So Just What Is Nintendo Up To?

So, remember when everyone figured Nintendo was on their last legs?  Constantly recycling things by releasing a new DS every five minutes?  Showing no new ideas and obviously doomed?

If you don't remember, then you've probably blanked it from your mind.  I certainly admit that until not to long ago, I figured Nintendo was lost and aimless.  I know I had company – OK I hope I had company because I feel rather stupid at this point.

All of us who thought Nintendo was lost in a haze remember E3 2011.  We remember the Wii U demo, with the tablet-like controller, and the interesting controls.  We remember the doubt vanishing almost instantly as people were enchanted with this new machine and it's oddball control options.

It was like watching the Wii come out all over again.

The the cynicism vanished (mostly).  The doubt vanished (well, a lot of it did), and everyone was enchanted by Nintendo again.  they had, with one demo, gently laid aside a lot of the doubt people had developed and replaced it with "oh cool!"

So, I've been asking myself, what does this tell us about Nintendo?  It's a valid question for any progeek, especially one working in gaming.  I think the Wii U and Nintendo's recent activities have taught us quite a bit.  I'd like to review the lessons I've taken away.

Nintendo Knows The Power of Innovation:
The Wii enchanted people for some time, until it became a bit old hat and stale – but that had nothing to do with the controller and much more to do with game titles, I believe.  The controllers still worked well – and indeed, were imitated by Nintendo's competitors.

Nintendo clearly learned the lesson that "something innovative sells" because their new Wii U controllers had everyone talking.  You can be sure they're going to be delivering unique gaming experiences using those controllers – and people will be talking about them as well.  People will pay attention.

This also means their competitors will be running around trying to figure out if those controllers are worth duplicating or not.  That will keep them very occupied – and Nintendo gets to be first.

(Besides, I doubt Sony and Microsoft can switch gears to create some tabletroller that fast)

Nintendo Doesn't Care About Release Cycles:
Nintendo's Wii U isn't going to come out on a standard release cycle.  They're doing it their own way (just look how many DSes they put out).  That changes the game of gaming quite a bit – because now the almost unconscious release cycle of consoles has been altered.

Now they've pretty much signaled they'll do things their own way.  They are, to a great degree, just ignoring their competition.  This is a smart move as the competition – which already is duplicating some of their innovation – has less to work with.

Nintendo is doing its own thing.

Nintendo is clearly focusing on gaming:
Nintendo is not producing the lifestyle device of Sony or the lifestyle-plus-everything machine of Microsoft.  They're not making it play Blu-Ray.  They're not adding a lot of features.  They are doing gaming and some basic media.

This means that Nintendo is actually carving out a Niche among game machines that are more than game machines.  They're settling with doing gaming first, and as anyone knows, nicheing is usually a competitive edge as you can focus on things better.

And Nintendo?  They're sticking with gaming because these machines are still clearly gaming machine.

So they're ceding lifestyle devices to their competitors and letting them do all the work and take all the risks.  It might not even be worth it to compete.

Nintendo knows they have a loyal audience:
Mario, Zelda, Metroid – Nintendo knows they have titles that people will buy anyway.  They can leverage that – especially if they make sure they have good titles from other parties.  The combination of the near-guaranteed iconic quality and other good titles gives them an edge the other competitors simply don't have.

So you have core titles and a chance for other good titles.  These titles sell, these title get attention, and they will provide quite an advantage.

Nintendo Isn't Talking
Nintendo isn't telegraphing any moves.  Indeed they could have kept interest up with more announcements about the Wii U.  They didn't.

This of course works perfectly as it keeps people on edge and means their announcements have impact.  Competitors don't know whats going on and when people find out – the announcement garners a lot of attention.

So what does all of this means for progeeks in gaming – and beyond?

  • If you're a programmer for Nintendo products, stay aware.  It sounds like they may switch gears on you fast.
  • If you do not program for Nintendo, prepare to go through the usual imitation-of-Nintendo some programmers experienced the last few years at other times.
  • If you're in marketing in gaming, remember Nintendo is very good at sucking the oxygen out of the room with some wild announcement.
  • If you work in gaming, Nitendo's focus seems to BE on gaming.  Everyone else is diversifying their machines.

Nintendo proved a lot of cynics wrong – including me.  Or at least made us pause.  They have my attention.

They should have yours.

Steven Savage