It’s the Mania

I’m sure some of you are already completely tired of hearing people telling you how good Sonic Mania is. Despite all its faults and recycled content from Mega Drive Sonic games, it still ends up being the best game in the franchise. It’s a sort of The Best of Sonic, if you will. It’s essentially a game the fans, and people at large, have been waiting for since Sonic 3 and Knuckles came out.

There have been pretty good 2D Sonic  games since then. Sonic Advance games were overall enjoyable games to play, although their stage design and some of the physics were off. Sonic Rush games on the other hand nothing but the speed, and this was evident in rather lacklustre stage design again with the speed Boost gimmick being the main culprit. Nevertheless, still pretty good time. Just not as good as the Mega Drive games. That’s where we always go back, because those three (or four, depends how you want to count) games were in many ways the pinnacle of the series in the eyes of fans, sales and cultural impact. Sonic made its name on the Mega Drive.

Sadly, the Sonic titles are one of the worst sufferers of creators wanting something new and grand, something that doesn’t meet the expectations of the paying consumer. Sonic Adventure had a heavy emphasize on the story, something that peaked with Sonic ’06. I’ll tell you how to weed out the bad Sonic games from the good ones; the bad ones put the story to the front of things. Sonic‘s gameplay is hard, if not impossible, to transfer to 3D. They’ve been trying to do it for some two decades now, and even Sonic Generations, a game that was hailed as the first good Sonic game in a long time, felt off with everything done in 3D. Sonic 4 was just terrible.

The franchise really is a case study of creators losing sight what made their product wanted and revered. One could even go far enough to say that Sonic Team and Sega as a whole can’t do classic Sonic anymore, and have had no intention of replicating the Mega Drive games in any fashion. Sonic Generations could’ve been one, but physics clearly weren’t replicated accurately.

It’s not much of a surprise to see Sega hiring  fans to create a 25th anniversary game then. Fans, who have showcased themselves as capable in replicated the mould that made the Sonic franchise what it used to be. To say that the fans knew better than Sega would not be exaggeration. However, Sega did screw up the game by not giving it a proper physical release, and even the limited edition package comes with a digital download code only. I’m guessing they’re banking on Sonic Forces, which will probably end up lesser of the two games. The simple fact that its colour palette is dry and consists of black, red and beige is a harsh contrast to Sonic Mania‘s bright blue red and yellow.

Sonic the Hedgehog as a brand suffers from Sega overusing nostalgia mixed with whatever hell they’re trying to do in their latest games. Much like how Super Mario can exist in two different iterations at the same time, modern 3D Sonic could exist with classic 2D games. The biggest misstep of Sonic Mania is that it adhered to old stages, albeit remixing them with new areas and secrets. Sega’s no stranger to this, as their obsession of pushing out the Western teams at the end of Mega Drive’s era.

Nintendo is a stark contrast to this. While Nintendo has given some of their most significant IPs to outside companies to work with, like Retro Studios’ Metroid Prime, their attitude towards them and their fans is cold at best. Metroid Other M supposedly removed the Prime series from the canon, though why that should matter isn’t the point. The point is that Sakamoto himself didn’t deem the Prime series good enough. Other M and the upcoming Metroid II remake are the worst entries in the series and all that is on Sakamoto.

Nintendo is also infamous for their Cease and Desist letters to fans, like with the Another Metroid 2 Remake. Nintendo has had hard time celebrating their fans works or even allowed legally sound fan-products to be made. While they are required to protect their intellectual properties, this has never been good PR for them. Of course, you don’t want to have the same situation Paramount/CBS had with Star Trek Axanar, though it’s no secret Axanar challenged the official Trek stuff, and the team behind Axanar essentially broke the rules by making money off of their piece. There’s always the question why wouldn’t you want to make something original and new if you’re able to design and code a whole new game.

