What does one do when a dear friend starts to commit acts of self-harm? Since the late 80’s, Nintendo has been a part of my life in one form or another. At any given point since just before the release of the Game Boy until now, I have always had at least one of their systems in my possession, ready to be played. The characters that were born in these magic boxes became more identifiable than countries on my geography homework, which is saying something because I happen to be pretty darned great at geography. To this day, they remain powerful and prominent in the gaming world, while other toy franchises from the decade wait pleadingly in rummage sales, only to be resurrected as bastardized versions of their former selves. They stand as unassailable colossi of a thing done right. With Nintendo letting rip a rolling thunder of a fart that brought with it the unmistakable stink of mobile gaming, I am starting to wonder if I care more about their intellectual properties than they do.
I want to defend them this time. In fact, I set out to write an article doing just that, and felt like I was ham-fisting my way through the first paragraph. Every time I tried to think of an elegant method of putting a positive speculation on Nintendo finally entering the mobile market, I got gastrointestinal reflux and started just banging on random letters hoping words would form. The more I considered the future of a certain Italian plumber, the less I wanted to mention his name because I did not want to trick my brain into associating it with the burning sour of ripe bile. End hyperbole.
Yes, I am upset, but I believe that I am justified in my crippling worry. The mobile market is easily one of the most unfriendly places in gaming, both to developers and to the gamers, be they casual or not. It is a realm in which the evils of gaming are the bar by which success is measured, and IPs are sent to this arena to be eviscerated for sport and spectacle. Satoru Iwata seems to think this is okay, although there is a small voice in my head attempting to sooth me into believing he has somehow been tricked. He states that none of these games will be direct ports. “Okay, phew! Dodged a bullet there,” said I, taking another pull of my flask of whiskey typically reserved for Irish funerals. At the very least I will not have to witness the actual games butchered with terrible control schemes imposed by the limits of the modern touchscreen. Yes, of course, there are dozens of mobile gaming controllers to choose from, but reliance on consumer adoption of them is hardly a solution when a company seeks to expand their market. The game needs to be designed with the touchscreen as the primary mode of input, or it will not succeed. That is the bottom line.
Ultimately, bringing those beloved IPs to a new market in games produced specifically for the smartphone is what DeNA, mobile gaming magnate (presumably) intends to help Nintendo do. These “games” will likely take the form of reskinned versions of existing base-builders and gem-droppers. While I do hope I am wrong, the very source of my inflamed nerve on how they intend to do this rests in their expertise with In-App Purchases. DeNA, who owns the more familiar branding Mobage, has been grotesquely successful with its IAP-driven games in a market that seems to be increasingly more willing to be taken advantage of. Nintendo and DeNA will be taking these IPs we know and love and going on safari for suckers, which these days really do seem to be born every minute.
Nintendo has already begun incorporating IAPs into its products. Pokemon Shuffle showed up on my 3DS while I was playing Bravely Default. Shuffle offers me the chance to pay for plays once the game gets boring or tedious enough to where spending real money to improve things sounds like a marvelous idea. I imagine this was an attempt to train me for the future. Bravely Default also had an IAP, but it was the very definition of unnecessary when it came to fully enjoying and playing the game, and thus done correctly. The darker side IAP model rides on the idea of making at game just fun enough to get people to try it while hobbling the player, then dangling the carrot of more fun for more money in front of what is referred in to in the casino industry as ‘whales.’ This is how the makers of these games become obscenely rich; by taking advantage of an addiction behavior just waiting to be activated in consumers who do not know any better, and even some who do. Knowing a thing or two about addiction myself, this is not a joke to me, and I find it despicable on a level that I honestly have no words for, yet many still sweep it under the rug as a minor or nearly harmless thing while casinos are required to post signs with phone numbers so people can get help with this shit.
Nintendo also announced the coming of some new platform that is codenamed “NX” and promises to unify architecture on home and portable consoles, but nobody seemed to care. Given that there was no real information given on what to expect from the NX, it looks like Nintendo knew the majority of its fans were not going to like the news of this mobile move and made some feeble attempt to get everyone to look at the birdie in the other hand. Iwata was quick to say the NX news was to assure fans that they are not abandoning the console market, and again, no direct ports will be made. Fair enough, but those of us who grew up with these characters, as well as gaming in general, are certainly not looking forward to seeing them sacrificed on DeNA’s questionably ethical altar just so Nintendo can take another potshot at making a system that might actually play the same sport as Playstation or Xbox, let alone play on the same damned field.
Meanwhile, there was also talk of the new cross-platform member service, also thanks in part to DeNA. This, on the other hand, could prove useful, but I think I can be excused for not trusting the idea. Much of the problems that Nintendo is trying to solve with new hardware, a new member service, and even mobile gaming are things that should have been solved while the Wii and 3DS were a twinkle in Mario’s eye. So, here I sit, once again trapped in the coming down from the high of another disappointing announcement, wondering if I should just give up hope that Nintendo will ever get their shit together again.
Perhaps that would be for the best, at this point.