Dear Miyamoto, Iwata, Reggie, Mario, et al:
As a lifelong player of Nintendo systems and games, I’ve been with your company through thick and thin. Some of my earliest memories of gaming include the tabletop versions of Mario’s Cement Factory and Popeye. I’ve been along for the crazy roller coaster of Nintendo’s ups and downs, and I’ve always remained a fan, because time and time again, Nintendo has proven my faith to be well-founded.
3DS recently illustrated exactly this phenomenon, rebounding from what the markets were calling a truly ‘epic fail’ to become a smash sales success. Lessons about hardware launches were surely learned (i.e. software lineups, competitive pricing), and in the end, it’s likely that Nintendo has come through the fire all the stronger.
Bringing me to my point. I wanted to write this open letter because I’ve been noticing a change in approach from your company–to be specific, a new and, frankly, unfamiliar degree of Nintendo fan service. It’s not that you’ve never done anything for the fans before (quite the opposite), but lately I’ve sensed that your company is making a welcome shift away from being “just a game company”, aiming to become a genuinely holistic entertainment outlet–a gaming powerhouse that isn’t limited to mere hardware and software, and just maybe, you’re showing signs of wanting to escape the label of a company that only makes games for casual players.
If I’m right, this a welcome and necessary change. In this era of race-to-the-bottom pricing, insane competition from every direction, strained consumer budgets, I want to see Nintendo rise above the competition using any means possible. I feel like, all of a sudden, Nintendo has started to realize that it’s no longer enough for a game publisher to make cool games–you need buzz, you need fireworks, you need games that evolve and change over time, you need to (try to) be all things to all gamers, all the time. You need new gamers coming in the front door, and you need old veteran players to stick around.
With all that in mind, I’d like to give you a list a few of the thing’s you’ve “been getting right” lately, if only to let you know that your most loyal, hardcore fans REALLY appreciate it. We’re glad to see you shooting for the moon, because this will mean a good future for all of us. Without further ado . . .
WHAT NINTENDO IS GETTING RIGHT
- The Ambassador Program: The 3DS price cut was a moment where Nintendo could have fallen HEAVILY on it’s face, but instead, you provided us with legendary fan-service and saved the day, bigtime. I’m a launch-day 3DS owner who talks with a lot of other 3DS players, but I haven’t heard of a single Ambassador who was angry about the price cut . . . all because of the deluge of free games. The value of the Ambassador Program cannot be underestimated. Think about it–if any other company charged their most loyal fans an additional $80+ as a penalty for early adoption, the negative backlash would have been unimaginably destructive. Instead, you tossed out not 10, not 15, but TWENTY free games for anyone who took a chance on 3DS before it was truly ready for market. 20 free games is more than an apology–it’s a freakin’ love letter to fans. Months later, I’m still playing some of my free titles. Every time I load one up, I think how cool it was to get these games for free.
- Harcore games, hardcore difficulty: There are very promising signs that the 3DS wants to make a name for itself in the challenging game/adult department. Kid Icarus Uprising includes one of the most ingeniously adjustable difficulty systems I’ve ever seen (and is REALLY hard even at level 7, much less 8 or 9), and with other games like Resident Evil Revelations and Metal Gear Solid 3D, the system truly feels like a home where grownup games can live and thrive. Although it took months of campaigning, hardcore titles Last Story and Xenoblade are finally coming to Wii. Most importantly, there are a number of high-profile adult launch titles on the radar for Wii U. The frequent lack of ‘hardcore appeal’ is Nintendo’s most glaring Achilles Heel, so it’s vital to continue this route for all of your systems. Gotta say, it’s looking like you’re finally responding to our call for hardcore content.
- Club Nintendo Coins = Games : Not every Nintendo owner is a member of (or even knows about) Club Nintendo, but the most loyal fans certainly do, and until recently, the yearly gifts have been embarrassingly lame. Then, without warning, we suddenly received the awesome option to spend our coins on actual games(!) rather than near-worthless prizes like gamecard holders, playing cards, or desk calendars. I mean, it seems like a no-brainer in retrospect–Nintendo players like video games, so give them what they want, right? This shift to valued rewards means that Club Nintendo has gone from an occasional diversion for fanboys to a real way for Nintendo to collect direct consumer feedback from their most invested users. Well done, Nintendo–beyond fan service, this was a really smart business move.
