There have been literally dozens of players in the console industry, all of whom that have ferociously been competing with each other by producing cutting edge technology and creating great games to the benefit and enjoyment of us consumers. Many console makers have existed during the rather limited time period that the gaming industry has existed in. Some, have fallen into the abyss of oblivion, while a few remain, fighting the fight to this day. Times evolve, and so do the expectations. We want better, and we want more like never before.
Trends change, and with more important focus on the interactive experience, games are more epic in scale, while the mainstream market has become more important like never before. After the success of the IPhone and Facebook, social gaming has been a market that has shaped and pushed the gaming industry into a position where many are uncertain of its future. The economical climate has gotten tougher; it's not as easy to make money like it once was. With the next generation upon us, we've witnessed various different strategies utilised by console manufactures, all of whom have been carefully constructed to appease and excite the general consumer.
With the PlayStation 4, Sony has decided to keep the hardcore consumer in focus while also trying to have a stronger emphasis on the social experience this time around. With the PS3 still producing and bringing forward quality games and exclusives this late in the day, it's no question that Sony has stepped up their game to not only defend their own position, but they've also shown that they believe in the AAA-industry, even though it's an market that is bleeding its shares to the rapid growth of social games.
Microsoft has been rather quiet at the end of the cycle, having had a bigger emphasis on the social experience these last few years - and by going by the leaks and information we've seen so far, the Nextbox isn't really going to get the same focus gaming wise, like its predecessor once did back in its hay day. It's been a while since I've been genuinely excited about an Xbox title. Microsoft has been soul searching, and I don't think I'm far off in saying that there are many of us who are really curious if they still believe in their hardcore fan base like they once did. It'll be very interesting to see their vision with the Nextbox.
Last, but certainly not least by any means, is the Japanese video game company that literally brought back the gaming industry back from its knees back in the 80's. Nintendo showed the world that games were still were relevant back then, and not some fad that would fade away to obscurity. Japanese video game companies were kings back in the day - with stiff competition from Sega, Nintendo managed to produce legendary games, state of the art consoles, and the best selling handheld of all time, paving the way for the industry forward. With the home friendly environment in mind, Nintendo proved themselves to be a force to be reckoned with, helping establish an industry that today has passed even the likes of the music and movie industry. Not bad for a company that was originally founded as a card company.
With the rapid growth of the gaming industry in the late 80's and early 90's, it brought other companies attention to take the industry seriously and enter the gaming space, one of whom being Sony, introducing the PlayStation in 94. Nintendo managed to stay in the console war, moving from the Super Nintendo to the highly acclaimed N64. With a strong lineup of games with their new console, Nintendo managed to craft some of the most popular and recognized games of all time.
After enjoying masive success with the N64, despite the tough competition from Sony, it was time for the introduction of their new console, the GameCube. During this period, Sony released the PlayStation 2 while Microsoft decided to enter the console war with the introduction of the Xbox. Nintendo had for the first time come to terms with the grim realities of brutal competition. The GameCube failed to grasp the market share in the same fashion that its successful predecessor once managed to do. With the hardcore market in focus, the competition meant that many game developers would focus to put their third party titles on other consoles. Nintendoís winning formula would be tested for the first time, as its appeal was perceived as too family oriented by the evolving market.
With publishers literally bleeding money, many decided to pull the plug midway through production, while others decided to put some of their games that were meant to be exclusives on other consoles as well, porting them over to competitors (Resident Evil 4 being a primary example). Things wasnít exactly smooth sailing for Nintendo. While this would be the first time that the company faced major problems in the console space, it would certainly not be the last.
With the flop of the GameCube, Nintendo was scrambling to figure out a way how to make the once successful strategy they relied on to work properly again, just like it once did. Only a year after the introduction of GameCube, Nintendo installed a new president to lead the company. Satoru Iwata took the role to continue to lead the Japanese flagship with the same vision to glory that once made them successful. Nintendo would continue their quest towards success with the introduction of Nintendo DS. While it initially had a tough start, the DS would become the best selling video game console of all time, with over 157 million units sold to date.
However, it wasnít until 2005 when the tides would turn for Nintendo. With the next generation cycle around the corner, Nintendo would present their latest console. What was initially known by its prototype name Nintendo Revolution, would become what we know it as today: the Wii. Nintendo acknowledged with the failure of the GameCube that there was no point in competing power wise against the other consoles, focusing instead on the loyal Nintendo fan base and the mainstream market, the latter of which would prove to be a goldmine.