Sonic Mania is essentially the New Super Mario Bros. of the franchise. Much like with 2D Mario, classic Sonic is something people have been wanting for ages. However, whether or not this is just a one-hit-wonder or if Sega sees some sense and continues on developing and releasing more of these classic games is still open. However, they should learn from the failures of NSMB series and improve upon the concept and allow the games to stand up more and give them full fledged release status. Nostalgia is a delicate thing, and as said, Sega’s been overusing it already. Pushing the stage designs and sprite graphics to Saturn level next while still keeping with the style of Sonic Mania might be a natural step. Sonic Mania, as an anniversary game, does things right and manages to squeeze in twists that you’d never see in an equivalent Nintendo game.

A game of Puyo Po– I mean Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine as a Boss Battle in Chemical Plant Zone? This is the right stuff right there

Sega could do right with the rest of their franchises and seek out the right people to work on them in a similar manner. There are development houses that would love to give, for example, Streets of Rage a similar best-of treatment. The iron is now red hot, it’s time for Sega to hammer it.

Greater fool

With the announcement of SNES Classic Edition, or the mini as I’ll be referring it to as, the collective retro gaming Internet lost its shit and the console sold out in matter of days, or hours in some store’s case. not only that, but some sites already have re-sellers putting up their units for grossly exaggerated prices. That is not to say stores would be upping their price anyway after seeing the success the NES mini was.

The suggested price of the SNES mini is at $79,99, or around 70€ to 80€. However, even now there are stores that have jacked up the price over hundred, because they knew it would sell out and that they can fetch higher price. The Greater fool theory has few variations to it, but for our purpose it can be stated as a person investing into a product in hopes of selling to a greater fool who is willing to pay more. The retro game market has become somewhat similar to a stock market, where certain people try to find fortune in finding games at a lower price, jack up the price somehow and then proceed to sell at a much higher profit margin.

There are few ways of doing this. One of course is the removal of products from the market and further making it a rarer piece. This can be done with relative ease, especially if one has the foresight to proceed to empty the market at the right time. If you were to buy certain games fifteen years ago at a low price, these games could now fetch up to two hundred their purchased worth.

Then of course you can change how the market perceives the products. Even now, some games are absolutely terrible, but due to their limited runs and relative obscurity, they can fetch stupidly high prices. The quality doesn’t really step into the equation here, it’s all about how rare something is.

This of course makes sense when looking at other collectables markets, where the exact same things happens over and over. However, the one thing that can’t be ignored with this theory is also the personal perceived value the greater fool might have towards a game. When you combine the believes and expectations a buyer has for a game with his personal affections towards it, they can be ready to pay extraordinary high sums of money.

As stated, a rational buyer may just buy the game and sell it forwards at a higher price, because there is a greater fool. This cycle has been going on in the retro game market for a solid decade and then some, and I’ve seen some argumentation for longer period of time. Whatever the case is, the current prices used retro games are going for now, and in the foreseeable future, will not stay. This is a bubble that is waiting to be burst, but I highly doubt it’ll be an overnight event. Rather, we’ll see something like a common Super Mario Bros. peaking at its highest point at some extraordinary price, and then things will dwindle down.

Or rather it should,  but it won’t. The kind of retro collectors we have now are willing to spend high amounts of money for their collection. Of course, the sellers are willing to accommodate with equally over the top prices. I’m talking about people who are willing to pay over hundred dollars for a loose Mega Man 5. At that money, any sensible personal would just pick up one of the collections for whatever platform and spend the rest on ice cream.

The NES and SNES mini have made things interesting, to say the least. While Nintendo has claimed they’ll be producing the SNES mini in higher numbers than the NES mini, there won’t be enough. Nintendo has always underestimated their classic library to the point of neglect. Nintendo’s strategy with these re-release consoles is not to introduce new people to their older library, but rather just grab some cash before they can do something sensible with the Switch’s online. Nintendo never realises how much demand there is for their classics. The Super Mario All-Stars Limited Edition they released for the Wii sold out faster than they could imagine. Twice! Nintendo is gearing up to something with the Switch and whatever plans they have for their classic library, but these mini consoles are just stopgags on the way there.

Nintendo seems to be aware of the retro market. While their profit margins are less with these mini consoles than with Virtual Console, this is catering to a certain demographic first and foremost. While you could argue that the demographic is the general audience, the fact that NES mini wasn’t released in same production amounts or even officially in places as the Switch says that the target demographic was rather limited. The SNES mini will always be sold out, and despite the supposedly higher production run, it will still see similar fate.

