Friday, January 17, 2014

How Badly Did Satoru Iwata's Nintendo Mess Up? Let Us Count the Ways

Amid the news of Nintendo's severely lowered sales forecasts, many fans and armchair analysts are arguing for the removal of the company's president, Satoru Iwata. That's fine and all, but a lot of people simply use the Wii U's poor sales as an explanation without delving into how the Wii U got to where it is now in the first place. That's what this article is all about. From third-party relations to brand confusion, this is a quick summary of where Satoru Iwata's Nintendo went wrong.

One major factor that happened pre-Wii U was how Satoru Iwata took away the autonomy of Nintendo of America when he took over. This meant the Japanese branch, the headquarters, made all the calls. This was right when the West started gaining a lot of traction as the most important part of the world sales-wise for the industry. Multiple Western third-party relationships with Nintendo quickly soured, many that had worked with Nintendo closely in the past had their bonds broken with the big N, and it still hurts Nintendo to this day. Third-party support in general is much more horrid than when Satoru Iwata originally stepped into the role as president of Nintendo, and it has only been getting progressively worse.

Under Iwata's leadership, Nintendo allowed the Wii to flounder for two years at the end of its life without much software support. This made it so the casual gamers that were attached to the Wii name went elsewhere for their entertainment, and it made it so any momentum Nintendo would have had going into the Wii U was dead.

One would think that not supporting the Wii much near the end meant that Nintendo was heavily working on HD games at the time. I mean, it makes perfect sense since HD development is a big change, yet lo and behold the Wii U launched and many games planned for the launch window were delayed. Nintendo had six years to prepare for HD development, and unless its proverbial head was in the sand, it could have heard how difficult the switch from SD development to HD development was from the myriad of other developers and publishers in the industry saying so. However, Nintendo was somehow still unprepared.

Even if the Wii U's launch window games did release on time, the majority of them don't even use the selling point of the system, the Wii U GamePad, to any worthwhile degree. If Nintendo can't even come up with interesting ideas for the GamePad, what is its use besides making the price of the entire Wii U package skyrocket? I personally love off-TV play as much as any Wii U owner who has experienced it, but I'd love to see more games like Nintendo Land, LEGO City Undercover, Game & Wario, and ZombiU (though this last one is from Ubisoft) use the GamePad in better, more creative ways.

Then there's the Wii U name itself. At E3 2011 and 2012 it was clear that there was a lot of confusion surrounding the name, even from the most dedicated of gamers. Was this a new tablet for the original Wii? Was it a new console? Was it an upgrade to the Wii? This is still a problem with consumers. Not only that, but Nintendo suffered this brand confusion problem before with the Nintendo 3DS. Many thought that handheld was simply another revision of the ultra-popular DS. Apparently Satoru Iwata and Nintendo did not learn from the past and made the absolute mistake again, naming the new console the Wii U instead of something less bewildering.

Moving onto the Nintendo 3DS, that system isn't selling to the pace of its predecessor, Nintendo DS, but it's important to note that the Nintendo DS released at a time where smartphones and tablets had not become popular yet. It allowed a big part of its user base, casual gamers, access to the system with titles like Brain Age, Nintendogs, Crosswords DS, among other titles. A big part of the system's appeal was its cheap price, so what does Satoru Iwata and Nintendo do? They release a successor that was $250, an incredibly expensive amount, and have a list of launch games that were less than exciting. Lower than expected sales meant Nintendo had to do something unprecedented-- cut the price by a good amount and give early 3DS owners free downloadable games as an apology.

Now, all of these factors add up to one colossal screw-up by Nintendo that many argue could have been avoided or at least fixed from the time the system was revealed to the time it was released. Many of these very much could have been, and it's all on Satoru Iwata and his board for these mistakes. Should Mr. Iwata step down? I can't answer that. All I know is I really like the fellow. He's one of the few CEO's in the gaming industry who doesn't nickel and dime gamers, make people buy season passes, lock DLC on the disc, or try to implement DRM into Nintendo's consoles. Satoru Iwata is a man who understands games, coming before as a developer at HAL Laboratory. While some may say that Iwata has earned the right to fail thanks to his great success with the Wii (and no, it was not a fluke) and the DS, others want his head on a stick (metaphorically speaking, of course). Regardless of what happens, 2014 is going to be a really interesting year for Nintendo and the industry in general.

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