As Nintendo circles back around to begin acknowledging core gamer interests once again, I have begun to think about the creative talent Nintendo still possesses. Cynical people may be quicker to note than I that this is just another in a string of attempts to bolster Nintendo’s flagging hardware so that the casuals notice the system because the person in their social circle that “knows games” is talking about or owns one. And as true as this may be, my optimism, which has allowed me to dwell on the possibility that the “real Nintendo” is back, has helped me with a difficult thing: uncovering another layer of Nintendo’s bullshit. Many years and E3s ago Nintendo announced their Blue Ocean strategy alongside the launch of the Wii that discussed how, as the smaller of three companies vying for console dominance, Nintendo would benefit from exploring nontraditional avenues to find a lucrative place in the industry. Unable to feasibly compete any longer in an escalating arms race of tech specs between giant multi-industry corporations like Microsoft and Sony, Nintendo deferred and walked away from the red ocean of direct competition. The decision was met with success, in large part thanks to Nintendo’s miserly accounting, and it seemed that, while disappointing to older fans, this strategy was the way to go. Well, I think it was wrong. I think the money they made, in the flash success they experienced, was only a short taste of the kind of success they could see today. And that success would not have to include executive pay cuts, frustrated core gamers amidst cycles of inattention and sudden apologetic acknowledgement, wasted time on dead end peripherals like the Vitality Sensor, or risking entering a new field with whatever Iwata’s Quality of Life initiative is all about.
To advocate a Blue Ocean strategy is to say there is no chance to directly compete, and I find this very untrue in Nintendo’s case. The myth is not that Nintendo could be met with success but that it is a wholly necessary campaign given the competitive landscape. First of all, the notion is misleading bordering on ignorant of the industry as a whole. The “Ocean” Nintendo sails is not truly blue as they regularly compete directly with their competitors, as they always have, for shelf space and third party support. Aside from the misleading idealism of the strategy, the Blue Ocean has by now proven itself to be as risky a territory as anything else. Wrangling the attention of casuals means having to continually be on the ball of “what is trending” (typing that made me want to vomit, excuse me) and by the nature of modern tech trends this means things boom and bust in very short order. Nintendo all but sold their latest handheld on a feature (they even put it in the name) that peeked and fell in the span of about two years. Now Nintendo sells a version of the same handheld without that feature included at all. Likewise the WiiU was conceived and brought to market around the tail end of the e-reader and tablet boom, which in 2014 are two gadgets people gave up finding creative excuses to use in front of whoever gave it to them for Christmas in 2010.
So instead of continuing to play a game of “what will most people in my local super market think is neat” I think Nintendo has to face the fact that their touted Blue Ocean is no more reliable or ideal than the alternative. The business strategy plays no more to their strengths, instead I think it sits very much outside their wheelhouse. When describing Nintendo, two terms I would never come to are “trendy” or “on the ball”. Their beginnings of Gunpei Yokoi’s “lateral thinking with withered technology” is a mindset meant to cater to a company with fewer resources and an interest in consumer value as a selling point. Contorting that view to fit into what the Twitterverse is currently hashtagging holds more, not fewer, pitfalls than committing to an industry Nintendo has been a successful part of for over thirty years. But getting fully back on the horse as a leading force in gaming requires the dispelling of yet another myth. This one is so big the whole industry believes it.
This myth is that Mario is unbeatable. So much so that even attempting to compete with Mario and other AAA first party Nintendo products is actively harmful and better off avoided. So the problem is that Nintendo platforms feature such amazing software that, instead of attracting more buyers to the console and thus making fertile ground for all games, it creates an attention vacuum that enthralls buyers so much that anything even distantly related (such as sharing a platform) makes them look meager by comparison. Now I do love Nintendo games, and I hold their internal studios in pretty high regard at least as far as potential goes, but I do not subscribe to the notion that Nintendo games are quite this stupendous. Flattering as it may be to Nintendo, this notion represents an astounding lost opportunity. But it will remain lost in the face of Nintendo’s world-class obstinacy and refusal to seek assistance in the areas they need it. Where Nintendo is capable of being creative in the confines of their “withered technology” they are remarkably less so when it comes to fitting in with what others want from them. Instead they develop totally unique hardware that only their own internal studios have the first clue how to implement correctly. And then some brave third party flops a middling zombie shooter alongside a towering convergence of hardware and software development planning that spans back years and includes some of the best minds in the industry to make Super Mario 3D World. 3D World is a fine game, but I think Nintendo sells itself short if those same “best minds” could not create an equally masterful experience with technology that was more welcoming to those residing outside the Nintendo Mind Meld. The idea that Mario and company are more of a burden than a selling point for Nintendo’s third party relations is a demonstration of total mismanagement. And the idea that Nintendo’s fierce business practices in the Yamauchi days should still keep people wary is only one perpetuated by omission. Yamauchi and his time are gone and quite literally buried. If his specter still haunts public relations or, even worse, still informs current day relations then Nintendo will never find a magical land where everyone loves them no matter what they call it. Nintendo needs to bury their bad habits like they buried the man and begin to capitalize on the assets they have while they still have them. And this need not entail some grand forfeiture of creative control toward the production of a generic box. A Nintendo brand can still be established alongside a core- and third-party-friendly atmosphere. And if Nintendo cannot figure out all the details to make this work then the response should not be to give up.
If you cannot tell, readers, I had a tough time ending this week’s article. There is simply too much to be said about this frustratingly inept yet talented little company, especially in the face of this demonstration of true talent once again. My WiiU sits by my other consoles, sad and unplugged since the day its wifi conked out on me, and I can only imagine games I could be playing on it. So do you agree about the general failure and myth of the Blue Ocean strategy? Would you rather a progressive and industry-popular Nintendo rise to the top or do you think better of the current state of things? Bellow at me below!