And there will be greater fools who are willing to pay three times the original price for their own reasons.

The Atari Box wants to hit the same core demographic. Someone at Atari saw the demand the NES mini experiencing and wanted some of that dough. Whether or not it is a full-fledged console as rumoured, the chances are that it’s more or less a flashback sort of device like that NES and SNES mini. It would be easy to do a modern Atari console with most classic games installed while offering the possibilities to expand the library in the future. Nothing says an older console couldn’t be re-released and have new titles released or produced for it.  After all, Nintendo’s pushing Starfox 2 on the SNES mini as well, and they’d make tons more money if they would allow the user to purchase more games on some sort of game cards and have them run on the system.

Or just release things on the Virtual Console and be done with it. I’m still expecting Nintendo to announce Netflix style gaming for its online service, where the consumer has no ownership.

Same end goal, different method

Nintendo has a history of localisation, culturalisation and censorship. To some all these three terms are synonymous witch each other, as the end result is the same; modified or removed content to avoid offending someone. While you’d think this would be appropriate, the reality of it is that the Japanese developers don’t give a rat’s ass about it and mostly look at at the sales numbers.

Everybody who played games during the Third Generation remembers how NES had strict censorship rules across the board in order to maintain certain image. Sega used this to advertise themselves as a more mature option, with far more lax rules imposed to the developers, which ultimately ended in the birth of ESRB, the Entertainment Software Rating Board.

Nintendo mainly caters and develops for Japan, and this applies to all Japanese developers across the board. There is nothing wrong in this, though the reality is that a game that has the strongest roots to Japanese culture will sell less in the West. It would make sense for a company to want to localise and culturalise their game for the Western market in order to make it more profitable, but there’s the rub.

As much as game developers may tell use the art when describing games, their actions betray the notion. Art has an untouchable sanctity to itself, where the work and author is required to be respected. This goes to all art. Games, however, are not art and can be modified to any degree the creators see fit in order to make it a more selling product. Certainly developers are willing to meet halfway through and modify things that may seem inappropriate (for some) while keeping the overall work intact, but this sort of approach is not needed for art.

It should also be mentioned that culturalisation is an incredibly half-assed method to localise or translate anything. American sensibilities do not meet up with various European nations to any degree. A chest-size slider from Xenoblade Chronicles may be somewhat eyebrow raising thing in a puritanical nation, yet most European nations would laugh it off and admire the extent of customisation the developers have provided. Yet Nintendo is listening and believing people who consider themselves the guardians of Western (American) culture by taking anything that would seem offensive. Though there’s another rub in there, as most of these offences seem to touch upon only on depiction of women. The aforementioned chest-size slider being a good example of this.

Nintendo’s approach how they culturalise is limited at best. According to an interview, staff from Nintendo Treehouse travel to Japan to discuss with the developers in order to affect development of a game. This effectively means that Nintendo has few selected guardians of morality that dictate what should be censored from a game for Western release. This is of course absolutely bullshit, as this without a doubt affects author’s vision and intent for the game. Staff from Nintendo may claim that they aim to have different region versions as close to each other as possible, though that’s beside the point; without exchange of ideas and contest of contents, cultures stagnate.

Nintendo can claim to disregard politics and concentrate on fun as much as they want. With the action of culturalisation, they are making a political statement about people, their culture and what sort of content they should be have available for consumption. Due to this, the only way to play a Nintendo game in the future in its original, unaltered form, is to play a Japanese original release with no modified or removed content.

Despite all this, Nintendo’s attempt to increase sales by catering to puritanical moral guardians fails to take notice how it’s not the chest-size sliders or the like that affect sales. As much as Japanese developers want to think otherwise, Japanese games don’t sell if they have anime look or otherwise. No matter of censorship won’t change the fact America and parts of Europe reject this look. There are numerous stigmas towards anime, starting with perversions and under-age girls in lingerie to hyperviolence. Often combinign the two no less.

