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Nintendo and Nostalgia form a Powerful Alliance August 23, 2006

Posted by earthlingconcerned in nintendo, Nostalgia.
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Prior to the release of the Nintendo DS, few would have bet on Nintendo to continue dominating the handheld market the way they have. PSP was more powerful, had a larger screen, could play movies, and had similar games as were offered on the Playstation series of gaming consoles. A casualty of these extra features was the more expensive price tag (currently $199 (USD) for the PSP Vs. $129 for the DS). But does low price always predict high sales? Sony had long since dethroned Nintendo on the console market with their more expensive Playstation2 (outselling its competitor 5:1). It was beginning to appear that Nintendo was destined to follow the same path as SEGA when they walked away from the console market after a string of failures. But something happened, Nintendo DS is outselling PSP by a large margin and with more and more game developers are switching sides as a result. In this new era of Nintendo, they often claim that their success is a direct result of the emphasis they put on having fun instead of just looking good.

There is more to it than simply focusing on fun games. Making a fun game doesn’t necessarily mean you have to sacrifice on graphics. If so, then Gamecube would have outsold Playstation and the Atari 2600 would continue to dominate the market today. It just doesn’t make much sense to me. There is also the idea of being innovative. This to me has more potential as being the a culprit to Nintendo’s most recent success. With a touch screen and free wireless gaming, gamers could interact with their systems in ways that they couldn’t before. I’ve spent several hours playing DS and can attest that these features aren’t just simple gimmicks to create a niche market. But whack-a-mole has been available on palm pilots for years. I think what Nintendo is doing with DS and what it hopes to achieve with Wii is genius. What is becoming the awakening of a sleeping giant could have easily been the last grasp for life. All they did was wait for their first crop of fans (think 1985, NES) to become adults, make a little bit of money for themselves, and have thoughts of “the good ol’ days” flow through them for the first time.

Nostalgia is marketable if given enough time to develop. If you look at the DS catalogue, you’ll find a range of side scrolling adventure games (Kirby, Castlevania, Mario and even Sonic, to name a few) that dominated the markets until the mid-1990s when 3D became the next big thing. You’ll find mid-1990s fads (Tamagotchi) in Nintendogs. You’ll find the past, rebranded for the present. When your DS owning friend approaches and promotes the system to you for the first time, it’s tough to deny the genuine nature of the prevailing excitement. You too begin to remember the consoles of days long since etched into memory. You begin to question whether or not the side-scroller ever reached its peak or if it was instead bullied aside by first-person shooters, by 3D fighting games, and by advancing graphics technology in general. This is what I’ve been missing all these years, you think to yourself. It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with growing up, accepting change or moving on. Being infected with nostalgia doesn’t allow for these ideas to permeate through your consciousness. The era of pushing the technological envelope, you suddenly begin to realize, was a mistake. The wrong road was chosen, but the error has been discovered and corrected. Thank you for showing us the light Nintendo.

Wii, the next generation console by Nintendo is no different. The buzz is centered around the innovative motion directed controller, the fun over technology factor, the price, and once again nostalgia. Titles like Duck Hunt, Wii Sports Pack (think Pilot Wings), Ping Pong, and even Super Mario Galaxy (Mario 64 anyone?) and services like the virtual console demand for nostalgic fervor. When you look at the game-play images, that’s really the only approach Nintendo could have possibly taken. Without the highest number of possible horses under the hood, the games already look out of date. Price always comes into consideration, but history has shown that expensive systems can succeed. Nintendo is playing down technology because it has to. Their worth had, prior to the beginning of their alliance with nostalgia, plummeted since the glory days of Super Nintendo. It would be foolish to think that they were even capable of financing the technology Microsoft and Sony are coming out with. The recent surge of success and potential for Nintendo has allowed their stock value to double in the last 12 months, but they’re still light years behind the type of capital their competitors have available to them. So Nintendo came out with a pen and a fancy controller to garner attention. But they rely on nostalgia to keep people talking.

There is no reason to believe that graphics and having fun are correlated in any significant way. The game developers either make a fun game, or a crappy game, it’s as simple as that. Those developing for Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo are all aware of this. If Nintendo had the capital to do so, don’t think for a second that they would rely almost exclusively on their claim to innovation and fun. But that’s the road they’ve gone down and it appears to be a winning strategy. It’s for the same reason that music compilations celebrating the decade before, or 20th anniversary editions of, whatever, continue to be released. I would vaguely argue that all of this is neither a good thing, or a bad thing, but simply a thing. The nostalgia market in video games is a new one because the video game market itself is really only about 25 years old. If Nintendo wins the console wars this generation, it is for these reasons. They filled a void. Sony is no need to worry in the long run. They may lose lots of money with their current investment but remember, nostalgia is generation dependant, you can’t forget the dominance Sony had in the late 90’s and the first few years of this century. If they learn from what Nintendo has discovered about nostalgia, they themselves are a sleeping giant in waiting.

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