Nintendo has been around for decades, delighting us with new entries into the Super Mario, Legend of Zelda, Pokemon, Super Metroid, and all of their other staple franchises that we have come to adore and cherish over the years. But knowing how long Nintendo has been around begs the question: how have they been able to survive? In the gaming climate we have seen companies like Atari, Magnavox, Phillips, Sega, and others come and go, while others like Microsoft and Sony rise to the forefront of the gaming world. But Nintendo is the only company that has been able to hold such longevity in an ever-changing environment. So what is it about Nintendo that makes them so successful every step of the way, and how have they been able to capitalize on this success?
Revitalizing the Video Game Industry
A huge part of it comes from how Nintendo made themselves a household name. During the video game industry crash of 1983, Nintendo capitalized and invented a machine that they felt would turn the gaming industry around and, in turn, put their machine and name in the spotlight. A major part of the video game industry’s turn around can be attributed to the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) as it gave people a reason to care about video games again as they launched it with an impressive library of games. But the tactics of Nintendo now haven’t changed since then, as the NES’ impressive library of games isn’t the only reason Nintendo became successful.
Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t anything that Nintendo inherently did that revitalized the gaming industry. In fact, it was almost as simple as merely being in the right place at the right time. The price of video game consoles during this time period were astonishingly high, and it was due to this that people didn’t want to invest in video games and the market crashed altogether in 1983. As a result, game consoles were marked down and sold at garage sales for extremely low prices, lower than they had any right to be. In this age, it would almost be like selling a new Playstation 4 for $50. This ironically resulted in a new video gaming age, as more people than ever were able to get their hands on video game consoles, but how does Nintendo fit into all of this?
Naturally, after people had begun to play their consoles for a while, they began to want more. They wanted more games, a better system, and more fun. Enter the NES. This system was exactly what people wanted, a better system with an incredible library of games. It was because of the successful launch of the NES that video games were revitalized and interest was at an all-time high, however, it could not have sold nearly as many units without other products biting the dust and being sold off first. This was Nintendo’s first instance of capitalizing on the market being in a state of flux, and benefiting greatly.
The Era of Handheld Gaming
The NES wasn’t the only revolutionary product created by Nintendo. The Nintendo Gameboy, launched in 1989, was the first incredibly successful handheld gaming console available on the market. In another instance of being in the right place at the right time, then Nintendo employee Gunpei Yokoi is credited with the creation of the Game & Watch series of Nintendo handheld devices, as well as assisting in the creation of the Gameboy. Yokoi was on a bullet train when he noticed a man playing with an electronic calculator to kill time, and that is where his idea to meld video games and handheld electronics together.
Nintendo then began production on the Game & Watch series of consoles, and implemented what they had learned to their Gameboy console. Yokoi, however, knew the Gameboy needed a “killer app”, and incorporated Tetris into the Gameboy’s library. Repeating the success of the NES, consumers loved the Gameboy’s pairing with Tetris and made the Gameboy an incredible success. Once again, Nintendo used their open minds to innovate the industry.
Having released an improved version of their initial gaming console, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), Nintendo set their sites on a new kind of console. A console that would utilize more bits than any other console that came before. A 64-bit console that had the capability of running absolutely beautiful games and had a new degree of storytelling. I am talking of course, about the Nintendo 64 (N64). The Nintendo 64 came out of arguably nowhere, rivaling the systems at the time, Sony’s Playstation and Sega’s Dreamcast. With this new system, Nintendo wanted to revolutionize how we play video games and how much power could be put into a gaming system. The N64 was the first gaming console that fully took advantage of 64-bit processing power and created entire video game environments based on this new technology.
Classic games such as Banjo-Kazooie, Super Mario 64, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Golden Eye 007, Donkey Kong Country, Diddy Kong Racing, Mario Party, Mario Kart, Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, and so many more were produced with this amazing new technology, and people absolutely fell in love with the console. At this point, Nintendo was beginning to build an everlasting relationship with its consumer – a relationship that could be interpreted as a comforting and reassuring one, one that ensured the consumer that the developer would never let them down. And in many ways, they never would.
Losing, But Still Winning
The sixth generation of consoles was really the first generation of consoles in which Nintendo began to falter commercially. This generation consisted of Nintendo’s Gamecube, as well as Sony’s Playstation 2 and Microsoft’s Xbox. This was the first generation of consoles in which all 3 gaming giants as we know them today began to take the forefront. Sony’s Playstation 2 began the highest selling video game console of all time, and Microsoft’s Xbox impressed on multiple levels with a new gaming interface, new IPs, and an overall new way to play games. So where did that leave the Gamecube?