If Nintendo would do culturalisation to its fullest extent, they’d completely rework the Xenoblade Chronicles 2‘s visual design and story to step away from Japanese culture and anime visuals. However, Nintendo, like any other Japanese company, takes pride in their culture and its products and would consider this an impossible task. However, changing something that’s little and of no importance is OK, just to make sure it could sell a bit more.

Which is absurd.

A minor edit in a game’s options or visuals won’t change the fact that a game like Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is inherently Japanese and this is its grand weakness on the market. It can’t be even properly contest on the market place on its own merits due to censorship applied to it from the Treehouse. Nintendo has an extremely small pool of data from which to make their decisions on, and their failure of following reports from sites like Kotaku and Polygon instead of following raw data that is the consumer trends means they will continue to censor their games for no good reason.

Video games may have eclipse Hollywood in terms of money flowing back and forth. However, unlike Hollywood, the game industry is spoiled like a baby. This media can’t mature any further if its ideas, methods and content is being suffocated for the sake of supposed American culture. The European nations suffer from this, as each nation has its own distinct culture and approach things from their own angles. No company would want to make around 53 different versions of a game for the Western world, counting American and Canada with the all the Old World countries and their transcontinental states.

The game industry needs to grow up into its teenage years and stop giving a shit about what people say about them and go their own way. Let the market decide what’s appropriate and what’s not. Culture can’t thrive if there is no open debate on presented ideas. All ideas exist to be tested, and so does a market test a game. However, as said, a game can’t be tested on its own merits if it already has been censored.

Vote with your wallets and make your stance known, as private consumers. The only way to say No to unnecessary censorship is through money.

Sakamotoroid

Nintendo in this year’s E3 is a good example how they can drop a name and have people wild. No other game company has this level of power. Simply by showcasing Metroid Prime 4 people were wetting their pants from sheer excitement. This has been parodied few times over in some webcomics, where devs just walk on the stage and name things. Cue for audience throwing money at them.

I’ve got nothing against Shinya Takahashi (no developer is relevant, only their product is) but he should have been replaced with Reggie. It’s better than broken English or dub, as Reggie can be related with easier. Of course, the opposite goes in Japan and other regions. At least all these people emphasize gameplay.

Miyamoto wants the Switch to have a longer lifespan than five years, which is seen as sort of standard for consoles. Nothing actually determines that console has to live for that time. On the contrary, we have notable examples of consoles that lived much longer than that. The Game Boy, Atari 2600 and Sega Mega Drive all had long life spans. A console is dead when its support is dropped. As such, Nintendo should hit all the niches. Metroid Prime was a hit in the West and is still the most sold Metroid game, which is astonishing considering it was on the GameCube. Metroid Prime 4 can be expected to follow Prime series’ path, but seeing Prime 3 was pretty terrible compared to the first one, and how Sakamoto has his hands in everything, I’d rein in expectations before solid footage and info.

Might as well discuss Metroid II remake as well. There is very little reason for it to exist on the 3DS, outside if it has been in development hell. It should have been pushed to the Switch, but why this even exists I don’t know. It would seem Sakamoto has a hard-on for destroying Metroid‘s legacy with remakes and forced cinematics. First three Metroid games used aesthetics from the Alien franchise combined with other pop-culture materials, yet none of this exists in Metroid II remake. It’s filled with bloom and stages that have no resemblance with original Metroid II‘s levels, and has both cinema and gameplay elements from Other M. Will it sell just because it’s a 2D Metroid? Probably, but this isn’t what people asked from a new 2D entry in the series. Nintendo needs to kick Sakamoto out from his position and give it to someone who will make a game that is what Super Metroid was to the original; larger, wider, and longer. That would require too much work, and Sakamoto being enthusiast about remaking it tells us that it’ll be worse than the original Metroid II.

Then again, they haven’t kicked Aonuma out of Zelda team yet, so someone really has to fuck up hard before they’re removed from their chair.

On the other hand, Nintendo’s again pushing anime aesthetics with Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and Fire Emblem Warriors. While they can do whatever they want, Western consumers still don’t like it. If you’re intending to gather the anime and weaaboo game audience, then this is the best path for you. That’s just the reality for you. General consumers don’t have anything against cartoony content as such, anime aesthetics just are something that has a stigma and visuals that don’t resonate with them.

