Nintendo has been around for a long time; since September 23, 1889, when it was founded as Nintendo Koppai. This company has existed for a much longer period than what is commonly considered their competition. Sony, a fellow Japanese company, was started in 1946, and Mircosoft has only been around since 1975. You could easily look at these much younger companies and applaud them for all they have been able to accomplish is a shorter time, but it is Nintendo’s humbleness that sets them apart from so many other companies and is one of the things that I believe will keep Nintendo around for generations to come. Nintendo has been successful in bringing joy to people’s lives and creating its own unique culture. Nintendo is more than just a company and it has a legacy.
Nintendo started off making Hanafuda cards. These cards became popular and the company expanded. Even today, Nintendo manufactures playing cards, including Hanafuda. But everthing changed in 1965 when Nintendo’s Hiroshi Yamauchi visited America to speak with the United States Playing Card Company. It was seeing how small this company was, even though it was the largest card manufacture in the country, that would forever change the direction of Nintendo. Hiroshi Yamauchi saw that in order to survive in the long term, and keep his Family’s business alive, Nintendo would need to expand beyond playing cards.
Following that 1965 American visit, Nintendo dabbled in several other businesses; a taxi service, love hotels, a TV network, and even a food company. All of these were unable to expand the Nintendo brand in a meaningful way. It wasn’t until 1966 when Nintendo released the Ultra Hand, that the company found a new niche in the toy market. Designed by Gunpei Yokoi; this extendable arm toy was able to sell millions. Nintendo released several toys in this period, two-way radios, Disney themed board games, plastic building blocks that were copied from LEGO, but in the end they could not keep up with more established toy manufactures.
In 1973 Nintendo started manufacturing the Laser Clay Shooting System. A system so large that they were put into vacant bowling alley properties. Do to eventually spikes on energy prices these were scaled down in size with variations such as the Mini Laser Clay and familiar names like Duck Hunt and Wild Gunman. This marked a move from the toy industry to the video game industry. In 1980 Nintendo released the Game & Watch series, once again from designer Gunpei Yokoi. Nintendo’s original handheld gave the company great success and started to expand the company to the rest of the world. The next year, in 1981, under the creative design of Shigeru Miyamoto, Donkey Kong was released. This marks the beginning of the modern Nintendo empire.
The following decades saw incredible growth; with the popularity of the Famicom, the NES, the Super Famicom, the Super NES, and the Game Boy. Within this period, Nintendo continued it’s tradition of trying new things. While Nintendo’s handhelds have remained relatively strong, their home consoles haven’t always retained as strong a hold on the market. This is in some way do to handheld devices being better accommodating to Gunpei Yokoi’s philosophy of, “Lateral Thinking with Seasoned Technology.” With the 64 and GameCube, and the even worse off Virtual Boy; Nintendo struggled with sales and attracting outside development of software. The Wii gave Nintendo incredibly high hardware sales but the Wii’s seasoned technology combined with two similarly more powerful competitors; Nintendo failed to attract the same attention from software developers.
Nintendo openly had a goal to gain back a great amount of outside software development with the release of the Wii U in 2012. Unfortunately the company failed to harness the momentum of that idea. They misread the market in several ways. Nintendo underestimated the importance of their own software, and at the same time overestimated other companies’ ability to provide compelling and relevant software for the Wii U.
I would say, for a launch, Nintendo put some pretty good and varied cards on the table. Nintendo Land, Super Mario Bros. U, and and an in-house improved, re-release of Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge. While that isn’t a massive showing, it is at least a collection of enjoyable games. In the meantime EA offered a full-priced Mass Effect 3 when a same-priced Mass Effect Trilogy was known to be shortly releasing on other systems. EA also created a FIFA and Madden game built on older generation game engines and did not include the highly popular, Ultimate Teams mode. Ubisoft offered a pretty good idea with Zombi U. This game had a good premiss, but with a lack of play testing and a overly harsh review on an influential gaming site, it failed to deliver strong numbers. Activision released a Call of Duty with awesome split-screen multiplayer that made use of the GamePad controller, but there were no downloadable add-ons which is a major component to the Call of Duty games.
The unfortunate trend of lack luster games continued. Since launch there has been a mediocre showing from the likes of EA, Ubisoft, Activison, Bandai Namco, WB Games, and 2K Sports. Large studios such as Bethesda, 2K Games, and Rockstar have been complete no shows. This problem has been compacted by poor sales of slapped together games and an oddly overestimated sales expectation of the Wii U system. The estimation of Wii level sales on the Wii U was idiotic, and was likely done to appease share holders. Nintendo realistically got lucky with Wii system sales. Sure, I think it’s a great system, but it just happened to be the right system at the right time and this not something that could easily be recreated with the Wii U. Given these factors, surely the sales could be better, but they could also be worse.
I have seen many articles asking questions, or making suggestions on how to fix the Wii U problem. Maybe there is nothing they can do to completely fix their situation. I had high hopes for the Wii U last year. I thought that a remake of the best Zelda game would help more than it did. I thought that Super Mario 3D World was more of a system seller that it ended up being. Now in 2014, I am more humble in my estimations. Even if Nintendo doesn’t announce anything new and amazing for the remainder of the year, Mario Kart and Smash don’t do as well as their Wii counterparts, and with things staying relatively they same as they were last year; Nintendo will at least end up making a profit this year.
Nintendo has set itself up for a good year at worst. They have gotten a lot of expensive expenditures out of the way in the past few years. They have bought some new buildings for company. They have purchased the Yamauchi family stocks; which is necessary because it protects them against the many investors that do not understand the company and insist on things that would ruin the future legacy of Nintendo. They have spent many resources on putting the 3DS and the Wii U in a position where they are now stable as a company. All it would take is something unexpected, something uniquely Nintendo that could propel the company into new popularity. But what if that never happens?
I know so many people that grew up with Nintendo just as I did. However a large portion of them have moved on from what they liked in their childhood and adolescence; to other things. I don’t blame them, people’s tastes change over time. For better or for worse Nintendo’s approach to creating video games is largely unchanged from the 1980s. Nintendo does primarily make games that are appropriate for everyone and they still do follow the philosophy of Lateral Thinking with Seasoned Technology. That doesn’t seem to appeal to a lot of older gamers. These are people that grew up exploring dungeons in The Legend of Zelda and now talk about how cool it would be if Nintendo made a dark, mature adventure for Link. I honestly don’t know if these people fully understand what it was that made Link to the Past so wonderful.
For now, it is possible that Nintendo loses some of the gaming audience that it helped cultivate. Maybe while people are off crafting mines, answering calls to duty, thieving autos, and flapping birds; Nintendo keeps doing what it does best, creating something fun and amazing that people of all ages can enjoy. Perhaps they expand upon their core and continue to fund games like Bayonetta 2. Perhaps Nintendo’s more quirky games starting making their way beyond just Japan to further broaden the spectrum of their fans. Perhaps Nintendo does something that no one is asking for and no one is expecting, and that everyone wants it. Something so untypical would be typical of Nintendo. After all, disruption is one of Nintendo’s greatest legacies.