The gaming industry has seen several titans in its lifetime, but the only one that has truly stood the test of time is Nintendo. Ever since the original NES, “Nintendo” and “fun” have become synonymous. What you might not realize is that this Japanese company may one day save the industry from an impending wave of greed.
Although the likes of Microsoft and Sony still have their respective game systems, and corporations like EA, Activision, and Blizzard still churn out new games every so often, Nintendo is unique in several regards. For one, the majority of their system-sellers are first-party, which allows users to become more familiar with the brand and their products. If they are selling third-party releases on their console, they are very particular. Most Triple A titles such as Call of Duty won’t make it to the Switch because they often don’t align with the purpose of the console: to provide an enjoyable experience for all types of players.
Nintendo makes up for its lack of third-party titles with outstanding original content. Super Mario Odyssey and Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild were two contenders for the Game of the Year in 2017, with the latter winning the category. Even their less important titles such as Mario Tennis: Aces or Super Mario Party receive critical acclaim and audience approval, despite their arguably high prices. Their dedication to masterful game design has garnered due praise in the past, and they haven’t been slowing down.
While many modern corporations have adopted the new “Freemium” model for their games, which forces players to pay for extra content in a supposedly free game, Nintendo has stuck to its roots. Nintendo titles rarely have DLC, but when they do, no element is left up to chance. Players are told exactly what they will be getting and how it will or won’t affect existing gameplay. By doing this, Nintendo avoids the loot box controversy and makes better games because of it.
So how do they make money?
Well, for starters, they sell their base games at a relatively higher price. In today’s society, its pure heresy to see a game over $60, which is why many companies resort to a somewhat unethical business model. Rather than succumbing to this pay-to-win standard, Nintendo sells smaller games like Kirby: Star Allies and Super Mario Party, at a full $60. These games, of course, aren’t bad, but their content seems a bit sparse for a full price game, and their visuals don’t quite compare to the pristine graphics of Triple A titles.
Amiibo — figurines of game characters that transmit data to and from certain games to unlock new material — account for a significant proportion of their revenue. However, Nintendo doesn’t seem to realize this and, for some odd reason, refuses to stock the shelves with newer figures, leading to sketchy online salesman to resell them at a disproportionately higher price.
Despite any efforts to make their games sell well, Nintendo exclusively puts out games that meet their highest standard of quality. Often times, new titles will surprise players with fortuitous details that give the game a charming and unforgettable atmosphere.
The best example of Nintendo’s commitment to a great product would have to be Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, coming to the Switch on December 7th. Even though the game hasn’t even been released yet, the attention and praise from the community has been overwhelming. Through reveal trailers and promotional material, fans have been clamoring at the chance to play this new game.
Every time a new Smash Bros. title is announced, players go straight to speculation. They often try to predict what the new game will hold, often remaining somewhat reserved. Then, occasionally, when a Nintendo Direct comes around, everyone explodes in a fit of hysteria when they find out their favorite characters have been added to the new game.
The lead designer for Smash Bros., Masahiro Sakurai, is quite an unpredictable fellow. He’ll make decisions that seem totally unnecessary and that wouldn’t sell any more copies, but he’ll put them in anyway for the sake of the quality of the game.
For instance, he has helped develop an entire website from scratch that hosts every piece of information about the game. Every character, stage, item, song, and feature is beautifully displayed on this website. He has listened to the fans’ cries of adding the previously scrapped fighters, and he decided to add every one of them back to this last game, whether they were popular or not. He’s added fan favorite characters such as Ridley or King K. Rool in spite of their little to no representation in today’s gaming world. He has been know to slave away at his game, which, in the past, has unfortunately affected his health in the process.
All of these extravagant features add up to a game that has fans ranting and raving. In the last Direct for this upcoming game, they showed off the final roster of fighters, which left some people disappointed because of a very believable leak that was revealed to be false. By the end of the video, Sakurai reveals the final character that will be available after the game releases: Piranha Plant.
Not any main characters from a classic franchise like Banjo-Kazooie, not a side character from a widely popular series like Shadow the Hedgehog, and not a niche but fan-favorite character from the SNES like Geno. Piranha Plant. A literal vegetable who is found as a simple enemy in the Mario series. They didn’t even go with a more popular villain like a Goomba, Koopa, Boo, Chain Chomp, Spike, or Hammer Bro, all who have appeared as playable characters in other Mario titles. They went with the plant.
Now, to try and get back on topic, there is a reason why this plant has been chosen over so many other fan-requested fighter: the fans aren’t the ones who make the games. Sakurai has full creative reign over who gets put into the game, so he took the opportunity to demonstrate that by adding a character that no one really asked for. Nintendo listens well to its fans, but when it comes to creating the best product, they often sacrifice the incessant demands of the consumer to meet their own high standards.
This can be seen as a problem; ignoring your fans might lead to worse sales. But Nintendo is a company, and in a capitalist society, companies get to decide the products they sell. So, why would the developers put out a product they are unhappy with, just for the sake of blindly catering to their fans? To make that extra cash, of course.
Nintendo doesn’t enjoy compromise. They will fight for their products, and that’s arguably why people love them so much.
But, as a closing remark, Nintendo is far from perfect. As mentioned earlier, the under-stocking of Amiibo figures has left collectors frustrated. They’ve had a history of issuing unfair copyright notices on online content which quite clearly falls under fair use laws. Their uncooperative nature keeps a lot of high quality games from reaching the Switch. Also, the quality of online multiplayer is likely equivalent to that of the original Xbox.
But, in 2018, Nintendo has improved greatly. Indie titles have become much more relevant, with some claiming that the Switch has been the easiest console for developing indie games. First-party developers have been given a lot more freedom, which shines through in the outrageous creativity of Super Mario Odyssey and the release of the modern classic Splatoon. They’ve stopped focusing only on what their company believes is fun and looked more towards what the fans are asking for.
Although some may look from the outside in and claim that all Nintendo does is make baby games for the dreaded “casual market”, Nintendo fans know that their company truly cares about the games they make, and it makes playing them all the more enjoyable.