Then again, there’s Mario Odyssey. I’m not sure what the hell they wanted this game to be, but something is really off about this game. It might be that the whole game surrounds around that hat taking control over characters and forcing them under Mario’s controls. That, and it looks dull. Super Mario 64 may be legendary, but it was the first step of mainline Mario games going down. 3D Mario games have never sold as much as 2D ones, but I’m guessing Nintendo’s not interested developing one any time soon. While Nintendo wants to develop games to everyone, it seems that they’re not interested doing so with their main franchise.

And the rest is largely just trailers. Sony and Nintendo had a very similar act this year. Neither had an emphasize on the hardware and concentrated on content on their current systems. Reggie mentioned that third party developers are committed on bringing games on the Switch as well, which means that most people will be buying the consoles for those games on the long run rather than the first party titles. While Skyrim may be at a memetic position for being on almost every platform, it’s probably a sure seller. Rocket League is cheap and fun. Minecraft still holds its place up.

So, who won the E3? Nobody, it’s a silly concept. Well, all the companies really, because their core consumers got excited and will spend money on their products.

Netflix style gaming

Some time ago I was asked what do I think will be the next big thing in gaming. Usually I tend to argue that digital will not replace physical release for some time now (digital distribution has been said to obsolete physical media for some fifteen years for now) but I do recognize that cross pollination between the media is common. The future of gaming can once more found in the past, and that probably will be streamed games.

Streaming games isn’t anything new and few companies have already tried it few times over. Nintendo’s Satellaview service is perhaps the most prominent example next to OnLive’s cloud gaming. These two functioned rather differently, with Satellaview requiring a specific cartridge that would download and save the game on the cartridge itself, whereas OnLive’s MicroConsole TV Adapter (that’s what their console was called) would access a title on OnLive’s servers and stream it directly to the console.

Netflix’s and other streaming services’ success is something modern game industry is probably highly envious of. Games and movies don’t only affect each other visually speaking, but also how the industries sort of work. Modern mainstream game industry is just as corrupt and full of itself as Hollywood is, and both are envious of each other of their successes and products they put out. The consumer really loses in this little battle with each other.

It could be argued that modern technology isn’t up to perfect game streaming yet. Satellaview was more or less a similar service to Steam in how the game required a specific setup in order to be played, and OnLive’s service stated that the user needed to live thousand miles of within their server in order to get quality service. The Internet speeds are the bottle cap of the system overall, and as games require more and more oomph from the machine, the machines need to reflect this in their hardware. However, hardware still doesn’t reflect the quality of the games, as that’s still up to the developers how their games are designed and optimised, two things that seem to be missing from current mainstream industry.

One of the main reasons why companies would want to aim for game streaming is that they can claim it to be fighting against piracy through that. Claim is the choice of word here, because game companies don’t like people trading their games with each other. It’s better for them if everyone bought their games new from the stores. A streaming service would keep their the control of the market in their hands. Purchasing of games wouldn’t be a thing as the consumer would subscribe to a service. Except for the DLC, that would always be a separate thing. Of course, the user wouldn’t need to use any of his HDD space for the games due to cloud based service. In regards of history archiving, stream-only games would be hard to archive for future generations. Satellaview games suffer from this, especially with the radio broadcasts that went with them. Even now, a game that has its license expiring will be removed from stores and online services whenever applicable, and the same will apply to any streaming service.

Of course, the ownership question always pops up. With a streaming service, you would only own the console you would use for streaming, and for computers you wouldn’t probably own the software. You’d need to subscribe to the service itself and would have no control over anything in the end. Without a doubt, regional variants would continue to exists, just like with Netflix and other streaming services that limit what can be streamed in which country. This sort of regional locking is something that isn’t an issue with modern consoles any more, but with stream-only services a user wouldn’t be able to access games from another region without a VPN.

