Nintendo's True Role In Modern Gaming
One of the strongest indicators of that significance can be found in the Nintendo Wii.
Not even a decade ago, the games industry was a very different beast from what it is today. Traditionally, video games appealed to a very narrow, very focused demographic; the term ‘gamer' immediately brought to mind young men between the age of 15 and 30. They were also, more often than not, subject to no small degree of ridicule; they hadn't quite shed their connotations of unwashed, socially-awkward basement dwellers. Many people liked it this way - it was like being part of a secret society.
Even so, change was in the air. Games had started to gain more widespread acceptance. People were starting to recognize their merits. Unfortunately, gaming still hadn't quite caught on with the average user. Its approach was ponderous, slow, and unwieldy.
Then Nintendo released the Wii.
Suddenly, video games were forcibly and explosively catapulted into mainstream culture. I'm sure plenty of you still remember the buying frenzy which surrounded the little white box after its November 18 release. It sold out in hours, and people began desperately taking to eBay and similar sites in a frantic bid to acquire one. I worked in retail at the time - at least several times per shift, customers would come in to acquire about the console. It got to the point that we simply put up a sign; "no Nintendo Wiis in stock."
People still asked.
Flash-forward six years; pretty much everyone is a gamer in one form or another. Now, granted, Nintendo can't take all the credit for this. The birth of mobile technology, the emergence of mobile gaming as a legitimate market certainly helped. But the fact still remains that Nintendo was the first organization to bring all this stuff to everyone's attention.
In truth, Nintendo's mainstream appeal and its impact on gaming culture began to catch on well before the Wii was released. Back when I first started attending University, I lived in an on-campus dorm. My nickname was Nintendo, owing to my rather large, somewhat impressive collection of games. At one point, I brought my old N64 out into the common area, to play Mario Kart with one of my friends. Very soon, a peculiar thing happened.
We began to draw a crowd. People began lining up, wanting to play. Everybody from football stars to engineers to drama majors all came forward; they all recognized the console and remembered the games. Many of them were better at it than I was, yet none of them would have admitted they gamed as a hobby, none of them would have called themselves gamers.
That's Nintendo's lot, after all. For them, it's not about huge profit margins, or about super-powerful technology or even about competition. For them, it's about design. It's about entertainment.
"The fact of the matter is," explained Satoru Iwata to IGN; "we've been betraying people's expectations, in a good way, for a long time."
"Fundamentally, this is the entertainment business," added Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime. "If we entertain people, if we put smiles on their faces, they're going to buy our products. They're going to support our brands...it's about the content."
That approach certainly shows, particularly in the wake of this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo. Everybody was up in arms about Microsoft's high-profile blunders, arguing that the PS4 is the obvious choice over the Xbox One...yet no one spoke of Nintendo. Most people, I think, quietly accepted that they would be buying a Wii U, if they did not already own one. The question boiled down to their other choice.
The Wii wasn't just a cultural dynamo, either. It was also considerably ahead of its time. Specifically, its use of motion control, Nintendo's Wiimote design, was seen as gimmicky and not particularly suitable for more ‘hardcore' gaming pursuits by many. Sure, it was suitable enough for party games and the like, but for anything more mature?
It just wasn't up to snuff.
Moving forward to the modern day; everyone's got their hearts all aflutter for the latest trend in gaming: motion control. Concepts that Nintendo pioneered more than half a decade ago are re-surfacing, this time packaged with better computing technology, virtual reality headsets(Nintendo flirted with that, as well), haptics feedback and multi-directional treadmills. Just a few days ago, Sixense Entertainment (developers of the Razer Hydra) announced plans to create a wireless version of its proprietary motion-control system coupled with a software development kit for the whole array.
Yet Nintendo is held by many to be a faded giant, an organization for whom the glory days are long since passed. In the clash between next-generation consoles, The Wii U is hardly even considered a contender. Nintendo is either ridiculed, viewed as a fossil, or ignored altogether. While Sony and Microsoft clutch at one another's throats and everyone worries themselves sick over DRM, Nintendo simply keeps doing what it's become known for: toying with new innovations and releasing great games.