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Talking to Women about Videogames: Nintendo myth busting

1:30 PM on 11.19.2012 // Jonathan Holmes

Time to get cran-tastic

[Talking to Women about Videogames is a series where Jonathan Holmes talks to different people who are women about the biggest videogame news of the week for some reason.]

Myths can start innocently enough. Pure fabrication, simple misunderstanding, or a more complex misdiagnosis of the phenomena at hand can all lead to faulty explanations and perceptions.What keeps those misconceptions going is usually a combination of lacking information and some measure of ill will. That happens a lot in the videogame world, largely doe to the secretive ways of game publishers and the inner-conflict-prone gaming community.

When a company has been a huge (and divisive) part of the videogame industry for as long as Nintendo has, you're going have a few myths stuck to your ass. I figured that the release of the Wii U would be as good a time as any to bust a few of them, because I like busting. It makes me feel good. 

Nintendo always sells consoles at a profit

I think this got started as a byproduct of the bitterness that many felt towards Nintendo for selling the Wii for $250, despite the fact that the hardware wasn't much of an upgrade from the $99 GameCube. While it was "a bit cheeky" of Nintendo to charge so much for the Wii, they still ended up losing tons of potential revenue on the thing back when the Wii would go for ~$350 on the secondhand market. 

Back to the point, the Wii U is being sold at a loss, the 3DS is being sold at a loss now that the price has dropped, and the GameCube was sold at a loss for the majority of its time on the market. Nintendo consoles are sometimes sold at a loss. Myth, consider yourself busted.

Nintendo doesn't support third parties

This one started back in the N64 days, and for good reason. Nintendo did give third parties a really hard time on the platform, charging ridiculous licensing fees and leaving them to deal with the near-obsolete cartridge format. Since the GameCube days though, Nintendo has taken a very different tact with third parties. That's why the Wii and the DS were flooded with third-party releases (many of which were of questionable integrity, but we'll get to that later).

People also say Nintendo should promote third-party games more aggressively, like Sony and Microsoft tend to. I'm always baffled by that. Call of Duty: Black Ops II took center stage at the recent Wii U pre-release event in New York City. Nintendo has had EA, Activision, and Rockstar with them on stage at E3 many times. Whenever third parties put their most marketable, top-budget titles on Nintendo consoles, Nintendo historically meets them in kind with marketing resources and active support. 

The problem often comes from the fact that third parties don't often put their best stuff on Nintendo consoles, which brings us to the next point

Third-party games don't sell on Nintendo consoles

In the NES and SNES days, third-party games did exceptionally well on Nintendo consoles, but things changed on the N64. The previously mentioned licensing fees and restraints inherent to the cartridge format, combined with the N64's smaller install base caused the console to be largely ignored by third parties. The GameCube saw improved support in those areas, which led to increased support from third-party developers (with initially exclusive games like Resident Evil 4, Viewtiful Joe, and Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes), but with an even smaller install base than the N64, they took more of their business to the PS2.

All that history definitely contributes to the myth that these companies don't care about and/or don't sell on Nintendo consoles, but the Wii is where idea that third-party games "don't sell" on Nintendo consoles truly ingrained itself in gamer culture, with some studios making bold statements about how disappointed they are with the sales of their Wii games, blaming the "Wii audience" for not appreciating their titles, etc.

The part they often leave out is that third parties rarely put marque titles on the Wii. Other than Monster Hunter Tri (which apparently sold well enough on the Wii to garner several Nintendo-exclusive follow-ups) and a few "down ports" of multiplatform titles like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Reflex Edition, third parties rarely put their most marketable games on the Wii.

Instead, they took risks like MadWorld and Muramasa: The Demon Blade, tried to revive "dead" genres like the on-rails shooter, the point-and-click puzzle adventure and... whatever NBA Jam is, or just ported DS games to the console, assuming that Wii owners couldn't tell the difference between the two. (No offense, Trauma Center. You're still my jam.)

