The entire game industry is watching the release of Nintendo's Wii U. Will it be able to repeat the phenomenal success of the Wii at launch—a success that changed the entire game industry as other companies rushed to incorporate motion control into their own consoles? Of course, not all gamers are interested in the Wii U, or anything that comes out of Nintendo these days. Still, it's good for all of us that Nintendo is around. Here are a few reasons why Nintendo is good for gaming.
Nintendo Marches to the Beat of Its Own Drum
Much of the video game industry runs on a copycat philosophy. If an idea works well for one company, others will surely follow. Nintendo is the biggest exception to this rule, tending to buck industry trends and go its own way. This doesn't always work in the company's favor—Nintendo's failure to keep up with online connectivity and adopt HD in a timely fashion has caused it to struggle a bit over the last few years.
In the end, though, gaming is all the better for a powerful console-maker that is willing to make risky choices and do its own thing. Without innovation, any industry stagnates, and gaming will never grow as an entertainment medium if we're stuck in generations upon generations of hardware upgrades that do nothing but increase the graphical quality of games. We need a company that shakes things up and comes up with new ways to play games, even if not all of its ideas pan out perfectly.
Thanks in large part to Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo's development philosophy has put gameplay first for many years. That's why most of Nintendo's games are fairly light on storyline and cinematics. But it's also seen in everything Nintendo does, from the way it made StreetPassing into a game on the 3DS to the fact that it still treats “achievements” as a way to extend gameplay instead of as points that one gets for simply playing a game.
Nintendo's focus on gameplay first means that the company doesn't tend to adopt policies or features simply for novelty, to keep up with the Joneses, or as a cheap cash grab. For instance, Nintendo is one of the few major game developers/publishers that has resisted releasing cosmetic upgrades as paid DLC, a practice that marginalizes gamers for whom customization is an important part of enjoying a game. For example, despite now having the ability to charge for DLC, Nintendo purposefully will not charge for new downloadable furniture and outfits in Animal Crossing on the 3DS. Doing so could have provided Nintendo with a nice additional revenue stream from addicted Animal Crossers, but Nintendo's leadership felt it went against the spirit of the game.
Not that Nintendo always gets it right in terms of putting gamers and gameplay first. The fact that recent Nintendo consoles have been region-locked is of great annoyance to gamers who enjoy importing games that weren't released for their region. The company's focus on online security has also had a tendency to get in the way of online gaming in recent years, though it's slowly letting up and making it easier for people to connect. Overall, though, Nintendo's focus on putting gameplay at the forefront of its development philosophy is a great example to other companies.
Focus on Local Multiplayer
As much of the gaming industry moved towards online gaming at the start of this generation, Nintendo took a different path, focusing closely on local multiplayer experiences with the Wii. The Wii U is only expanding that concept, as Nintendo explores the possibilities of asymmetric local multiplayer via the GamePad tablet and Wiimotes.
The success of the Wii and especially the popularity of Wii Sports helped other game companies remember that lots of people enjoy playing games together in the same room. It also helped a lot of us gamers remember that it's fun to play along with friends and family in the same place. It's certainly a nice change of pace sometimes from being insulted by tantrum-throwers on Xbox LIVE. Thanks in part to Nintendo, local co-op is on the rise as a gaming option again, giving us great social gaming opportunities that are often more memorable than playing with others on-line.
Targeting a Broader Demographic
Some gamers dislike the fact that today's Nintendo targets a much broader demographic than the usual 18-25 male market. I'd argue that this is something that's vital in order for the game industry to grow. Our idea of what “gaming” is has become too narrowly focused, leaving the “core” gaming industry looking like Hollywood might if all movies were action blockbusters.
The games that Nintendo creates and publishes in North America run the gamut from traditional franchises like Mario and Metroid to puzzles and minigame compilations to life simulations like Animal Crossing and Cooking Mama to non-game products like Art Academy. This broader focus gives a lot of kids their start in gaming, and has made new gamers out of a lot of people over fifty as well. What's great about Nintendo is that unlike many other supposed “casual” or “social” games, Nintendo's games tend to be well-made and are often appealing to core gamers as well. Who here hasn't spent some quality time with a Nintendo-published title like Animal Crossing or Professor Layton?
Unlike many companies that aim their products at new gamers or self-described non-gamers, Nintendo's focus on quality and value for money makes lifelong customers and helps introduce new gamers to the wider universe of gaming. Its family-friendly entertainment also helps the reputation of the industry, which constantly faces political pressure from people who are convinced that video games are nothing but mindless killing simulations.
Nintendo certainly isn't a perfect company, and even those of us who are big Nintendo fans sometimes wish it would learn certain lessons from other major industry players. Even with all its quirks and failings, though, it's good for the gaming industry that Nintendo is Nintendo. The company is an important player in terms of hardware and gameplay innovation, and it helps our hobby grow by bringing a wider demographic of gamers into the fold. Our old friend Nintendo remains a vital force in the industry, and one that is good for gaming as a whole.
Date: November 20, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*