While Sony and Microsoft were fighting for the market share in an overly saturated market, Nintendo saw an opportunity to seize the living rooms of families outside the gaming sphere, aiming for a wider demographic. With a combination of successful vision, and simply being in the right place at the right time, the Wii became an instant hit upon its launch in 2006, far outselling itís competition by a large margin. In fact, according to the NDP, in the first half of 2007 in the United States alone, the Wii sold more units than the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 - combined.
deal with it
With the overly success of the Wii, Nintendo had successfully regained its position as the leading player in the industry. Many publishers that once snubbed Nintendo came back with their tail between their legs, all wanting a piece of the action that Nintendo was bringing. After the financial crisis, Nintendo felt the full force of its effect in 2009, wiping out over half of itís stock value from its peak in 2007. With the introduction of DSi, Nintendo managed to recoup some itís shares with strong sales worldwide, seeing a nice boost in 2010 and 2011.
However, ever since then, things have been bleak. After the Wii had run its course, and with a lot of speculation and rumours going about a Wii HD coming out, Nintendo announced their brand new console, the Wii U. After going through a tough period thanks to the economic climate and the evolving digital market, Nintendo decided to create a console that wouldnít alienate the hardcore market. Many was confused initially, as Nintendo were coy on specifically stating that the Wii U was a next generation console. I remember when I saw the presentation that my initial reaction was that the Wii U was a new controller, but to my suprise, it really was a complete new system.
Nedless to say, the Wii U flopped, and here we are today.
Nintendo's ride through the years
But why did it flop? Why are Nintendo back in the same situation they once were in, and what should they do?
The reasons are far and between, but Iíll go through a round of things I believe really went wrong for Nintendo. With the financial crisis plummeting the value within the gaming industry, we began see the rise of social media. With the likes of Apple making its launch with the IPhone, and Facebook on the rise, social gaming began to shrink the market that Nintendo was so dependant on. Casual gamers moved from the Wii to their phones and devices, and Nintendo was left standing. With Nintendo hurt, Sony and Microsoft began to take notice by applying heat to take what was left of the market Nintendo helped to establish, as well as secure its own casual space.
With the introduction of Kinect, Microsoft focused to drift away from its hardcore market and focus more on the mainstream experience. Sony likewise introduced the Move, but instead focused on maintaining to grasp hold of the hardcore market that it had been doing ever since its inception.
With the casual gamer abandoning Nintendo, and its competitors holding on to its own casual gamers, Nintendo had to do something. Left scrambling yet again, Nintendo had a tough choice to make. With consumers demanding more from games, both performance wise and gaming wise, Nintendo couldnít rely on the games they were producing on alone. They had to somehow take market share from the other two - but how would they do that? Nintendo and the hardcore market have been alienating each other for so long that they were practically living in parallel universes, so Nintendo really had an incredibly difficult challenge to face, but they had to gamble it up.
They did this by launching the Wii U early. With talks about the next generation of consoles, Nintendo decided that it would seal up market share before the PS4 and Nextbox had any time to gain momentum. Unfortunately for Nintendo, the message they tried to send out was confusing, and didnít really make any sense for the consumer. ĒWho exactly was this console for? Ē, I remembered asking myself. It feels like Nintendo had no sense of direction, that they wanted, but they couldnít. Mixing in hardcore elements with the mainstream elements Nintendo are famous for didnít make any sense at all.
The biggest mistake Nintendo did with the Wii U is to underestimate the hardcore market. The hardcore gamers are a loyal bunch, and are the expert market when it comes to what makes quality games. They canít be swayed with a half-assed attempts to seduce them, it just doesnít work that way. This is an entirely different beast from the mainstream market. Nintendo needs to be genuine with themselves and realise that if they want to compete in the hardcore market, they need to appease the hardcore gamer.
They need to become more edgy, and step out of their comfort zone by changing. That means more power and more content, to really stick out against the competition that is already in place. Itís a tough decision they are going to have to make going forward, but it is a vital one if they want to compete against the likes of Sony and Microsoft.
If they arenít willing to take that big leap forward, then unfortunately, they will need to reconsider their position. The positive thing for Nintendo is that they have such financial stability that they arenít at the point where they have to do a Sega, so they have time on their side to try to make sense of things, but the clock is counting. With Sony and Microsoft coming out with the 8th generation of consoles coming out later this year, and with the weak sales from the Wii U, the console could be rendered obsolete before it even had a chance to make an impact.
Nintendo needs to be honest with themselves and decide on the direction they want to go on, and really commit to the choice that they are ultimately are going have to make.
Anything other than that will be, most likely, the end of the ride.