A Love-Letter to Nintendo.

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I admit as blog revivals go, this probably isn’t exactly the ‘Star Wars VII’ scale of resurgence that I thought I could manage since my last post two years ago.

But creative burnout is a tricksy mistress, and I’ve found a good way of divining a new creative well is to write about inspirations; I probably would’ve found a better time to do it than “immediately prior to deadlines”, but oh look I’m already a paragraph in so don’t-stop-me-now-I’m-having-such-a-good-time.

For professional and personal reasons, I try to keep away from general political stances. I view my politics through the same lens I do my products, in that regardless of what’s created, ultimately it has to be a system where there’s an assumption that attempts will be made to abuse it, as such as much should be done to minimize said abuse, regulation and intervention being one of many workable, if blunt, tools.

So this normally is expressed in the form of critiques of specific business practices: most recently I got into a pretty heated argument regarding the use of micro-transactions and lootboxes in video-games, and how certain giga-publishers had unabashedly ruined or closed-down studios, franchises, and tarnished the industry as a whole through hyper-aggressive monetization purely for short-term gain, to the detriment of the long-term reputation and success of the industry (which looking at their recent downturn sales figures, is including their own cooperation).

It wasn’t even that I felt that free-to-play has no place in the industry. Digital Extremes, who created the extremely popular and ever-growing Warframe F2P have managed a successful monetization policy so ethical, they actually removed a feature unprompted because people were spending too much money on it for it to be ethically justified.

If you are going to sustain yourself as a business for the long term, your attitude towards your consumers over your shareholders cannot be so contemptuous that you create blatantly abusive monetization policies *on top* of charging full-price for a unit: when it comes down to it, unless you plan on recreating the 1983 game market-bubble crash, the continued faith of your shareholders will eventually still depend on your consumer’s faith in you.

Then last week, Nintendo comes out with an announcement that due to the lack of high-quality of their much-anticipated Metroid Prime IV video-game, they will be restarting development from scratch, collaborating the team in the US responsible for the original 1980’s original, and doing the whole thing over; meaning launch will effectively be years later than planned.

And what was probably most surprising about this announcement, was that it was met with almost universal praise.

It would’ve been extremely easy to ship a sub-par product, the sales would still have been astronomical, given the console market as of now it would’ve also been the perfect point to ship the game: despite slowing sales, the Switch is still immensely popular since its debut, and it’s very hard to tell how popular a console will be in 3-4 years time.
But in spite of this, Nintendo made the decision to not even just cancel the project, but reinvest all of the time and capital again into the project to make it to the standards the consumers expect.

I can’t really gush about how Nintendo operates without mentioning the late-Satoru Iwata, the previous executive of Nintendo that lead the company through the immense success of the Wii, halved his own salary in the face of the WiiU’s failure, and had even also restarted a project that was in development-hell back when he chaired his previous games company, HAL.

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There aren’t many presidents of large multi-million-dollar companies that would take this failing development project and code the game himself on his weekends off.
Nor would many work with a colleague on a project to pitch to Nintendo, get the idea rejected, and then work on the project in secret, and then re-pitch the new version, which would be approved and become the bestseller Super Smash Brothers, a franchise that spawned a whole genre around it and recently saw its final title with development headed by the very same colleague of Iwata, now an executive at Nintendo, to absolute critical and commercial acclaim.
This, aside many other stories, culminated in a worldwide mourning of his death to terminal cancer in 2015, from many companies not even remotely related to the games-industry, and even spawning the ‘Thank You, Mr Iwata” meme, such was his recognition.

Iwata is one of the few chairs of large companies I’d genuinely believe when he said:
“We do not run from risk. We run to it. We are taking the risk to move beyond the boundaries of the game industry to reach new players and current players.”

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The Wii went against every convention that the games industry held regarding how users interacted with games, the focus on family entertainment meant aside from capturing a whole new market, that families could all enjoy interacting together, enriching the nature of the industry. Even the recent portable/TV hybrid console, the Nintendo Switch, has a controller that can be slid off the main console into two smaller controllers, red and blue respectively, deliberately to encourage two people to play together, wherever they are. It’s a highly profitable market-shift that doesn’t just avoid damaging the industry ecosystem, it adds to it.

Even on his deathbed he was collaborating thoughts on what would eventually become Pokemon GO: a huge free-to-play release that was incredibly successful and made a lot of revenue, but debatably didn’t overtly push it’s monetization policies to abusive degrees, and to top it off was entirely based around the idea of meeting new people and getting out of the house, the literal polar opposite of the current direction games have been taking.

There really aren’t many in any industry that would take those sort of risks, especially one from such a mature company with such a reliance on shareholders.

In-fact, Nintendo are probably the only company where releasing a “Nintendo Switch II” would actually be the least predictable next move, something that goes against everything normal business practice of ‘sticking with what works’.

Very rarely does a business not just hold firm to the idea of having industry well-being as the most important factor to their own business, but almost show a certain creative balance of pride and animosity towards their work. Even after Iwata’s death I’ve countless examples of Nintendo trying new concepts even if they have a very real chance of failure (honestly just search for Nintendo Labo, even if it undersells, it’s won my heart) .

Nintendo hasn’t been perfect in any regard, but few companies can state a commitment to trying new ideas and taking risks for the sake of an industry’s development with as much sincerity as they can.

 

 

A Love-Letter to Nintendo.

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