Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Console Post of the Week: Nintendo

Nintendo announced its quarterly earnings last night. The Wii U numbers were staggeringly bad, so bad that the numbers don't even mean anything, really. Instead, let's try an image: Wile E. Coyote skating off a cliff, landing on dynamite, which then explodes, toppling a gigantic rock from a cliff face that plummets inexorably toward said Coyote as he holds up a tiny sign that reads "Help".


The Wii U is done. I wish it wasn't true, but it is, and inescapably so. A very clever little system, with a very clever controller, is finished. Nintendo will now be all-out trying to produce its replacement, and as quickly as possible.

There are a few things I'd like to mention, though, that may not have been mentioned elsewhere.

First, Nintendo always survives their disasters. I think this has been a very underrated quality of Nintendo. They sometimes release catastrophically stupid products, and sometimes they release interesting products with catastrophically poor execution, but at the end of the day, they're still alive, unlike all those other companies who have one catastrophe and get taken out by the big one before they even have time to clutch their chests.

Second, what caused this particular disaster is unclear. Is this a problem with the reshaping of the gaming market due to smartphones, or was this disastrous execution, or both? I would argue that you can't evaluate the smartphone problem, because Nintendo's execution with the Wii U was so comically bad that it overwhelms any other possible cause.

Too expensive. No must-have pack-in game. There was no recovery from those two mistakes, because they made it impossible for the system to generate any momentum. Nintendo Land was cute and utterly forgettable.

Do you know when I knew this console was dead? When we bought one on launch day, and Eli 11.3 was bored after playing Nintendo Land for an hour. We played it two times after that.

When the Wii launched, we played Wii Sports every day for at least three months. It was appointment gaming.

Too much to expect Nintendo to make a great pack-in game? No. Not for Nintendo.

So from day one, they've been chasing on price, and chasing on content, and clearly, they're not going to catch up. And as long as they survive, that's all okay. Innovating and failing is part of Nintendo's DNA, and thank goodness they're still willing to take chances.

Their problem, though (and I guess this is point "third"), is that they whiffed so badly on execution that it's going to be very, very difficult to evaluate the impact of smarphones as a percentage of what happened. That is much, much more serious, because it means they haven't learned anything about the smartphone market from this generation. That is very dangerous, and it could lead to all kinds of mistaken conclusions about where they should go from here.

Fourth, I don't know anyone who wants Nintendo to fail. They're beloved in a way that few other gaming companies, if any, have ever been. Those feelings are reflective of what they've created for decades, and I hope they're able to do it again in the next generation. I hope they keep doing it for a long time.

I hope that when Eli 12.5 has children some day, we can all play on a new Nintendo console together.

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