MG Siegler at TechCrunch makes the case that “the death of Nintendo has been greatly under-exaggerated”:
Nintendo no longer is just competing with the others in their direct space—meaning gaming consoles and handhelds—meaning Sony and Microsoft. They are competing with every single smartphone and tablet currently on the market. And soon, they’ll likely be competing with a number of other set-top boxes as well entering the gaming space. Nintendo’s greatest weakness is the illusion (bolstered by years of reality) that they have years to figure out their competition and outlast them. They do not.
I’d been thinking off and on about writing something about Nintendo which would have annoyed people in much the same way that MG’s piece will, although mine would not annoy nearly as many people because (a) my audience is smaller and (b) a much smaller percentage of my readers make it their life’s work to tell me why I am wrong about everything than is true of MG’s readers. Also, I was never really a gamer, not in the way we mean it now.1
When people like John Gruber made the case that Nintendo was in trouble earlier this year, the general reaction from gamers—and very smart gamers, mind you—was, essentially, you say that because you don’t understand Nintendo. Perhaps not, but MG puts his finger on what bothered me about that response. Nintendo’s problem isn’t like Apple’s in the late ’90s—it’s like Nokia’s in the late 2000s. People were describing Apple back then as on death’s door because it was. Nokia, though, was the #1 cell phone manufacturer by a wide margin, flush with cash, stuffed with smart engineers and designers. And Nokia was supported by tens of thousands of fans ready to explain in impatient detail why the iPhone—let alone Android, pff!—only looked like a threat to people who didn’t understand Nokia.
They were right. The changes in the market did only look like a threat to people who didn’t “get” Nokia. That was the problem.
In terms of technology, Nintendo simply isn’t competitive with the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One. Fans maintain that the brand strength is more than enough to offset that deficiency. Maybe, but that bet didn’t work out so well for Sega. Maybe Nintendo will come out with a Wii U successor in a few years that’s at least on a par with Microsoft and Sony’s offerings—but that just sticks them on the horns of a different dilemma: either they’ll end up in exactly the same position when the PlayStation 5 and Xbox π come out, or they’ll have zigged when the market has zagged. There’s a non-zero chance that the current generation of consoles is the last generation of Consoles As We Know Them.
Like everyone else bloviating about this I can’t come up with guaranteed good advice for Mario and friends. I don’t think the advice to drop all the hardware and port their games to everything else as fast as possible is particularly sound. But if I ran Nintendo, I’d probably be quietly exiting the console business and partner with Microsoft or Sony to make them the exclusive platform for our next generation “living room” games. I’d stay in the handheld hardware business for the time being, for much the same reason it makes sense for Amazon to keep producing e-ink Kindles for the time being: smartphones and tablets have become fine gaming devices, but a handheld game console is still a better experience at a lower price point. And I wouldn’t definitively rule out original games—not ports—for iOS and Android.
Do I really think Nintendo is doomed? No. But they—and their fans—need to come to grips with the truth that what they’re doing right now is not working. It’s not going to suddenly start working when a new Zelda game ships for the Wii U. They need to change, and they need to figure out those changes while they still have the resources to make bold moves rather than desperate ones.
I grew up with pen-and-paper role playing games, but the aspects of RPGs easiest for computers to model—dice, numbers and dungeon crawling—were the aspects I found the least interesting. My favorite games have always been adventure games, and to me the “storytelling” in modern big-budget productions, even critically-acclaimed ones like Bioshock and The Last of Us, tends to have a lot less to it than meets the eye. ↩