Understanding Nintendo Pt. 2: Marketing

Nintendo’s Marketing Strategy

I honestly don't know where to start with this, especially because this is only something I've realised recently. I think the previous post touched on a sentiment that's already widely felt in the gaming industry, but looking into how Nintendo markets its products leaves me kind of baffled - this may lead to a less cohesive post. But I guess the confusion around it is the problem, really.

The cue that led me to realise how crippling Nintendo's marketing is for the company was the launch of its new 3DS line. Firstly, I'd just bought a 3DS XL over the summer and I've only owned it for a few months, so you can imagine the frustration that went over me when Nintendo decided to launch new models out of the blue. However, what frustrated me most was not the mere fact that my DS became obsolete so quickly, that was just an unfortunate coincidence. It's the fact that there were absolutely no indications that a new 3DS was in the works, much more the fact that this is effectively a next-gen console - there's already a new title coming out exclusively for the new 3DS line. What also convinces me that this is effectively next-gen is the fact this isn't just a cosmetic update: there are now new control mechanisms such as two new shoulder buttons and a secondary analog stick, much like traditional game controllers. I'm scared that other new-3DS-exclusive titles will be released because of the wider range of controls, leaving me and a whole lot of other 3DS owners behind.

It's not just scary for existing customers, but it can't be good for Nintendo either; not just because it alienates those existing customers, but because Nintendo simply can't be relied on for consistency or longevity. Take the DS line over the past decade for example. Since the DS Lite in 2006, Nintendo's launch scheme has been nothing but pure confusion for me. At first I wanted the DS Lite, but then something called the DSi came out which appeared to be better in someway or whatever, and then they launch a larger version of that. At some point the original DS line was phased out, and the 3DS was launched (I can't remember which happened first). And of course, a larger version of that came out (which is what I have right now), and then a cheaper version - the 2DS. If that left you confused, then you got the point. (Sidenote: This is something I've noticed with the PSP line as well, only worse, because as far as I'm aware, all the models were marketed as "PSP"...)

Perhaps I'm just spoiled by the consistency brought by Apple products, but even if consistence wasn't an issue, with each iteration of DS products, they've introduced new things that left owners of the old models out of the full Nintendo experience - which brings me back to why this is bad for Nintendo. If they can't be relied on for giving every user of their consoles their all, and only users of their current products, then why bother heavily marketing these awesome games and experiences?

That could be putting things drastically - after all, the new Super Smash Bros. game isn't a new 3DS exclusive as evidenced by this commercial (Yes!), but the main problem here, I think, is that they market their consoles like their games. Let's take any Mario game as an example: if a Mario game for both the 3DS and Wii U is announced all of a sudden, then owners of both consoles have a reason to rejoice. On the other hand, maybe there's a small contingent of 3DS or Wii U owners who already own the previous title in that series of Mario games, and might therefore feel a little bad as they're little left out from the best Mario experience. As we know, this is what Nintendo does with their consoles, but more customers are likely to feel bad about it because consoles are entire mediums of gameplay. They're bigger investments to customers than games because new consoles are more expensive than new games, and getting rid of old consoles is throwing away more than getting rid of old games. Because it's a bigger investment, it's likely to leave more customers out of the best Nintendo experience possible, and no matter how many new games come out for any of the old consoles, it just won't be as good as what they could have instead.

This way, they may be driving away portions of their customer base - I don't know for sure, I'm no analyst - but it's certainly not retaining them. I don't really see a lot of Nintendo fans staying with the company for an extended period of time, maybe 5 or 10 years, much less with the consoles they now own which are likely to become more and more obsolete over time.

This fundamental problem, alongside what I blogged about previously regarding their lack of touch with the modern gaming audience, makes it bittersweet to be a Nintendo fan. Like I said, they are laser-focused on making their games the best they could possibly be, but it's sad to see them make seriously devastating compromises on other aspects of their business and how it's run. But Nintendo's not a company whose culture allows them to look like they're in any sort of trouble whatsoever, and that's something I admire.

Heck, maybe it's not even a facade, maybe they know exactly know what they're doing.