Depending on where you look, gaming can at times be a very repetitive medium saturated with similar brands and personalities people see year in and year out. Like a lot of industries these days, repetition is everywhere in gaming, whether it’s a shooter or an open-world game. However, one company that refuses to be predictable, repetitive or boring with its products is Nintendo.
Gaming is the greatest industry I’ve ever had the chance to be a part of and one of the things that continues to be most striking about Nintendo is their reluctance to conform to norms. They resist the formulaic processes of developing, creating and shipping games. They resist the temptation to copy and paste their most hallowed franchises into yearly brands. So why does Nintendo choose the hard way?
Plainly put, Nintendo is different. Instead of basking in the known light of what has already been done or what is proven, the company frequently ventures off onto the less beaten path where uncertainty, unprecedented success and even failure lurk in the darkness. But in order to have true progress, in order to have true innovation like we have consistently seen from Nintendo over their history, the less beaten path is a mandatory one.
atombash.com recently had the opportunity to speak with Nintendo Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing Scott Moffitt about a variety of topics relating to the current state of Nintendo, its past and its future. This company owns some of the most revered brands in the history of this business, and they know it. So why, why, why not make Mario Kart or Super Smash Bros. yearly franchises? They would presumably sell just as well as they currently do as once in a generation releases.
“It all depends on the franchise, the developer and what new ideas they can bring to the franchise to move the gameplay forward and keep the franchise fresh. I think we always need to innovate and we need to always bring new ideas and new thoughts, but they have to be sufficient enough to justify the next release,” Moffitt said.
He acknowledged the “multiple core games” they ship for the 3DS in the Pokemon franchise and said they like to give those fans something new every year. However, for Nintendo’s other big time franchises, they are not called upon more than one time in a generation. Nintendo’s answer to annualizing a major series like Mario Kart is not to shell out release after release, but simply to provide quality DLC that extends the experience. “Rather than annualizing the franchise, we are periodically releasing new courses, levels and features that keep people playing,” Moffitt said.
Moffitt said they see a major spike in gameplay hours when they release a new helping of content for games like Mario Kart and the same is to be expected for the new Super Smash Bros. DLC. Nintendo has also been shelling out free content updates for Splatoon since it debuted on the Wii U a few months back.
The Nintendo Wii U is the firm’s latest offering in the living-room hardware department, but it hasn’t gained the traction Nintendo had originally hoped for. The Wii U has arguably had the best array of first-party software of any of the three major console manufacturers. Not only that, but the Gamepad is starting to see visionary content developed for it. Moffitt believes the Wii U’s Gamepad is the innovation of this generation.
“That’s our real secret sauce. [The Gamepad] is the only real innovation in this console cycle, it’s the only real new idea or game experience, and with Super Mario Maker, it shows you how magical it is to create levels with that Gamepad. It’s so easy and intuitive,” Moffitt said.
Moffitt believes both Star Fox Zero and Super Mario Maker will be games that showcase the true “promise of the Gamepad.” He said they didn’t have as much of a chance to showcase the device as much as they are now, and that has really helped connect more people with it. Scott believes the unique experiences Star Fox Zero, Super Mario Maker and others provide via the Wii U and Gamepad will all “help us propel the system to new heights.”
What has perhaps been the saving grace for Nintendo during the midst of the Wii U’s struggles is the Nintendo 3DS. The handheld has been a perennial seller and doesn’t show any signs of letting up. Last February, Nintendo released the New Nintendo 3DS XL and within its first few months on the market, Moffitt said they sold over half a million units.
“We were short on product when we first launched the [New Nintendo 3DS XL]. It was selling 40 percent above what we were forecasting and expecting. It all starts and ends with great content. We’ve had a string of high-quality, well-received, well-rated games, and the breadth of content spectacular,” Moffitt said.
In June of this year, Nintendo revealed the 3DS had sold over 15 million units in the United States since it was released in 2011. Great software has been a factor in those sales, in addition to the device’s overall stranglehold on the handheld gaming market.
It never ceases to amaze me at how different and unique Nintendo’s new brands continue to be. Splatoon is the latest example and it has shipped over 1.6 million units since it was launched in May. When it comes to new ideas or products they bring to the market, Moffitt said they aren’t looking around the industry for what competitors are doing. Nintendo looks in-house and they listen to what their gamers want.
Being a trailblazer is synonymous with Nintendo and it’s woven into the fabric of who they are. “It’s in our DNA, it’s what makes us tick, it’s what brought all of us to Nintendo. We like to be a company that’s willing to take some risks on a franchise like Splatoon. Often times, those [ideas] work, sometimes they don’t. It’s always risky to be an innovator, but that is woven into our DNA and is a bedrock value for Nintendo.
“I think gamers have come to appreciate that from us, but [they] also respect it and expect it. They want us challenging the norms and challenging conventions, and I think that’s part of our role in the broader industry,” Moffitt said. The Nintendo Wii was a success of epic proportions, while the Wii U has not fared as well, but neither of them would have ever been conceived if the company wasn’t willing to take risks.
The NX hardware was announced in a very unconventional way, or you could say a very Nintendo way. Some folks in the industry looked at that announcement with an eyebrow raised because there was no fanfare or major press conference; Nintendo just said they were working on a new console. Moffitt said they chose to reveal the NX that way for their fans, and only their fans.
“It was important for us to reinforce to our loyal game fans out there that we remain committed to the world of dedicated game platforms. We didn’t want people to think we were migrating away from that core principle, which is we believe in the power of dedicate game platforms and we are going to remain in that business. People respect the fact that we remain committed to making rich, deep experiences that they can enjoy in their living room,” Moffitt said.
As an industry, it’s always important that we continue to push forward and resist the tendency to become complacent. Success can make a person complacent and it can do the same to companies. I wanted to know what Scott feels is an important thing for gaming to improve upon in order to ensure continued long-term success in the future.
“I think we owe it to our game fans to bring a diverse array of experiences and not be too copycat-ish of other ideas. I think the industry is at its best when we take balanced risks and don’t just resort to the easy solutions. We’re at our best when we push the limits and challenge each other to think provocatively and be bold,” Moffitt said.