Which if the Big Three would launch their own modern game streaming service first? Sony certainly should have the basics for it, as they bought out OnLive. They should have all the documentation and basic framework how to set up a similar cloud gaming service. Perhaps this could be their ace in the hole to compete against Nintendo’s hybrid console. Microsoft on the other probably won’t do anything of the sort for a while now before they see how Project Scorpio turns out, and probably will mimic whatever Nintendo and Sony put out while trying to trump them with something over the top (see; Kinect and WiiMote.) Nintendo on the other hand seems to be already testing some waters with Switch’s paid online, as the current word on the street is that Nintendo’s paid online service has been delayed until 2018 and rather than offering a game for the subscribers to play, they will be able to access a plethora of classic games. Of course Nintendo would only offer classic games and nothing newer, as they don’t give a damn about their classic lineup of games. On the surface it does seem nice, with the cheaper price and all, but this most likely also means Nintendo won’t give two shits about Virtual Console, which was one of the reasons people bought Wii. Perhaps in their eyes a streaming service of these classic games could increase console sales, especially if the service was cheap enough.

I admit that companies hoping to take control over the consumers’ consumption of goods into their hands does sound like conspiracy theory to an extent, but no company would pass such an opportunity, because ultimately it is all about the money. By having all the string in your fingertips, a company could log in all the preferences of a consumer, supplement them, hit the right spots and sell the information forwards while still selling their own  product (i.e. subscription service and DLC in this case) to the consumer. The current consumer trend is to give control of products over the companies, and Steam probably exemplifies this the best alongside with Netflix. Certainly it is cheaper and you don’t amass large amounts of discs on your shelf. Perhaps there is too much trust put into these companies with all the information we give them.

Nintendo itself is not the brand

Neither are their developers or any of the individuals we see on streams and in interviews. Nintendo’s value as a brand goes up and down according to what they do. While branding is often given to the visual design and flavour of a company or a product, everyone knows branding is a lot more. If not consciously, then through unconscious osmosis of simple consumption of products. Brand goes hand-in-hand with reputation and the perceived value of the product produced by the company. Naturally, the product’s perceived value colours the value of the company.

It is extremely easy to make your product to look bland, and once you’ve made that misstep, it’s hard to recovered. Mass Effect Andromeda is extremely bland bland game and thus its perceived value is low. Patches only help so much, and PR is what the publisher must do in order to recover from the failure. It’s even worse if the fans lose their perceived value on the game, and that takes some effort to do. Like making your characters hold guns in reverse and essentially making it inferior to the first title in the series. Much like other AAA video game titles, it’s a very bland, very grey product.

What brings colour into a product is disruption. Nintendo has a history of heating up the Blue Ocean and disrupt the market with coloured products, though they have a history doing very grey products that wallow in the Red Ocean as well. The Switch, as it is currently, is about disruption in the video game industry. Unlike Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo went with what probably is the future of console gaming and created a hybrid system.

To use car industry as an example, Volvo’s brand is security and safety. Their cars are not the most exciting things in the world, but they are very trustworthy overall and suit the best for everyone. Until somewhat recently you couldn’t find a car that would move away from this branding from their main lineup. This is because Volvo has begun to change this somewhat bland yet trustworthy brand image of theirs with premium cars that offer more exciting cars. Their image is not safety, but the content with the car and the options you can have.

Nintendo’s brand has been perceived similarly as kid’s and family’s console to play. A Nintendo console usually has a good variety of games for everyone to play, whereas Xbox is a first-person shooting game wet dream in console form (though that has been severely diminished with the lacklustre recent Halo titles) while Sony is that black console cool kids who like hardcore games go for. The original PlayStation followed Nintendo’s branding as a whole family’s future generation console, but at the same time used Sega’s not-just-for-children approach. While the PlayStation had games that kids enjoyed, it also had titles like WipeOut that hit the cultural club scene if the latter 1990’s. The N64 on the other hand wasn’t everybody’s console due to the sheer shit tier library it had. Saturn was ever successful in Japan and was mostly staying within then-passed arcade port title. As much as it hurts Saturn and Dreamcast fans, arcade ports didn’t cut it any more at that point, and arcades themselves were starting to die out.

People don’t just buy what companies are selling. They buy the perceived product the company is selling. Shit in a can isn’t perceived valuable, but when an artist does it and sells it as art, the perceived value among certain crowd skyrockets.

