Sorry for the long absence everybody, but we’re back to the regular update schedule.
Nintendo has been really interesting to watch this generation. The Wii U started off mildly strong, then sunk really, really deep. The longer it was out, the worse things got. Whether it was the abandonment of many third parties, or the huge success of their two principal competitors, Nintendo seemed like it was out. But the most frustrating thing was that this is the generation that Nintendo always deserved to flourish in. I haven’t seen Nintendo try this hard to win over the hearts and minds of their audience since back in the SNES or early N64 days. They’ve brought out some of their highest quality first path games ever, they’ve introduced a way to speak directly to consumers, and they’re now getting into that sweet Skylander money pot. The great news is that all of Nintendo’s work may finally be paying off.
To say that the Wii left Nintendo in bad shape is an understatement. It was the fastest-selling console ever made and utterly dominated sales last generation. However, it was also by far the worst console last generation. Nintendo didn’t really support it, and its inferior hardware was a serious problem as the jump to HD graphics was a major one. But it was the support that tanked it. Wii games, with some major exceptions like Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2 and Xenblade Chronicles, just weren’t up to snuff. And Nintendo’s audience was cooling after the weaker-than-average Gamecube, and the N64, whose support gave out late in the generation. Sales of the hardware made Nintendo money, but, from a long-term perspective, the Wii damaged Nintendo’s brand to a massive extent.
Cue the Wii U – a console aimed not at casuals like the Wii, but at the now-wavering Nintendo faithful. Its sales were strong at first, but it soon became clear that Nintendo rushed it to market as the games simply weren’t forthcoming. The launch games, particularly New Super Mario Bros. U were great, but it took half a year for Nintendo to deliver anything else worth playing. This reeked of Nintendo’s general strategy to release hardware into the wild and ignore supporting it. Consumers were unimpressed, and the rapid release of the PS4 and Xbox One merely a year later cut off the already near-stagnant momentum the Wii U had.
But as the Wii U was made the butt of the internet’s jokes about Nintendo, as Ubisoft, Activision, and EA pulled their support, Nintendo was actually doing something, something that is just now only starting to pay off. Nintendo Direct is one of the best things Nintendo has brought to this generation. Unlike the other two major competitors, Nintendo doesn’t have to waste money on conferences, or release information about games in a scattershot way. They get to fully control how everything is presented, and do so in a lean, effective presentation. More importantly, these Directs are frequent, which means we always know what’s going on with Nintendo’s games (except for Fire Emblem x Shin Megami Tensei, that one seems dead).
It’s clear that Nintendo wasn’t ready to launch the Wii U a year earlier than the rest of the consoles, but now that Nintendo has caught up, they have been releasing hit after hit. This is especially important now, considering how comparatively bad 2014 was for both Sony and Microsoft. Super Smash Bros. Wii U, Mario Kart 8, and Super Mario 3D Land – these may sound derivative, but they are among the strongest entries of their respective series. For series as long running as those, that’s a huge bonus. The truth is that none of Nintendo’s big games disappointed in 2014, where so many other games did (Destiny). Even without third party support, Nintendo actually has the best games on the market right now of all current consoles.
Then, of course, there is the Amiibos. I was skeptical at first. After all, Nintendo wasn’t doing well with the Wii U, so why would they introduce another gimmick. Well, this gimmick has taken off in a big way. Mirroring the Skylanders model of joining toys and games, Amiibos are an ingenious marketing strategy. They’ve already brought Nintendo over 1 billion dollars in additional revenue. These toys not only give Nintendo oodles of money, but provide incentives for Nintendo to integrate them into further games, thus increasing Nintendo’s direct support to the product, something Nintendo has traditionally been bad at (see Miis).
Finally, there’s the PC crowd. PC gaming was saved by Steam when it was flagging due to piracy, and has regained its status as a console alternative or alternate for publishers. PC games are notably ornery, and that ire has mostly been pointed at the PS4 and Xbox One. These powerful consoles have been accused of simply being sub-par PCs by the PC crowd. The Wii U, however, offers something quite different. You hear very often about PC gamers, who will buy the Wii U because it gave them an experience that they couldn’t receive on the PC. In fact, that has become a great strength of Nintendo. The PS4 and Xbox One are more or less interchangeable with the PC and each other, but the Wii U is the only place to get Nintendo games. It’s the only place for Amiibos. It’s the only place where fun gets prioritized over profits, grittiness, and competition.
All of the above-noted things are coming together in a big way and starting to turn public opinion towards Nintendo’s way of thinking. While the Wii U started off as heavily derided, it’s now beloved by an ever-growing segment of the gaming population. Now, Nintendo announced that December 2014 marked its best month ever for Wii U sales. If Nintendo is able to hold onto this momentum and keep a steady stream of high quality games coming out, they could actually turn their fortunes around. It’s going to require work, the kind of work they’ve been doing, but maybe Nintendo isn’t a lost cause after all.
– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer