Sunday before last, Jim rocked the internet with a post called "Nintendo of America needs to STFU." After reading it, I was immediately hit with the urge to follow it with my own thoughts (and it looks like I'm not alone on that, judging by the 297 comments the original post has garnered thus far). Unlike Jim, I own a Wii, and it's by far my favorite console this generation.
Although I wasn't totally sold on the Wii at first, at this point in its life cycle, all of my initial gripes with the system (weak online, storage space issues, limited 3rd-party line up) have more or less been fixed. Even if they weren't, the console's library would still be a better fit for me than what the other home consoles have going on right now. The PS3/360's focus on 3D "realistic" graphics, Hollywood action movie-style scenarios, and online competition just isn't for me. Sure, the 360 and the PS3 each have seven or eight exclusives that I truly love, but that's nothing compared to the over thirty Wii games that I consider "must-own" titles.
So yeah, I like the Wii, but that doesn't mean I like Nintendo of America. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that the Wii has taken more damage from NoA than it ever has from Sony or Microsoft. As a true fan of what the Wii is supposed to represent, it's enough to make me want to call Reggie myself and tell him to shut the heck up and just publish videogames. Unfortunately, Reggie doesn't seem to be home right now (either that, or the number he gave me is a fake), so I guess I'll just type up my thoughts instead. Hit the jump for my full-on NoA b*tch list.
[Thank to CypherVR for the image!]
Now, I don't want to duplicate too much of what Jim said in his article, but I do need to start off by restating the most obvious problem with NoA: they lie, and badly. Of all the "in defense of Nintendo" blogs and comments I've read over the years, I've never heard this point disputed. NoA figureheads like Reggie, Cammie, and Denise come off as untrustworthy car salespeople at best, and underhanded politicians at worst. They are liars, and we know it.
Now, it's fine for "those in power" like NoA to lie to your face, as long as you're relatively sure they're still trying to do the right thing. That's how it's always worked with politicians, lawyers, and other professional liars; we accept that they have to bend the truth sometimes in order to do their jobs. The problem with NoA is that they don't seem to want to do their jobs, which is to make us happy so we will give them money. Worse, they seem to actively make us unhappy. If you are a videogame fan, at one point or another you've been made fun of for being a gamer -- probably by some snobby jerk who believes that there's something wrong with everyone who loves videogames. Well, NoA representatives tend come off like those jerks. They don't seem to be interested in videogames, their customers, or anything other than attention and money. Maybe that's no big deal if you're selling shoes, but when you're representing the biggest videogame company on the planet, it's sort of a deal-breaker.
This probably wouldn't be such a huge deal if we didn't have the artists at Nintendo of Japan to compare them to. Miyamoto and Iwata both worked as game developers for years, and neither of them had future millions in their sights. Back then, both of them were in it for one thing: the love of videogames. I believe it's that love that got them where they are today. Nintendo of Japan's business philosophy is based on an unyielding commitment to videogames, and the belief that the medium is a legitimate form of entertainment, and therefore doesn't need to cater to only one demographic.
Sure, NoJ has a tendency to shy away from graphic violence or other potentially disturbing subject matter (with some exceptions), but that's just who they are, and that's who they've always been. If they tried to "grow up" along with the kids who now see themselves as "too old" for Nintendo, with a GTA-style Mario game or a Halo-style Zelda title, that would just be selling out. That would be like Jim Henson making Muppet Scarface, or Miyazaki trying his hand at tentacle porn. It's below Nintendo of Japan to try and cash in on the Western "hardcore" audience with a bunch of "M"-rated games. If they went in that direction, it wouldn't be genuine. More so, it would suck.
No, I don't think even the most staunch Nintendo hater could claim that Nintendo of Japan isn't genuine about their passion for videogames. Miyamoto has enough hits under his belt that he could have retired rich and famous a long time ago, but instead he's still at it, and is still coming up with stuff for games that's never been done before. This whole thing he's doing right now with the "wife-o-meter" and the expanded audience may feel like a betrayal to some, but it clearly comes from a place of truly wanting videogames to be appreciated by everybody. In fact, Nintendo of Japan is putting out more Wii games for their core audience than they ever did on the GC/N64/SNES/NES. The problem is, Nintendo of America isn't willing to publish a huge bulk of them.
