Event Releases – A business model for Nintendo

It´s really hard to decide what to write about these days. Just today, Sony announced its PSP2-handheld, which looks as hot and shiny as its predecessor did back in 2004. Then, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Swords keeps on feeling farther and farther away from its release-date. And lastly, the way Nintendo handles the Wii becomes odder with every day. And I guess that´s something I´ll write about, though I´ll focus on a specific part of the recurring dilemma: Nintendo´s third-party relations.

No matter what happens, Nintendo seemingly can´t win when it comes to third-party games. The GameCube was a powerful system, only bested by Xbox, and only got what was left over on the multiplatform table. The Wii is tracking on par with PlayStation 2 at the same time in its life, and release lists are empty. They´re simply empty, third parties refuse to deliver anything that goes beyond a cheap party-game. Even on the Nintendo DS, the de facto most successful videogame system of all times, western developers completely ignore the portable. Now, the 3DS is about to launch, but somehow I´ve got a bad feeling about the support of Capcom and Square Enix, especially when it comes to Sony´s PSP2, which will see their support, too, and likely an even better one. So, with all those examples of how Nintendo failed at gaining third-party support, what´s left to do? Is there no solution?

Well, there is. At least, that´s what I´d like to claim. And there´s even a bit of an early proof of what I´m going to detail when you take a look at the Nintendo 3DS´ launch-lineup. The big first-party titles for launch are some bizarre submarine-game and the cutey-cute Nintendogs-sequel. That´s it. Pilotwings Resort´s going to be released rather sooner than later, but the two biggest inhouse-developments, Kid Icarus: Uprising and Ocarina of Time 3D are delayed till after E3, as Reginald “Reggie” Fils-Aime announced just days ago. In other words: Nintendo is granting third-party developers/publishers at least half a year to fight software-sales out by themselves. And even afterwards, what is it that Nintendo has to offer? Remakes and an arcadey flight-shooter? We saw how well Sin and Punishment 2 sold …

But that is exactly the way Nintendo has to pan out its first party-releases! If they want to acquire third-party support, that is. The one old, big (,and stupid) argument that these developers always made is that Nintendo-fans only buy Nintendo-games. Be it because Nintendo-fans are such fanboys or because Nintendo-games are so much better in quality, you choose, he! Anyway, if there weren´t that many Nintendo-games to begin with, even the most rabbid fanboys will be forced to take a look at third party-offerings, if they want something to play. And if that were the case, no third party-developer would have the right to complain about some kind of unfair competition – there wouldn´t be anymore direct competition with Nintendo!

But wait! That leaves us with a question: How is Nintendo supposed to make money with software? You know, since they´re a gaming company first and foremost! That´s the tricky part, and it is a concept that could only ever work with Nintendo. Both complaint and necessity, Nintendo heavily relies on its famous IPs. Some are sick of them, others can´t get enough of them. And surely, the latter mark the majority.  But that is not a problem. Instead of handling its first party-titles like normal video game releases, just putting them out like any other developer does, Nintendo has to change their games´ public image away from the status of “just another game“, and towards something more similar to an event altogether. The best example to give you a better image of that concept would be to take a look at Dragon Quest. The mainline Dragon Quest-series is not just some game, it´s an event. We all know the photos of waiting lines in Japan. I don´t know if that´s still the case, but I believe to remember something about Japanese children getting one day off school whenever a DQ-game is released. That´s how much of an event that “game” is. Of course, it´s not necessary to take it that far, but it´s the same principle: Make your franchises into something special. Something gamers will look forward to, no matter the specifics.

Putting a bit more detail into that plan, think of it like that: Nintendo has several popular franchises. Those would be Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Smash Bros., Donkey Kong, Kirby, Mario Kart, Animal Crossing, Starfox, F-Zero, Pikmin, Pokemon. And many others. Now, if we remember the past few Nintendo-systems, there has almost never been more than one installment of each series, two at maximum. What to do is the following: Screw all possible spilled details about these games until shortly prior to their release dates. But do announce them a long time before the actual release happens. Also, pan their releases out evenly and scarce over the year. I would have to count all franchises to create a precise time table, but how about three games a year for each platform? That would mean that every four months, a new Nintendo-title is released, giving third parties a lot of time for their games. Meanwhile, Nintendo-fans have a release-list that looks like the following:

  • January #1: Kirby
  • July #1: Animal Crossing
  • November #1: Zelda
  • January #2: F-Zero
  • July #2: Pokemon
  • November #2: Mario

That would be Nintendo´s release-list for two years. And we would know of this list at least a year before the first game´s release. All we´d know would be “Kirby” releases next year´s January. We wouldn´t know what it looks like, what its subtitle is, or gameplay-ideas it incorporates. It´d simply be the “Kirby-day”. And all the details wouldn´t matter, because damn, it´s freaking Kirby! But maybe you´d have an easier time seeing the idea behind that concept if I used Zelda or Mario, but I think you get it. Let´s be honest: We weren´t interested or hyped for Twilight Princess because of “yay, transforming into a wolf!” or “hm, I´m really excited who this princess is going to be!“. We were hyped because, you already know it, IT´S ZELDA! The same goes for Mario, Metroid and most of Nintendo´s franchises. We´re interested because we know how great these franchises have always been, how they rarely disappointed. Details are unnecessary, and to get these games to the general public, a short marketing campaign shortly prior to release should be well enough. So, not only would it spare fans from spoiling themselves (thanks, Gametrailers, for spoiling me the Zoras in TP! Yeah, still bitter about that …), it´d also change how not only we, the gamers, view those Nintendo-games, it also would create an opportunity for both Nintendo AND third party-developers.

Seeing how Nintendo runs into problems sooner or later with every new console generation, how they cannot continuously support a system by themselves (not while satisfying enthusiasts) and how such planned out release dates would only help each IP´s installment to get all the polish it really need, that would be a concept to solve these problems. Just in case you think that would be too little releases, please take into account how Nintendo-games tend to be evergreens. A status that would only be strengthened by treating these titles as events. And if after all that Capcom, Square Enix, Electronic Arts, Activision or Konami are then still arguing about Nintendo´s software being too dominant, they can go **** themselves. Feel free to agree.

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One Response to Event Releases – A business model for Nintendo

  1. […] coincidences clashing just after I wrote about a new business model for Nintendo yesterday. The company released its earning reports and Iwata himself said that the reason for why […]

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