I want to start out by saying that I am in no way calling the Gamecube a failure, the Gamecube is actually one of my favorite consoles of all time and I know the degree of its success, however, it was placed in a generation with some incredibly heavy competition. It’s almost comparable to a baseball team losing the game 15 – 13. If the losing team had scored 13 points in nearly any other game, it would be a commanding lead, but it was in this instance that the opposing team had scored 15, giving them the victory instead. The Gamecube was another innovative piece of technology by Nintendo, as it had the ability to be more portable than any other console before it. However, it was at this time where casual and new gamers wanted something more exciting than Mario or Zelda, they wanted action and adrenaline. That is the section in which the other two consoles shined: game franchises like Halo, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (the newer stuff), Grand Theft Auto, and Jak and Daxter among others took the forefront and began to capitalize on the ever-changing market of the video game industry. This time, Nintendo was behind…or were they?
Nintendo had already established a core audience of dedicated gamers behind them, so why try to adapt to the style of games that they produce? People loved the nature of the Mario, Zelda, Metroid, and all their other core titles that they had been releasing for years. Nintendo wasn’t going to attempt to migrate into the new style of video games, but their plan was to rather innovate the style in which you play games instead.
Questioning Nintendo’s versatility is like questioning water’s ability to hydrate. The charm about Nintendo is that it isn’t a one-man show, rather, it is truly a jack-of-all-trades. Some key examples of this during the seventh generation of consoles are the Nintendo DS lineup (including the DSi, DS Lite, 3DS, and 2DS) as well as the Nintendo Wii. For starters, these consoles weren’t just for the casual gamer, they were made to diversify gaming into something more. Take the DS for example, it was developed in efforts to magnify what they had already done with the Gameboy, while also adding another element to the video gaming experience. Thus, the second screen was implemented on the DS and was a massive success. The second screen gave gamers a new outlook on how to play video games and enjoyed this new feature. This can also be said about the Nintendo Wii, as it also had a unique feature of its own.
The Nintendo Wii wasn’t nearly as powerful as the other two consoles in its generation, but it did have something that the other two didn’t. Motion Controls. This was a period in which motion controls were at an all-time high in popularity, and everyone wanted to get their hands on the Wii because of it. Not to say that the motion controls were the only perk of having a Wii, far from it, as the Wii used every inch of its power to ensure that the games available for it played and looked as great as they possibly could. It was due to the combination of the motion controls, the lower price as compared to the other two consoles in the generation, and the great library of games as well as the appeal to non-gamers that made the Wii sell so well. At this point, Nintendo was beginning to diversify their audience to outside the gaming community, and the Wii was a giant step forward in that direction.
Nintendo in the Modern Age
Despite the Wii U not coming close to the expectations Nintendo had for it, they didn’t let the failed console discourage them, as they soon released one of the most innovative products in the history of video gaming. The Nintendo Switch. The Nintendo Switch, awkwardly enough, came out in the middle of the eighth generation of consoles (technically speaking, some people consider the Switch to be generation 8.5 and even the beginning of the ninth generation, but i digress.) and was announced to not be nearly as powerful as its competition. However, this system was immensely powerful for its size and what it was designed to do. This console was the first console in history to double as a home console as well as a handheld console at the same time. This is what Nintendo is all about: innovation and changing the gaming industry.
The success of the Switch proves that Nintendo often doesn’t shoot for the bar, or even raise the bar, they are the bar. Nintendo was able to survive all these years not by simply following the curve and making consoles in order to make new games in order to sell more units, but by following the trends of that time and making products that appealed to a wider audience, while at the same time focusing on the demographic that they have established. Nintendo’s story truly is a remarkable one when you take into consideration all the risks they had to take to get to this point, and all the rewards they have reaped from those risks. Nintendo would rather invest in technology that would make the gaming industry a better place and to make people happy as well as satisfied with their games rather than turn the biggest profit possible, and I think that is an absolutely wonderful thing.
It is worth being said that there have been reports that since the death of Nintendo CEO (2002 – 2015) Sitoru Iwata, Nintendo has internally changed, losing a lot of the luster that made the company what it was and is beginning to shift gears into more profit-based interests. While these reports are unconfirmed at best and outlandish at worst, it does worry me that the change in leadership will cost Nintendo more than just money. If the gaming community loses Nintendo now, it would lose one of the icons of the gaming industry and a true light in the community. Its not my prediction that Nintendo will ever go under, as it is incredibly powerful and it is very unlikely to happen, but it is still a worry with any beloved company. Right now, all we can do is appreciate what Nintendo has done for us and enjoy playing their products.
What are your thoughts on Nintendo and how it has become such a gaming powerhouse? Sound off in the comments! Don’t forget to like and share us on Facebook, and be sure to follow The Bandicoot Banter for more interesting articles!