Third parties are right. Those games didn't tend to sell as well as their bigger budgeted, more fully featured relatives on the PS3/360, but that's not just  because "third-party games don't sell on the Wii." I'm more inclined to guess that lower budget, less marketable, new IP don't have much chance of doing big numbers at retail on any home console. There are plenty of  third-party games of varying levels of quality that didn't sell on the PS3/360 as well: Shadows of the Damned, The Sabatour, Darksiders II, Child of Eden, WetHyperdimension Neptunia, El Shaddai, Enslaved, Vanquish, and Majin and the Foresaken Kingdom, to name a few. 

While I love a lot of those games, there is not questioning that they aren't as marketable as big-budget, established IP like Grand Theft Auto IV or Resident Evil 5. Like similarly budgeted, similarly struggling third-party games on the Wii, they just couldn't do GTA IV numbers. The only difference is, a game like No More Heroes can make a profit on the Wii where development costs allowed for games to sell 500,000 lifetime sales and still turn a profit.

Nintendo hasn't put out any new series since Pikmin

I love this one, because it's such a sweet Oroboros. There are people who complain that Nintendo only makes Mario and Zelda games. These are the people who will only buy a Nintendo game if it carries the Mario or Zelda name. Those folks who buy all kinds of Nintendo games already know that they released Xenoblade and Rhythm Heaven Fever just this year, that the worked very closely with Mistwalker on the development of The Last Story, with Treasure on Sin and Punishement: Star Successor, and so forth. 

Nintendo has published a lot of new IP since Pikmin was released. Sadly, people tend to overlook that, which only makes it harder for Nintendo to put out new IP. Oroboros indeed!

Nintendo only puts out games for "kids"

Nintendo of America has been pretty gun shy towards M-rated games ever since Eternal Darkness failed to set the world ablaze, but they've been pretty consistent in putting out T-rated games, like Metroid, Twilight Princess, and whatever else they think will sell. In Japan, it's a different story. Nintnedo publishes a lot more risky stuff there, in terms of both content and potential for sales -- stuff like psychologically disturbing Fatal Frame series, the dildo-infused Captain Rainbow, and the Cero Z-rated online ogre-slaying simulator Zangeki No Reginliev

It's only when compared to the "no kids allowed" attitude of Sony and Microsoft that Nintendo of America looks "less mature." Microsoft has dabbled in "all ages" games (mostly from Rare, and mostly with limited success) and Sony has put some resources into stuff like LittleBigPlanet, but most of the current crop of first-party titles from those two groups are T-rated or above. Combine that with fact that most who don't play Nintendo games only know the company for Mario and Zelda, and it's easy for the perception that they only make kids games to continue, despite ample evidence to the contrary.

With the announcement that Nintendo is publishing the new Bayonetta, it will be interesting if that perception begins to change.

Conclusion: It's hard to hit a moving target

Nintendo has kept the same franchises alive for a long time, which gives off the perception that they are resistant to change. Anyone who's picked up the Wii U and booted up Miiverse can tell you that's no the case. Nintnedo went from completely ignoring multimedia features with the GameCube, to touting NintendoTVii and built-in video chat as killer apps for the Wii U. At one point, they were so focused on tech that they'll actually name one of their consoles after how many "bits" of processing power it had. Fast forward a few years later to the Wii, and you have a console that's only selling point came from software and its controller. And don't even get me started how much the Zelda games have simultaneously changed and stayed the same over the years.

Almost all the myths about Nintendo have been true at one point in time, but those points in time have been fleeting. If you hate Nintendo today, you may love them tomorrow, and vice versa. That's something I know from experience. The SNES is one of my favorite consoles of all time, but I can count the amount of N64 games that I truly love on one hand. 

The only constant about Nintendo is that there are no constants. Even the Mario brothers, who are most well known for their turtle-killing skills, may end up turning into wads of paper or sucking ghosts to death with vacuum cleaners at the drop of a hat. Whatever beliefs you may have about Nintendo, for better or worse, are always worth reassessing a few times a generation.

Personally, I don't think they'd want it any other way.

Jonathan Holmes, Bad Joke Uncle
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