I Demand a Column: How Mark Zuckerberg is Killing Mario

By: Danny Sedlazek
Nintendo is, in many ways, the George Lucas of the video game industry. The company was extremely innovative, creative, and beloved for their initial blockbusters. Then as time went on, they stayed decisively behind the curb. Yet their early opuses had built up such a large following of devoted fans who will buy anything with the Nintendo name slapped on it that they were able to remain successful enough to soldier on.
The history of video games is divided into eras defined by the companies that battled for dominance. Nintendo was undefeated until Sony, a company not exclusively devoted to producing games, jumped into the market. That marked the beginning of a 12 year slouch for Nintendo; they were no longer the alpha.
2006 was the beginning of a new console generation, and while both Sony and Microsoft produced upgraded versions of their previous machines, Nintendo burst out of left field with the Wii. Throwing joysticks and buttons out the window, and opting for an unheard of emphasis on motion sensitive controls, Nintendo caused the entire industry to look inquisitively in their direction.
No one could’ve predicted the Wii’s success. It destroyed the competition because it drew the interest of people who weren’t a part of the traditional “hardcore” audience­, and it came prepackaged with one of the best party games in existence. Moms, senior citizens, and children were the primary buyers because everyone who didn’t work at Nintendo was equally mystified by it. Previous consoles tried so hard to appeal to the gamers that they effectively alienated everyone else. The Wii created an equal playing field, and “casual” gamers bought it up like hotcakes.
Yet this last quarter, Nintendo reported their first loss in 50 years as a company. What happened? A trifecta of shortsightedness, that’s what.
The first, and probably most important factor in Nintendo’s fall from grace, is the explosion of Facebook and apps. When the Wii debuted in stores, no one could have foreseen the multi-billion dollar success that Facebook would become at launch time, or even comprehend what apps would mean to Americans, but Nintendo never adjusted to what was constantly becoming abundantly clear: Zuckerberg and Jobs were stealing their audience.
That casual gaming audience enjoyed the novelty of the Wii, but had little desire to drop another $60 on a new game or to sit through marathon sessions in front of their TVs because they weren’t gamers. So when smartphones and Facebook offered extremely cheap and convenient ways to play games that also appealed to them, they locked their Wiis away in the closet and haven’t seen them since.
The iPhone represents another antithesis of Nintendo’s poor judgment: their choice to not focus on developing technology. The Wii doesn’t support HD. When YouTube streams and flash games are more technologically advanced than your expensive console, you have a problem. At the same time, TVs are slowly becoming obsolete in the face of the internet. The only thing that really keeps people parked in front of their TVs is video game consoles. So Nintendo must be in the clear, right?
While constantly trying to appeal to a casual audience, Nintendo stopped making games that hardcore gamers wanted to play. Normally, this wouldn’t be such a big problem, as third party game developers, which are not owned by the same company that makes the console, would fill this void. However, the Wii’s technology was so different that third party developers had a very hard time making games for the platform and weren’t getting enough money from what efforts they did release to justify continued experimentation. When the only games you release for your console are party games, traditional gamers aren’t going to want to pay for them.
So while the video game industry is constantly expanding, Nintendo completely ignored the audience that allowed Microsoft and Sony to prosper, placed their emphasis on gimmicky technology rather than innovations with practicality, and lost whatever audience they had to more convenient and cheap alternatives. To make matters worse, Microsoft and Sony have come out with devices that can replicate the gimmicky appeal of the Wii, so Nintendo has even less of a market to work with. So how does this failing giant try to save themselves?
They create the Wii-U, the only device more gimmicky than the Wii itself. Some people never learn.