Nintendo Switch currently has a highly regarded perceived value because of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. No other title is driving its sales as much. 1-2 Switch is a joke, though the new Bomberman seems to have gone through a rise in perceived value after the latest patch. The Switch is currently the prime example how game industry and the Red Ocean consumers don’t get the market worth jack shit. As I’ve mentioned before, the Switch was proclaim dead on arrival and that its weak hardware wouldn’t be able to do anything. Yet, BotW alone is driving Switch’s sales. This is what a Zelda game is capable of when it is allowed to be true to the series rather than just a puzzle-dungeon game. Less Aonuma there is with Zelda, the better it gets.

It doesn’t matter if you personally think that these people who bought Switch and are enjoying its games are normies or have shit taste. They are not the deviation of the form, but the rule. The AAA game industry might shove millions into a game production and barely make even with the Red Ocean consumer, who seems to be easier consumer to please and pull money from as the Red Ocean is filled with competition. Developing and releasing games and consoles is hard work, and while it can be understood why Red Ocean developers want to stick where they’re most comfortable at (of course, with no expanded life experiences outside games, how could you even imagine developing game for the Blue Ocean consumer? Shoving an agenda to the player’s view is the last thing they want) and this is why even 10% drop in sequel game’s sales will put alarms on. Despite millions being in play, even the slightest change will throw the finely tuned balance off.

While video game industry is creative, it is service industry. If you want to use this sort of comparison, video game developer is on the same level as a burger flipper. Developers’ job is to serve the consumer and their needs, it is the consumer who ultimately decides whether or not your product is good enough to be purchased. You can work your burger however well, but if the consumer doesn’t want it, the onus is on you. Not on the consumer.

Nintendo’s last three home consoles show how their disruption coloured their brand. The Wii , as much as the Red Ocean hates it, was a massive success because Nintendo didn’t stay with the comfortable Red Ocean market. The Wii U was made for the Red Ocean, and it succeeded worth jack shit. Hell, it was pulled from the stores to make room for the Switch, which again has disrupted the industry and hopefully will continue to do so with both low- and high-end software aimed for everybody.

Switch inherits Wii’s philosophy

Nintendo Everything has an interview up on regarding the inception and design of the Switch. We’ll take it at face value for now, all this sort of interviews are mix of hard facts and PR after all. It’s a bit on the long side, four pages in total, but a good read nevertheless.

The first thing they quote with big blue font is how the Switch was designed to bring everyone together and play. Remember Wii’s We’d like to play ads? The Switch encompasses the same idea, which incidentally is shared with the NES (which they specifically mention and want to go way back to the hanafuda cards) and to some extent with the SNES. Can’t forget the Game Boy and the DS. It’s sad to see Koizumi saying that playing together is core essence of Nintendo, when they’ve done so much do disregard this. It is also not the full extent of Nintendo’s core, but this is neither here or there. What Koizumi is saying with his little speech about getting strangers into gaming is expansion of the market, something that Nintendo’s successful consoles have done.

The idea of Nintendo’s home console being a device that could be turned into a sort of game-presentation/sharing device on its own probably shaped the console all the way through the development. The Switch is chock-full of technological things that aren’t really needed, like the HD Rumble that the upcoming Senran Kagura is probably going to use somehow to imitate the physics of female body. The split wireless controller would’ve been enough to allocate this, but Nintendo does have a history of obsessing with useless WOW!-factors, like the 3D screen on the 3DS or the tablet controller on the Wii U.

While the Wii wouldn’t fit into this console-presenter idea, it had much easier time penetrating the wall that modern controllers put up. The Wiimote is an easy contraption to handle and use, which made the Wii an excellent console to boot up and have people playing games without worrying much how to control a given game. The rest was up to how well the game itself was designed. There certainly was a WOW! factor in Wiimotes without a doubt, but at least they saw use.

I should note at this point that the Switch is mentioned began development about three years ago. This is about the same time Nintendo’s main support on the 3DS and Wii U started lacking in major releases (or on VC for the matter) and fits their modus operandi. Just like with the Wii and previous consoles, about half of the predecessor’s life cycle is dedicated for the development of the successor.

