The Creeping Dread-Nintendo's Success

I have a love-hate relationship with Nintendo. I’ve always respected the quality of their games, and I give them accolades for risking everything on the innovative design decisions behind the Wii and DS. Two years ago most gamers were shaking thier head wondering what the hell Nintendo was smoking . Today the Big N is everybody’s golden boy.

I, however, have a creeping sense of dread about Nintendo’s success. The triumph of Nintendo may mean the demise of the significant leaps we’ve seen in technology, graphics, physics, etc, in each successive console generation. The cost of making a game is much higher for the 360 or PS3, so I’m fairly certain that the software industry would love to see a reorientation toward less risk. After all, having one or more HD games flop can put many publishers or developers in dire financial straits. Who will green light a massive 20 million dollar project for the PS3 when they can lower certain standards and release the same game for 5 million dollars to a market twice the size on the Wii? Nintendo’s success allows a regress in visuals, technology and features. To me that is a grim future. I want my games to be fun, but I also want them to become increasingly sophisticated.

A happy medium can be seen in the Xbox 360. It allows developers to make incredibly complex, hollywood-esque games that push the current technology to its limits. Then you have smaller projects, independent projects, which can be downloaded via Live. These small scale projects involve significantly less risk, but still the opportunity for a healthy profit. Two paths for developers to take, and thankfully Microsoft hasn’t placed substantial, artificial barriers on what can be developed due to significant hardware limitations. The Nintendo Wii pushes the marketplace in the wrong direction technologically, and stunts the growth of the industry artistically. I’d love to see a photo-realistic remake of games like Final Fantasy 7. In Nintendo’s gaming world that opportunity wouldn’t even exist.

I applaud Nintendo’s success, but the graphics junkie in me fears we may have just opened Pandora’s Box.

I don’t know about that. The “risky” nature of both Wii and the DS kind of made coming it at a low pricepoint (with the corresponding tech level) are key part of the strategy. However, with their followup hardware (assuming Wii is successful in the long run) Nintendo could probably safely raise the prise of the hardware (and the power of the console itself) with less risk.

Enh, Nintendo cares about profit. Only. The last generation showed that there is room for a high-end console and a low-end console. Last gen it was the Xbox on the high end and the PS2 on the low end (the Gamecube wasn’t shit compared to the Wii). This time it’s the 360 on the high end and the Wii on the low end. I suspect that Microsoft would be perfectly happy to keep that positioning for another generation or two, and Nintendo would be just as happy.

But Nintendo doesn’t have a big incentive to drop the price, and Moore’s Law is going to make sure that the Wiiii (Wii II) is going to be more powerful for the same cost. Meanwhile MS is going to keep pushing the hardware envelope, because it’s their best competitive advantage – they can’t compete with Nintendo on raw entertainment value, so they’re going to keep angling for the “holy shit!” factor.

Sony… well, Sony will be lucky to survive the decade.

Well now, I don’t know about that. It’s one thing to say Sony is trailing far behind Nintendo and Microsoft, which is pretty damned apparent - but to look at this from another point of view the bigger picture might not be as bad for them as it seems. As a case in point, the idea of Sony using the PS3 as a trojan horse to get bluray into people’s homes actually appears to be paying dividends already - it’s catching up to and surpassing sales of HD-DVD already despite the jump to the market HD had. I have to admit, I’m a little shocked and not a little amused by this turn of events. If getting Bluray to dominate the market as dvd did previously is their main objective, maybe coming in second or even third place in the video game war this gen is an acceptable cost. That’s just me playing devil’s advocate, I don’t have any inside info - but I know lots of people (myself included) picked up a ps2 because it plays games and dvd’s, maybe that particular bolt of lightning can strike twice.

You know I think a lot of people, talking around a lot of different points, fail to make in important distinction.

That is: it’s not clear that Nintendo’s market is the same market that Sony and MS are fighting over. Surely there is a lot of crossover but it seems that Nintendo is fundamentally targetting an audience that Sony and MS aren’t really after.

Many people always look at these things as completely zero sum. I.e. Sony or MS is doing poorly if they don’t sell more boxes than Nintendo. Not so. In fact, Nintendo, by being successful with an innovative market could quite possibly do nothing but help Sony and MS simply because Nintendo is making video gaming more mainstream and broadening the overall market.

It’s like Football and Basketball. Are they competitors? Well, sorta. But not really. Generally a surge in Football waterches probably doesn’t affect Basketball that much and may even help by creating a broader audience of people watching ESPN who may also get turned on to basketball. At times someone may decide to buy a season pass to watch football instead of basketball but generally they complement each other more than they compete against each other.

I think that’s where Sony and MS are with Ninhtendo at the moment. There’s no way that the audience of graphics junkies is going to suddenly disappear. Nor will companies stop selling to them. There may be fewer overall but they also like to spend a lot of money. Sony and MS will keep doing their thing and Nintendo will do theirs and there’s room for more than one to succeed.

I’d prefer this tread be titled ‘The Lurking Horror.’

I agree with the premise though. My ideal future for consoles is them turning into highly-subsidized gaming PCs which I don’t need to worry about upgrading too much, which is the direction things seemed to be slouching towards with the dedicated storage and online stuff. And, of course, the power to produce pretty visuals(at resolutions the PC has been at for a decade) and high-end features like physics, etc. Although, the Wii does help here in the move towards a more PC-style pointing device, sort of

I own and like the Wii and grew up as a console player on Nintendo systems, but I’d rather it slide into a harmless party game/for 'da kids role in second place, rather then crush all in it’s path

Good points. However, if Sony gets trounced this generation (something that I personally doubt) how great will the incentive be to make another bleeding edge machine? Are they going to put out another product at twice the MSRP of Nintendo? Will developers continue to buy into a console with significantly higher development costs and a market half the size of the economy console?

