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The Cracks in the Dam: Operation Rainfall & Nintendo’s Neglected Fanbase

Say what you will about Nintendo, you have to admit they have one hell of a dedicated fanbase. Far more than either Sony or Microsoft, Nintendo has long enjoyed a surprisingly personal relationship with its fans, many of whom grew up on the company’s consoles and games. I’m one such fan, whom since the days of the NES has had the good fortune to own every generation of Nintendo console and portable. That kind of long history with a company’s products can create a very strong loyalty that is not easily swept away. Nintendo, for all of its achievements, has made some pretty poorly calculated mistakes. Through it all, the company’s fans have stuck with them, praising Nintendo’s storied history of innovation and quality.

This very dedication is what makes the events of this past week rather significant. When Nintendo repeated its refusal of plans to localize Xenoblade, The Last Story, and Pandora’s Tower in the United States, the company’s famously dedicated fanbase very vocally turned on them and rebelled.

It’s surprising to think that three niche Japanese games, which have received no attention in American media outside of enthusiast games websites like Destructoid (which has arguably given them the most coverage), caused this kind of a reaction. Don’t get me wrong, these games all appear to be very fun, interesting, and great for any JRPG fan to own. However, I’d argue that these three games are simply the straw that broke the camel’s back. This reaction is the culmination of the years of neglect that Nintendo is guilty of toward its fanbase.

(Before I go any further, I should specify that when I say ‘Nintendo’, I mean ‘Nintendo of America’ and, to a lesser extent, ‘Nintendo of Europe’. As far as I know, this article does not apply to its Japanese audience.)

It’s been a long time coming when you think about it. Nintendo has a history of not localizing or publishing games that do not fit what it perceives to be in the interest of the mass gaming audience. One of the most singular examples of this was Mother 3, the sequel to cult favorite EarthBound. Despite an entire community of gamers begging Nintendo for a stateside release and flooding their offices with all manner of Mother-related paraphernalia, Nintendo refused time and again to bring the game to Western shores. In recent years, Mother 3 has become a symbol of that which Nintendo will not promote or, usually, allow on its western consoles: the niche game. This is the game that, by design, simply will not sell on the level of Mario, The Legend of Zelda, or even Metroid.

Unfortunately for Nintendo, the niche game is what brings diversity to a console’s game library. The PlayStation 2 and, ironically, the Super Nintendo are some of the best examples of how niche games that don’t have wide appeal can become what a console is known for among its fanbase. While I love Super Mario World and A Link to the Past, those aren’t the games I think of when I think of how much fun I had with my Super Nintendo. I think of Chrono Trigger, ActRaiser, EarthBound, and Final Fantasy IV and VI. (Yes, there was a time when Final Fantasy was considered niche. I should add another disclaimer that I’m a fan of JRPGs. Remember, this is about niche games and that’s my niche.) Similarly, when I hear people reminisce about the PS2 on Destructoid, you know what game comes up the most? Persona 3 and Persona 4.

Unfortunately, Nintendo’s efforts to appeal only to what it thinks will sell reliably well to a mass audience has resulted in a rather bland and homogeneous offering in the past generation. It’s not a coincidence that, before and after this year’s E3, there was an omnipresent rumbling from gamers about the same-ness of Nintendo’s line-up. Super Mario. Legend of Zelda. Mario Kart. Star Fox. Super Smash Bros. With that line-up, I could very well be talking about the game line-up for any of Nintendo’s systems since the N64. Pikmin, by far the most neglected and niche of Nintendo’s own franchises, got a passing “yeah, that’s coming” after the presser was over.

The result of this is a disgruntled fanbase that is sick of its Wiis gathering dust and its 3DS’s sharing a disturbingly similar future. Nintendo’s refusal to diversify their consoles’ offerings is even more damning in light of the bland drivel that third parties have been shoveling onto them. This is the road that has led to Operation Rainfall, a surprisingly vocal movement that has utilized social networking to organize Nintendo fans that are sick of the company’s seemingly irrational refusal to give their most loyal customers what they want. Over the course of one week, they were able to boost an old listing for Xenoblade on Amazon (then titled Monado: Beginning of the World when Nintendo was flirting with bringing the game stateside) to the top of the games sales charts, above even Ocarina of Time 3D, and has kept it in the top ten since.

Despite this rather demonstrative statement of the fans’ intent-to-buy, Nintendo refused to release Xenoblade in the US. Even though it is already being translated and dubbed into English for European release. It has also declined to localize Pandora’s Tower and The Last Story, the latter of which has been garnering praise in Japan as one of the finest games ever created by Hironobu Sakaguchi, creater of Final Fantasy. (It got a 38/40 in the famously critical Japanese gaming publication, Famitsu.) As if the refusal itself weren’t bad enough, Nintendo did it on Facebook. No official press release. No statement from Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime, despite the fact that the gaming enthusiast press have repeatedly asked him personally about these games. On top of all that, it was flippantly a day late Nintendo originally said they would make an announcement.

The result has been a snowballing PR disaster for Nintendo. In just 30 hours, the Facebook post has received over 6,000 comments. Nearly all of them have been slamming Nintendo for its decision. What’s even more interesting is that these comments aren’t the poorly worded rants of irrational idiots like the kind that flooded the PSN Facebook page during the network’s outage. These are well-articulated expressions of frustration and disappointment from long-time fans, many of whom have said they are seriously reconsidering WiiU and 3DS purchases after being being loyal to the company since the NES, SNES, and N64 days. IGN ran an article today with just a few of the hundreds of responses its Nintendo-focused podcast e-mail and twitter account received from Nintendo fans that were throwing their hands up in hopelessness with the company they once loved. According to a recent tweet, Operation Rainfall’s followership has increased by 50% since the Nintendo Facebook post. They’ve been retweeting the frustration of Nintendo fans worldwide.

The cracks have started to show in Nintendo’s dam. Nintendo’s historically dedicated and personally attached fanbase have seemingly had enough of the neglect the company has shown them over the last generation. Despite cries for a much more diversified gaming library and new IPs, Nintendo has ignored them and simply strutted out sales charts at E3 press conferences. Hopes were raised when during the last E3 press conference they promised strong third-party support for the WiiU and a diversified gaming library that would be able to support a diverse audience. Sadly, Nintendo’s refusal to release a game that is already being translated for another region and has received the #1 sales position on Amazon due to pre-orders alone have shown that the company has no plans or resolve for actually keeping that promise. The result is Operation Rainfall and a fanbase that, for the first time I can remember, seems to be planning a retreat from their once-loved company.

If you don’t believe me, check out one of the many comment sources I’ve mentioned. Fans are actually complaining about getting a new Legend of Zelda instead of these three niche, relatively unknown, Japanese role-playing games.

When was the last time you heard a Nintendo fan lament about a new Zelda game?
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About MuddBstrdone of us since 5:21 PM on 06.06.2008

Since I've started writing on here a bit more again, I should probably add something to this. As the banner image of my blog says, I'm a graduate student. Yes, I'm that class of people which Marge Simpson says has made a poor life choice. The fact that the wife of Homer Simpsons is saying that should tell you something about my quality of life. :P

I like writing about games, which is what you'll see me do on here when a subject sufficiently motivates me. Sadly, writing about games comes at the cost of playing games, so my blog posts are fewer and farther between than I'd like. I usually write with regard to monthly musings, retro games, games I'm currently playing, or events in the games industry that perk my interest.

When I'm not DOING SCIENCE! or playing games, I can be found training in karate (my life is a fighting game!), writing about stuff other than games, or tearing up the dance floor.