- Announcements within the 3DS and Wii networks: Though hardcore gamers will often get their news from third-party websites long before big publishers talk, the bulletin-style announcements that turn up on the 3DS homepage are a great way to keep your audience informed. Do I really need a message letting me know that Swapnote is now available for free download, or there’s a new cartoon available on Nintendo Video? No, not personally, but I’m betting a lot of more casual gamers appreciate the memo. The messages create a sense of connection, of something “to do” with your system, and overall is a great, great move by Nintendo. It felt like Wii meant to have something similar (the flashing disc drive light being our cue to check messages) but it never really took off. I’m betting that Wii U will up the ante in the messaging department, and I welcome it. You can’t bug me too much. You’re freakin’ Nintendo. I WANT to hear from you.
- Ability to Join Games: Finally. Finally. With the arrival of Mariokart 7 and Kid Icarus Uprising, Nintendo Players can finally join games with their registered friends, or to simply see what their friends are playing in real time. I feel like the Home menu friend system could be improved (maybe making it accessible directly from in-game submenus, so you can check what people are playing without exiting to Home) but it’s a huge improvement over the Wii, which has absolutely no system for knowing what your buddies are doing. Since an improved friend system is expected to be a part of Wii U, I’m giving you 100% thumbs up on this improvement. 3DS is a step in the right direction–keep it up.
- Creating BUZZ: This was the general inspiration for my letter. Lately, it’s felt like Nintendo is simply ‘waking up’ to the idea that the company can–and should–do more than just make great games. In an era of $1.99 app games and competition from all sides, Nintendo’s rabid popularity is something most companies would kill for. As such, it’s far easier for your company to create excitement for your products than would be the case for almost any other company. The little stuff matters, even if not all players appreciate it–Zelda symphony concerts, West Coast Customs full-size Mariokarts, collectable Kid Icarus AR cards, goofy anime promotions on Nintendo Video, Nintendo Week reviews, Swapnote messages from Reggie and our friends–all these items provide a variety of “access points” for a wide variety of fans. The more ways we have to love Nintendo, the more we will. Hell, I’m wearing a Nintendo World jacket as I write this letter–proving that player genuinely want to show their love. Keep giving us the means.
- Easy Dev Kits: Though there is a lot of confusion and conflicting rumors at this point, at least some reports indicate that third party developers find Wii U development kits easy to use. This is a critical factor for allowing non-Nintendo companies to bring big games to Wii U, instead of asking them to jump through a million hoops for just one system (which has reportedly been the case for some previous Nintendo platforms). Based on many early comments from developers, the winds seem to be blowing quite favorably for Wii U to become a formidable leader in the next-gen platform race. As a lowly gamer with no inside knowledge of these matters, I’m just glad to hear that Nintendo is attempting to keep those developers and programers happy. I’ve been a loyal Nintendo-only player for my whole life (I simply don’t have the time or finances to own other systems), but this has meant missing out on a lot of incredible games on other platforms. I can’t deny I’d love to try out some of the most notorious 3rd party franchises on Nintendo’s next console–so keep giving the 3rd parties the tools they need to make it happen.
- Better online store: The Wii’s online shop took quite a long time to take off, and never quite exploded the way it could have. Then 3DS launched without an online vendor, and I got worried–hadn’t Nintendo learned their lesson? Yet, in the many months since 3DS eShop came online, I’ve been mostly impressed with the new store’s polish and ease-of-use. I’d change a few things about it (customizable catalog options, for instance–I personally hate browsing by category, and would rather browse a no-frills list with release dates and player review scores) but overall, the 3DS’s online shop represents a great improvement over the Wii, and works very well. Keep moving in this direction for Wii U, and Nintendo will be a legitimate contender in the online gaming marketplace.
This list of Nintendo’s recent moves “in the right direction” is far from complete, and there are probably a few missteps that need to be remembered when considering the positive developments for Nintendo–but that’s not my purpose here. In any case, given the way things have been going of late, I’m feeling quite positive about the near future for your company. Rest assured, your fans are watching with approval, we’re loving a lot of these new angles, and I sincerely hope you to keep the good stuff coming. We’re noticing the changes, and we’ll be waiting for more.
With respect and fanboyism,
PS. I gotta say it. I’m not so sure about the decision to have Uggie as your official ‘Spokesdog’. I love dogs as much as I love Nintendo, but this move strikes me as a bit too pop-casual/family-friendly.
PPS. If you insist on rolling with this angle, please show Uggie playing some hardcore FPS games and perhaps biting a few little kids. You’ve gotta shake that all-casual reputation.