Nintendo: Sony and Microsoft thinking small and missing out

This week it’s Nintendo’s turn to take centre stage in the on-going cycle of verbal smackdowns. George Harrison, Nintendo of America’s Senior Vice President of Marketing and Corporate Communication, has come out with some clear criticisms of the ways in which he sees the competition as failing.

Speaking to Wired, Harrison unsurprisingly further advocates Nintendo’s strategy of expanding into new gamer demographics, and is quite outspoken about what he perceives as Microsoft and Sony’s reluctance to move on in the developing industry: 

If they only focus on the Grand Theft Autos and the Halos and things of that nature, they’re focusing on a very tiny part of the market. The overall market is growing so dramatically that they’re going to miss out on the opportunities that we’re seeing in the expanded audience.

Hit the jump for more from Harrison, including more competitor failings, the growing market, and predictions for the rest of this generation. 

Asked what the competition could do to worry Nintendo in their current strong position, Harrison admitted that moves have been made to compete, but was dismissive of any imminent threat.

So far, they haven’t spent a lot of time focused on us. Now that we’re having some success, they probably will. We can already see some of the things that they’ve tried. For last year’s E3, at the last minute, Sony rushed out their Sixaxis controller as an effort to respond to the Wii remote. We saw Microsoft roll out Viva Piñata as their killer app for the Pokémon set. And neither of those worked really well. Part of it is, I think it’s not in their DNA. They’re really good at reaching a certain customer, and have a real difficulty understanding how we succeed with the customers that we have. 

Pretty damning. He also had some interesting things to say in regards to how he believes the current generation will play out differently from those previous:

Certainly I think that as we get through this entire lifecycle, and already people are starting to guess, “who’s going to win the lifecycle,” two things are going to happen. First of all, I’m not sure it’s going to be a typical lifecycle. In the past, we’ve always had five to six-year lifecycles which were sort of forced by someone jumping ahead and using a new piece of technology. And we’re finding out now that the appeal of faster processors and better graphics is really sort of reaching a diminishing point. There’s a price point and there’s the quality that’s holding the PlayStation 3 back. They’re selling so many PlayStation 2s because people are saying, “You know what? The graphics are pretty good, the price is good, and the library is good.” So we have a great expectation that this lifecycle’s actually going to last more than five years.

We also have a belief that we can be, of this lifecycle, 40-45% of the hardware that’s being sold. And that would be a phenomenal increase for us over the GameCube era. But on the other hand, we could get over 50%.

However, despite clear belief in a new industry fuelled heavily by “the expanded audience”, Harrison implied that perhaps the hardcore players aren’t going to be as forgotten as some fear. It seems that with a new demographic comes a new software marketing approach, and one that doesn’t necessarily entail flooding the market with casual games. When asked why this year’s most prominent releases remain hardcore games such as Super Mario Galaxy, Metroid Prime 3 and Super Smash Bros. Brawl, he revealed, 

We’re going to unveil some additional products for the expanded audience at E3 in July. One thing you have to remember about the expanded audience is, they are not so focused on a category that something is launched, known by everyone, and done with. And so I think we have to change our mentality. As we got into the months of March and were tracking the awareness, awareness of Wii is still at about 60% among people over 25. That means that 40% of the population has still never heard of Wii. It’s hard to imagine, but it’s true. And as a result, to them, Wii Sports and other things are still brand new. So don’t be surprised if you continue to see us send out some messages in the fall about Wii Sports, or the Mii channel, or other kinds of things. 

Harrison also briefly touched on plans to step up work on the Virtual Console with original content, albeit vaguely:

That’s definitely something we’re working on. For us it was more of a question of sequencing and trying to get all of the other things that we felt were important up and running, including wireless play and those types of things. So, it’ll be coming, I can’t tell you now exactly when that’ll be, but it’s important to us. We’re still rolling out six to ten great Virtual Console games, of our legacy games, every week, but we know that in the future we’re going to need to be able to add new content to that.

Make sure to check out the full interview for more.  

So, reactions?

Well while the man is obviously in the biased position of having to do his job for his company, some of what he says makes sense. It’s no secret that we’re now in an era where the traditional sacred cows of horsepower and exclusives can no longer be relied upon for success. In a marketplace which has quickly expanded far beyond the traditional hardcore gamer over the last year, it’s increasingly important for companies to bring something new to to the table if we’re going to continue enjoying a competitive multi-format industry. With big budget, single format franchises now no longer financially viable, hardware manufacturers will have to forge more individual identities in order to secure their own slice of a much more eclectic audience.

While Harrison’s comments are perhaps unfair to Microsoft, who’ve done a lot of good work in carving out a niche in hardcore online gaming, it does seem Sony is having increasing trouble in continuing to try to make the old approach work. “Me too” gestures such as the Sixaxis and PlayStation Home aren’t exciting the market in the way that their rivals’ approaches are, and whether casual gaming or something entirely new is the answer, it would help the company a lot if they could make part of the new wider marketplace their own. 

As gamers, we’ve long wanted our pastime of choice to be accepted as a mainstream medium on a par with film or TV, and now that that’s the case, there are definitely changes that need to be made in catering to the new players required to make that happen. Far from being the death of gaming, this new more inclusive era has the potential to be the most exciting period in the industry’s history.

The potential for gaming richness in having three companies each providing something individual is immense, and while everyone jumping on the casual bandwagon is probably not the right idea, a conscious move into the treatment of gaming as an open medium rather than a pre-concieved set of genres may well be.

But what do you think? Is further expansion and experimentation the key to a healthy, modernized industry? Or were we fine before all this, thank you very much?

David Houghton