Thursday, October 25, 2007

Hurrah for Nintendo (the Lib Dems of Video Games)

Today's BBC tech page features the news that the Wii has brought Nintendo a doubling of its profits. Which makes me happy. Even better, the Wii has sold twice as many units as the over-priced glorified Blu-ray player that is the PS3.

"Ah-hah", any of you inclined to defend Sony cry, "surely that's because the PS3 hasn't been out for as long, and Christmas '06 will have put a lot on the Wii's figures". Well, that would be fine, if the PS3 was outselling the Wii now. Which it's not. Here is a lovely graph.

OK, then, so why should I be all that bothered about this? Surely I am celebrating one company making a huge amount of money rather than another company making that money, neither of which makes much difference to me? Well, yes and no. I am, it has to be said, a shameless Nintendo zealot. I bought a Gamecube and not a PS2, a rather more questionable choice than the one most consumers are making today. Why?

Well, Nintendo are just a nicer company. Throughout their history, they have been willing to be innovative and take risks with their products. Sometimes they have produced what can only be described as duds with this strategy. And on those occasions, only people who wanted to support Nintendo as a company bought their products. But on other occasions, they produced things that revolutionised the industry, and were immediately stolen by the other companies. I'm sure I don't need to point out the parallel to the Lib Dems here.

So for instance, Nintendo gave the world the analogue control stick, immediately nicked by Sony, whose horrid PS1 controller was soon replaced with the swanky Dual Shock, a PS1 controller with not one but two analogue sticks shoved on the bottom. The next generation, there wasn't much in the way of innovation, but still Sony couldn't produce a controller that was anything like as nice to hold as Nintendo's. This generation, of course, Nintendo have gone so far out of the box that they can hardly see it any more, with the Wiimote. As soon as the operating concept for the Wii was announced, of course, Sony once again set about ham fistedly stitching it into their plans for the PS3, with the result being the less than exciting Sixaxis. Very little so far has been done with it, compared with even the limited output on the Wii.

"Policy theft" aside, another parallel we might point to is "non-sensationalism"; the nature of the games that Nintendo makes its flagships compared with the other companies. Where Sony and Microsoft are all about wars and the "broken society", with the selling point being essentially populism and shrouding themselves in glamourous clothing, Nintendo sells its games based on a sound philosophical underpinning based on characterful and slightly more wholesome franchises and, most importantly, interesting and innovative gameplay. As a recent article in Edge argued,
It’s these two factors – innovation and kid-appeal – that have remained at the core of Nintendo’s philosophy ... And, although that assumption that Nintendo is for children may raise howls of frustration from dedicated grown-up fans, it’s a crucial point ... whatever their real age, there’s no doubt that Nintendo perceives its audience to be childlike. Whether five or 50, Nintendo thinks of its gamers as playful, curious, eager to be delighted, ready to laugh. It’s not how Rockstar, Epic or Bungie would ever describe their target audience.
Indeed it isn't. Before I leave this point, let me just make clear that by "wholesome", I don't mean "family" or "kiddie" oriented, I simply mean a game that isn't intended to appeal to the most brainless instincts in a person. I equally think that applies to innovative games with rather more gritty clothes like the new Metroid game, or, on another platform, Deus Ex. The point is not that games be brightly coloured platformers; rather, it is about what the structure and gameplay of the games says about its creators' expectations of the audience. Equally, the Lib Dems aren't necessarily the "nice party", in the sense that they haven't got the guts to take difficult decisions (they have, you will be surprised to hear!) so much as they are the party who aren't as interested in appealing to people's more unpleasant nature.

Next, Nintendo are a company whose numbers add up. Not for them the practice of selling their consoles at a thumping loss in the hope of making the cash back from software sales. It's just as well; unlike Sony they don't have a large, succesful parent company to bail them out. Why do Sony think people want to pay such a lot of money for their product? Well, because they reckon (and they're probably right) that what they're offering is good value for money. The trouble is that not everyone wants all the things they are selling as an indivisible package. I already have a DVD player, I don't want a console to act as one for me. I certainly don't want to buy into the Blu-Ray side of the format war until the whole thing has died down.

As good liberals, of course, we know that the answer to this is for non-essential stuff to be left as a choice of the buyer, leaving them the option of having the money in their pocket. Which is why the Wii was launched at £180 and each one makes Nintendo a profit, whereas the PS3 launched at £425, and still made a loss with each unit sold.

Lastly, I guess, we have the superficial points. To many people's eyes, Nintendo have been an underdog, (even though they have never been in the business of making losses - the Edge article again:
In 1993, when a slump took profits down to a still very handsome 23 per cent of sales, The Economist was startled enough to run an editorial asking if it was the beginning of the end. For a modern perspective that seems ludicrous: it’s hard to imagine how ecstatic Sony or Microsoft, both currently shouldering multi-million dollar losses, would be to be pocketing 23 per cent of their incomes. Nor has Nintendo’s golden goose status diminished. Its latest annual financial results show a 77 per cent rise in profits – ¥74.3 billion (£310 million) from total revenue of ¥966.5 billion (£4 billion).
Similarly, the Lib Dems are seen as an underdog, despite a massive trend over the last 30 years of movement upwards in the polls and a dash for our political territory. Meanwhile, we have Sony (the Tories), who are just bad, and Microsoft (Labour), who mean well but are just so hulking and over-centralising that one can't get too enthusiastic about them. Sega (the SDP?) have now given up as a hardware producer, and now co-operate with Nintendo quite a lot. I think this metaphor is best left for dead now, not least because, in Sony's videogaming infancy, they flirted with Sega, which would make Sony Labour and not the Tories. Never mind.

So yeah. Nintendo are lovely. And all good Lib Dems should go out today and find themselves a Wii (stock is still short, it seems; they are selling second hand online about £280 at the moment) and copies of Shigeru Miyamoto's masterpieces for it. I am not on commission, honest.

1 comment:

Norfolk Blogger said...

I could not agree with you more. I still have my old Game and Watch Nintendo gadgets and my family were always Nintedno people. My brother insisted on having a NES when SEGA was the machine of choice whilst the SNES was vastly superior to the SEGA, it sold less but I still own one and occasionally play Pilotwings or Mariokart.

There is something which is just very nice about Nintendo which is missing from every other console.

And yes, I had a Wii on launch day, infact I had two and sold one to my brother (I too blog a lot about the Wii) and I also have a DS, so does my nephew, both my brothers and my mother and both brothers have Wii's, so we are part of the reason for Nintendo's success.

I have a XBOX 360 too, but have not used it in 6 months.