During last week’s post, I said that I thought Sony had the best presentation at E3. The internet, however, seems to have stringently disagreed with me. Instead, Nintendo has been heralded as winning by a significantly larger portion of the gaming base. That’s fine by me, since I had a hard time deciding between Sony and the Mario factory to begin with, but it also strikes me because it is rare for so many people to be backing Nintendo in any way. This is important to note. Nintendo has lost a lot of esteem over the years as Sony and Microsoft chipped at their market share and their reputation through careful use of advertising, dollars for third party developers, and newer technology. Now, despite putting out an excellent system, Nintendo’s reputation has held them back with the harder core gamer, just the audience they are seeking to court. Today, I’d like to analyze Nintendo’s position in the market right now and see if a comeback would be possible for the old girl.
It’s impossible to say that Nintendo didn’t have a strong E3 presentation at this point. With a healthy mix of new games and bigger, better trailers for old, Nintendo managed to turn a lot of heads. But what does this mean to the average gamer? Basically, it’s a tally. There are games that are going to be imminently released such as Super Smash Bros. and Bayonetta 2; there are the games that are coming in the near future such as Xenoblade Chronicles X; finally, there are the heavy hitters that are still early in development such as the new Zelda game. This three tier approach may seem innocuous and intuitive, but there is a lot of power behind it. What Nintendo is doing with this schedule is telling gamers that there won’t be another drought, that they have releases lined up consistently into the future.
And games have always been the Wii U’s problem, more specifically release dates. During the year-long drought that ruined the Wii U’s reputation, Nintendo continued to promise great games – in the distant future. This was great for some, who trusted Nintendo to deliver, but, for others, it was hardly a reason to go out and buy the flagging system. By making it seem like games are going to be released on a regular basis – starting now – Nintendo has given on-the-fence gamers a tangible reason to believe that their new purchase won’t become a paper weight.
Importantly is that Nintendo doesn’t seem to be resting on their laurels the way they did with the Wii and during the first six months of the Wii U’s lifespan. The Miiverse gets regular updates that make it more accessible and better for the public. Admittedly, the Virtual Console is still underused, but it’s being better utilized now than before, especially since the addition of Gameboy Advance games onto the market.
Then there is the promotions that make Steam Sales look like a rip off. In particular, the fact that Nintendo is giving purchasers a free game with the purchase of Mario Kart 8. Not cheap games either: New Super Mario Bros U, Pikmen 3, Wii Play U, and Zelda Wind Waker HD. These are full priced games, being given for nothing for anyone who buys what is certain to be Nintendo’s most popular game on the system. This promotion would be impressive if it were used to promote an unpopular game such as the Wonderful 101. Using it with a game that most people are going to buy seemed odd at first, but it makes sense to me now: it’s a show of force. Nintendo is using it to drum up as many Mario Kart sales as quickly as possible. They’ve attached it to Mario Kart 8 because they know most people who own a Wii U were going to buy it eventually anyway. By trumping up fast sales on a flagship title, Nintendo is showing that there is life in the machine and there is still a lot of room for profit in software sales. This is critical to Nintendo as the Wii U and its games have had sluggish sales, and Mario Kart is a weapon in their arsenal to turn this reality and perception around.
The reception of Nintendo’s core franchises is also important. Super Mario 3D World and Mario Kart 8 currently have higher reviews than any full game on either the Xbox One or PS4. Even though Nintendo first party games often get ignored because of the incorrect perception there is no innovation in them, these are numbers that many people find hard to ignore. Nintendo may not make infrastructure for third party developers, but the fact that their first party games continued to score extremely well, consistently, is a major feather in their cap.
Realistically, however, it is unlikely that Nintendo will be able to close the gap between the PS4/Xbox One and the Wii U at this point. Both other consoles have their fans and both other companies are fully committed to their product. It would take a miraculous sales boost to bring Nintendo up to their level. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that Nintendo’s sales are around the same as the PS4, though with certainly less momentum and a year’s head start. Kickstarted sales could conceivably keep Nintendo competitive. This would require momentum, however, and with Super Smash Bros all the way in the holiday season, it doesn’t seem likely that Nintendo is going to be able to generate enough to overcome their competitors any time soon.
Even without the sales momentum, Nintendo is in the best place it’s been in, in years. They have an excellent product, and people are starting to notice that fact. They’ve also set themselves apart from the nearly identical other consoles, which makes them hard to ignore. While I don’t see the adolescent Call of Duty crowd jumping ship any time soon, there is a lot of room for growth with the Wii U, and the ground work has been placed. If Nintendo keeps it up with constant vigilance, the Wii U could turn around and be more than the spectacular underachiever that it is now. No promises, though. Nintendo does not have a good track record of keeping their hands moving.
– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer