Think Nintendo is in trouble? Have no fear as things might not be as dire as they might seem for the elder statesman of the gaming industry.
Mario: A Plumber Or A Pauper?
Last week Nintendo, when discussing the past financial years performance, announced that they would be expecting to suffer a whopping net loss of 25 billion yen (£147 million). Furthermore, instead of the previously predicted £100 billion yen (£587 million) operating profit, they have stated that a 35 billion yen loss (£205 million) would probably be more accurate. This is largely due to poorer than expected hardware sales against forecast of their 3DS handheld combined with the truly abysmal worldwide sales figures of their home console, the Wii U.
The news of this frankly atrocious financial performance sent Nintendo fans, commentators and gamers in general into panic. Many started proclaiming from the rooftops that the end was officially nigh for Nintendo, one of the world’s most beloved, established and historically rich video game console companies. Those who have any knowledge of this treasured Japanese corporation, however, would say that despite the poor figures there really is nothing to be concerned about.
No Lack Of Gold Coins In The Mushroom Kingdom
In 2012, the now defunct Nintendo Gamer Magazine reported that Nintendo had the largest coffers this side of Scrooge McDuck’s money bin. To directly quote the article:
“Buried in reams of financial data is the revelation that Nintendo have 812.8 billion Yen (£6.7/$10.5 billion) in the bank – enough for it to take a 20 billion Yen loss (£163/$257 million) every year until 2052. Then there’s almost 469 billion Yen (£3.8/$6.0 billion) held in premises, equipment and investments.”
Although £6.7 billion in reserves is not the most swollen bank account in the business world it is still extremely healthy being more than up to the task of offsetting Nintendo’s recent disappointing financial performance. These funds will not only keep the firm financially solvent, but positively fighting fit. While losses like those recently experienced cannot be sustained in the long-term, in the short term there isn’t any cause for alarm.
Innovation, Not Stagnation
Furthermore, they have the most distinctive consoles, with the 3DS and Wii U both boasting unique selling points against comparable products in the market. Critics repeatedly lambast the Wii U as, specification-wise, it isn’t as powerful as the other consoles in the market. This reason is often cited as the main reason it hasn’t yet captured the imagination of the general public. Do they forget that the Wii was not only similarly underpowered compared to its competitors, but wasn’t even in full high definition? These issues didn’t curtail it’s success as the Wii went on to become one of the most successful home consoles of all time. The aspect that captured imaginations was the Wii’s revolutionary motion control that heralded a new way to play.
People often forget that pushing the envelope has been a mainstay of the company since the days of the Nintendo Entertainment System (named the Famicom in Japan). In those early days they released many products that were deemed pioneering. One such success was the Four Score, one of the very first multitaps, a multiplayer adapter that allowed for up to four players rather than the previous two. Others, though, were less fruitful such as ROB, the Robotic Operating Buddy, a novelty robotic peripheral that only worked with two game releases! Moreover, for the Famicom in Japan a floppy drive, the family Computer Disk System, was released to play disk-based games as far back as 1986!
Although a portion of their trail blazing creations do fail to make massive profits, such as the fan-favourite Gamecube, others inspire millions of consumers globally. One such product, that was also a huge gamble, was the Nintendo DS. The DS was completely unlike any handheld console before it due largely to its two screens and touch capabilities. Though progress was initially slow, the DS went on to be an international smash.
These innovations have continued to be a main part of the company’s ethos throughout the years, as Nintendo seems to thrive most while taking chances on previously unproven hardware. Some of these revolutionary products have faired better than others, but Nintendo has always been far happier leading the pack and forging new paths than following blindly. Though some of these developments have occasionally made them losses this originality is for the betterment of the entire video games industry. Nintendo pulled themselves up and back to prominence after the Gamecube’s relative failure and they can do it again.
Don’t Count The Wii U Out Yet!
Although the cause of most of the recent financial concern, the Wii U is far from an underwhelming product. It not only has a fabulous back catalogue of brilliant first party software, but also possesses an extremely interesting interface in the touch screen control pad. One major problem that the Wii U has suffered greatly from is that few games, first and third party alike, really know how to integrate the touch screen controls into the games themselves. The Wii’s motion controls, the consoles prime selling point, were integrated into almost all games to varying levels of success. Most developers, however, largely ignore the touch capabilities of the Wii U. This is the one feature that singles the device out from their competitors so why not flaunt it!
The other problem that the Wii U must overcome is it’s image, or lack thereof. Nintendo ran an extremely effective marketing campaign for the Wii explaining, through the use of famous faces and celebrities, the unique attributes of the machine. There needs to be a concerted effort to raise consumer awareness of the Wii U. To date, half of the general public are unaware of the Wii U’s existence while the other half simply think that it’s a type of Wii. Nintendo suffered a similar issue when it launched the 3DS. They had previously released so many versions of the DS, such as the original DS, the DS Lite, and the DSi, that people were unsure that the 3DS was a new console in its own right. They deftly corrected this after a few missteps, leading to the 3DS becoming hugely popular, so we know they’re up to the task.
Nintendo’s ace in hole, however, isn’t its billions of yen or its ability to innovate, but it veritable wealth of intellectual properties. Many a childhood has been built around their furry, battling creatures, the exploits of space-bound woodland critters or partaking in colourful, zany karting-based mayhem. Simply put, Nintendo is a company synonymous with the video games industry. Ask any gamer to reel you off titles of famous Nintendo franchises and you’ll no doubt be given a who’s who of gaming heavy weights. Listing the likes of Pokémon, Metroid, Kirby, Professor Layton & The Legend Of Zelda doesn’t even start to scrape the Donkey Kong-sized barrel. Nintendo are video game giants, trusted industry pioneers, and as such have created the bulk of video game mascots, best loved series and most breathtaking gaming moments singlehandedly.
Some of their characters, such as mustachioed plumber Mario (originally named Jumpman in his debut in 1981’s Donkey Kong), have gained such popularity as to pass over into the modern pop-culture lexicon. To be no longer only known to a niche demographic but to both young or old, male and female and, most importantly, game player and non-button basher alike is no mean feat (just ask the likes of Nathan Drake, Jin Kazama & even Bubsy the bobcat!).
Nintendo’s real affluence resides in both its gargantuan assortment of classic video games going back over thirty years and its continuing ability to craft gaming gems. Only in the last few months we, as gamers, have been treated to Pokémon X and Y and Legend Of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds for the 3DS and Super Mario 3D World for the Wii U. Although all very recent, these titles are already seen as modern masterworks.
Life In The Old Girl Yet
In short, all is certainly not lost. Nintendo is one of the most exciting and interesting companies in this wacky world of video games, and as such should be given the benefit of the doubt. Yes, it may have been far safer to release a no frills console with extremely high specs (see Sony’s PS4), but Nintendo don’t play that game. They are innovators and risk takers, and I for one love them for that. So c’mon guys and gals, the next time you see someone writing off old Ninty just sit them down, stick a control pad in their hands, pop on a Mario game, and tell them not to be so daft…