I’m sure some will. Gears of War made massive profits. But I think the trend will increasingly start to slide toward the safer bet. Hopefully right now we are seeing a real world version of the Tortoise and the Hare, with Nintendo sprinting out to a fast lead, but eventually the lure of HDTV and HUGE differences in graphics and features will lure increasing numbers of people away from the Wii. Or maybe it will turn into a “gateway console” that leads these new consumers into the arms of Sony and MS. Still, the paranoia festers.

I’d prefer this thread be titled ‘The Lurking Horror.’


In mid-circle-strafe, Halo 2 looks no different from Wolfenstein 3D. The graphical sophistication gets pushed aside by the brain in favor of tracking targets and fixing the plan. I agree that games need more sophistication. Graphics don’t provide that any more.

And the Wii’s graphics aren’t exactly chopped liver, either.

The wii is innovative. If anything, its success sends the message that innovation can be wildly successful.

I wouldn’t be too worried as if you look at 3rd party software sales they are still very strong on the 360. So it’s not just hardware sales you need to take into consideration but software sales, particularly 3rd party sales. To me it looks like Nintendo will spawn a revival of simpler games, but it won’t do so at a cost of complex games.

I very much agree with you, in most cases. The biggest breakdown in your analogy, however, is that there are limited resources for game development. If developers make a hard push for the Wii, other platforms will suffer.

But, like I said, I think it’s healthy to consider the systems complimentary. It’s probably very close to the truth.

In the movie industry, the success of cheap comedy movies or art house flicks hasn’t lead to the death of the summer blockbuster. I think games will be the same way.

John C. Dvorak, tech writer and professional curmudgen, has a few words on his experience with the Wii. He was impressed.

I only have one thing to say right now. When you mention that developers have two roads they can go, high budget and so on for regular game releases and lower budget, smaller game releases for Arcade: that’s AWFUL.

Though I like the idea of downloadable games, I’ve been always been a little reticent, because it might send out this idea that smaller, simpler games shouldn’t compete with the big productions, which is horrendously bad. It’s essentially giving the message that those production values are worth more than long term play appeal or simple, straight objectives in gameplay that eventually give birth to excellent depth. Eventually puzzle games and 2D games and publishers who can’t compete with the graphics of today, like Nippon Ichi, might be forced to be segregated into this downloadable worlds of games and I think their games are just as worthy of the asking price of a Twilight Princess or a Ghost Recon.


So its ‘AWFUL’ for a delevoper to have choices about the kinds of games they make and how they are distributed?

Your who argument is just silly Kitsune, whats the last xbox live arcade game you played that had 50+ hours of gameplay like a Nippon Ichi game? Games that are on live arcade are games that are created explictly as Live Arcade games, not games that are failed retail disc releases.

I don’t see how being downloadable suggests any of those things, Kitsune. As for pricing, I guess it depends on the game. Which is fine, because different games in Live Arcade have different price tags. I think that’s a good thing, because if you honestly think that games like Bejewelled or Geometry Wars would ever get made if they had to sell it for the same price as Twilight Princess, I think you are fooling yourself. It’s not a matter of people thinking that Twilight Princess is a better game because it has a higher pricetag; it’s a matter of consumers recognizing that Twilight Princess cost a whole lot more to produce and can’t profitably be sold for less.

They sell games like Geometry Wars for the DS, Wii and PS2 right now, today, and release them for consoles. So yeah.

I’m not saying that it’s done that so far, just that in time, gamers may begin to get a message that simpler games, less graphically impressive games should be downloadable and more sophisticated games belong on boxes on store shelves. Games shouldn’t cost less JUST because their budget was smaller.


Well, again, what’s wrong with that? I actually think that it’s going in the direction of all games being downloadable–we’re already there on the PC, but consoles obviously have tighter storage limitations. Thus, while it’s feasible to offer Geometry Wars as a downloadable game, it’s not really feasible to do the same for games like Twilight Princess.

The fact that both WiiPlay and Wii Zelda did well in the charts in Feb is interesting. I think you can read the tea leaves on these two types of games differently… if games like Wii Play (and Wii Sports) are truly dominant, that is a positioning that MS and Sony are likely to never achieve, but it’s also a market segment that is likely orthogonal to the traditional gaming segment. This is likely to give the Wii very good legs in the long term. I’m a little bit dubious on this due to the inherent hardware problems in the Wiimote itself, but it is certainly possible. It’s where the most obvious appeal of the Wii stems from IMO.

On the other hand, if games like Wii Zelda dominate, which I think is very much a traditional gamer’s game, that would have done just as well (in fact, probably vastly better) on the HD consoles. In which case the Wii may suffer a fate similar to the Gamecube in the long term – mostly bought only for key Nintendo titles that are software exclusives for the Wii. While this may be very profitable for Nintendo I think it ultimately cannot lead to the kind of hardware penetration numbers that the PS2 saw last generation and that I believe the 360 will see this generation (assuming future price drops that put it in line with that generation eventually).

I’m not that concerned about long-term trends. It’s great that more people are enjoying games (and doing it affordably), and that Nintendo is demonstrating that fun doesn’t directly correlate to technology. But I don’t expect the trend of HD content moving towards the mainstream to end. Put another way, the market for non-HD is still massive, but the HD market is not insignificant, is getting bigger rapidly, and someone is going to make a lot of money selling into it.