NoA won't publish risky, potentially unprofitable games like Fatal Frame IV, Captain Rainbow, Trace Memory 2, Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland, Mother 3, Disaster: Day of Crisis, and many others, because they care more about the bottom line than they care about distributing art. Where NoJ tries to make enough money so they can make more games, NoA only publishes games so they can make more money. That's the fundamental difference between an artist and businessman, or in this case, an art dealer.
Any good art dealer will tell you that you that in order to be successful, you have to take risks on art you deal. Not everything is going to hit, but if you do your job right, any quality work will find its audience. That's not NoA's attitude, but that's already been established. The really weird thing about NoA is that they claim that it's not even up to them to decide what they publish, though the creators of The Legend of Starfy will tell you otherwise. According to an IGN interview with the game's developers, "they [the developers] always wanted to bring Starfy to the US, but Nintendo of America deemed the game 'too Japanese' for American audiences." So yeah, it's that kind of thing that gives NoA a reputation for lying.
For the sake of argument, though, what if we were to believe NoA when they say that they don't decide which games are brought to the States? This raises the question, "What would you say you do here, Reggie?" Public relations? That's weird, because Nintendo already has a huge firm called GolinHarris (which is a really great company, might I add) that does all their PR for them, at least in theory. Clearly, though, NoA's figureheads see themselves as the top of the Nintendo PR food chain, which is really unfortunate, because their public statements rarely do anything but piss people off. What do you think Nintendo of Europe thought when Reggie publicly dissed Disaster: Day of Crisis just after it launched in the UK? If someone who worked for NoE had said that, you can bet your ass they would have been fired that day. Not so with Reggie and the gang. The phenomenon smacks of something I call "the Michael Jackson effect." Really, who's going to tell Reggie that he comes off like a phony who could give a rat's ass about what Nintendo really stands for? Not someone who wants to keep their job, that's who.
Now, I don't mean to generalize. There are great people at work at NoA. The company's localization team is particularly awesome. The sad thing is, whenever someone who really loves videogames starts to climb the corporate ladder at NoA, they don't seem to last.
At the Brawl tournament back in 2007, I actually met some people at Nintendo of America who loved their product, and were skilled at showing it. Eric Walter knew his Nintendo inside and out, and seemed genuinely passionate about what he was doing. That nationwide pre-release Brawl tournament was all his thing, and he worked his ass off to make it happen. It was one of the coolest events Nintendo of America has ever done, and being there made me begin to believe that NoA might start looking to appease their core audience again.
Yeah, guess who doesn't work for Nintendo of America anymore? That's right, Eric Walter, the guy who should have gotten Cammie's job. I don't know what the conditions of his departure were, but I can guess that Nintendo of America could have kept him if they, you know, valued his work. Instead, they hired more people who don't give a crap about videogames and Garrett Morris to act clueless while playing Mario Kart DS.
I write this article not out of malice, but out of genuine nerd-concern. As you've probably figured out, I love Nintendo of Japan. Although a lot of people in America seem worried about the direction they're headed in, I'm not concerned at all, because they are still focused on putting games and gamers first. The problem with Nintendo and their public face all falls on Nintendo of America, who seem determined to put up barriers between Americans and the products of Nintendo of Japan.
It may be okay right now for NoA to alienate "real" Nintendo fans, but how long do they think they're going to get away with it? What are Reggie and the gang going to do when Sony and Microsoft get their own Wiis and DSes going? Well, I can guess what Nintendo of Japan will do. They'll come out with some awesome, weird, risk-taking new games and consoles. For better or worse, that's what they've always done, because that's what artists do. They don't just settle for repeating previously profitable tactics; they move ahead and try new things while they still have the chance. Will NoA block these future games from being localized because they are "too Japanese"? Probably. Will they instead put out commercials featuring the ex-cast of The Hills pretending to like Mario Kart Wii ten years after it's released? I wouldn't doubt it. Would that spell the end of Nintendo as the leading videogame developer on the planet?
The possibilities for crap are endless, but I also know that there is a remote possibility that the "right" thing will happen: that Nintendo of America will shut the fuck up and just publish videogames -- and by that I mean every videogame that Nintendo of Japan releases, and then some. If they want to go really crazy, they could even hire the dedicated artists who are putting homebrew apps on the Wii and DS as we speak to make commercial products. Right now, they are making enough money from Wii Play and Mario Kart Wii that they can afford to do all that, and they better get moving before it's too late.
Too bad President of Nintendo of America isn't an elected position. If it was, I'd run for sure.