still created one of the best games of this generation (Super Mario Galaxy/2). I hope that Nintendo are agile and nimble enough to make enough people have a reason to keep buying their products, because I can’t imagine a world where Nintendo aren’t making hardware – they have been for all of my life.