Both Takahashi and Koizumi mention how Iwata helped them with engineering challenges, as both of them have design backgrounds. While they paint designers’ life as a daydreamer, it’s much more closer to constantly trying to solve a puzzle but having jack shit idea how to proceed. You just gotta make things work, and it helps if there are people in your team who can tell you what’s possible and why. Giving a designer total freedom only asks trouble.

I’m also calling bullshit on the fact that single-player games saw a rise on the N64 because only one controller was included. Knowing how Nintendo has gone on the record how they don’t follow their competitors’ actions (which is probably bollocks as well), how can they determine whether or not N64 was the reason for this supposed rise in single-player games? If Nintendo is worried about lack of multiplayer games and support this view, they should’ve dropped the price of their controllers and adding multiplayer elements to games like Super Mario Sunshine rather than bitching how third party is doing the same. It could be also argued that a game that can be played both single- and multiplayer and can stand on its own in single-player mode is superior to a game that requires two or more players at any given time.

Naming your product something that could attract the consumer is no easy deal. Sometimes you find a perfect name that has nothing to do with the actual product, like how Uncle Ben’s has nothing to do with rice, yet it’s a good name due to branding and all that. A PlayStation does give some hint what done with it, as does GameCube. Switch on the other hand doesn’t, but with the marketing and branding Nintendo’s doing, the idea of switching things up on the fly seems be associated with the system. Whatever else they had as candidates would be interesting to see, but at least it’s something simple and memorable. Like GameBoy.

One thing that will make the Switch stand apart from its competitors… actually, I’m not sure if the Switch has any competition per se. Because it’s a hybrid console, it doesn’t compete in traditional game console field. It competes against whatever Sony and Microsoft will dish out next, but they’re on weaker legs due to decentralisation of home entertainment. On handheld markets it has absolutely no competition with Vita being dead in the water elsewhere but in Japan. I hope you like importing for that little bugger. What a load of wasted potential Vita was. Whatever it is the competition will offer probably won’t be a pure bred game console. Consoles as home media centres is a ruling paradigm Nintendo has mostly gone against, and the Switch continues to do so. It’s main thing is to play games and dammit it needs to do it fast.

Takahashi’s argument that they didn’t want to fight smartphones and wanted to make friends with them makes no sense. Nintendo’s games and smartphones are two different markets, but I guess this is where the whole DeNA thing steps in. The whole social media aspect is what they gunned for, and seems to be the reason online chat and numerous other aspects of their online seems to be less than screwed up. Now that their online will actually cost money, I really do hope they’ll up their game in every aspect. I know it’s a futile wish, but it’s good to live with hope.

Nintendo also knows VR is terrible but still claims to be researching in it.

What strikes hopeful in Switch’s development is that it took in young people, to an extent. While it is good to take in new blood in order to rejuvenate your company and get in some new ideas, this is a generation that has lived with game consoles their whole lives. Unlike with the first three or four console generations, there is a preconception with high-end consumers what a game console needs to be like nowadays. It’s like how Zelda fans who jumped unto the ship with Ocarina of Time tend to rewrite Link’s Adventure as some sort of terrible aberration from the form. That’s Majora’s Mask.

Perhaps the last bit that garners a mention in this post is how Takahashi agrees that Switch should have more software than what was on the Wii or Wii U. Wii might be a bit hard to overcome, but Wii U’s statistics aren’t anything to write home about. Bloomberg seems to think that the Switch will sell more than the Wii, which is a tall order. While the initial reaction to Switch was essentially the same as with any other successful Nintendo console, i.e. dead on arrival, its sales show otherwise. Because the Switch sits in the handheld console market, it has the possibility of selling higher numbers than the Wii without a doubt. If it hits both home console and handheld markets with equal force, it’ll outsell the Wii. If the devs have games half-assed, it’ll sell less.

The Switch had a similar launch to the DS. It was big, with big sales left and right. Then came about a year long slumber, after which it was revised as a portable SNES of sorts. The Switch could have a similar cycle, where after this big start it trails off, and when enough and certain kind of software is release, blows up in sales again. Most likely during a holiday.