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Nintendo loves leveraging their fans

The Nintendo Direct conference from earlier this week was packed with a lot of cool announcements. I gotta admit, I was clutching my 3DS with excitement while watching through the entire thing. A new Mario & Luigi RPG?!? Bravely Default officially confirmed for the West?!? A new 3DS Mario Golf (Don't laugh. I'm a big fan of those games)?!? However, this latest Nintendo Direct was yet another instance of Nintendo's concerning behavior this gen.

Nintendo has gotten into the habit of leveraging its fans. Now, there's always going to be a careful balance between pleasing fans and leveraging them. Obviously, companies want to make money, but as fans, we don't want to FEEL as if we're being milked for all we're worth. ATLUS, as an example, does a great job of taking care of its fans even though they make tons of re-releases of popular games. CAPCOM, as a converse example, leverages its fans all the time with endless DLC and "Super" editions, which might explain their loss of profitability during the last few years. Nintendo has lost that balance.

The first time I noticed it was with Metroid: Other M. Following the conclusion of the excellent Prime series, fans were clamoring for a proper side-scrolling Metroid game. Metroid fans hadn't been treated to such a game since Zero Mission, and that was just a remake. Fans wanted a NEW adventure. And what did they get? A bizarre action/shooter hybrid with a terrible story and very little of the exploration that the series was known for. Fast forward a few years to the 3DS. One of the hot games was Kid Icarus: Uprising, but once again, I found it very odd that Nintendo would revive this franchise in such a...unconventional way. The gameplay of the original Kid Icarus is very similar to Metroid, and this could have been the perfect opportunity to build a sprawling, action-packed Metroidvania-style title. Instead, we were given an on-rails/action hybrid that bore no similarity to the source material. Yet another example springs to mind: Super Mario Land 3D. Instead of making a sidescrolling Mario (which is what allowed the DS to skyrocket, the Wii to have its mid-life boost in sales, and which is the only thing currently keeping the WiiU's sales alive), Nintendo opted to create a bizarre hybrid. And what do they do? They add in all of the stuff that fans have been familiar with over the years: raccoon tail, Big/Little World, flag poles, time limits, etc. But 3D Land is NOT a sidescrolling Mario. It's a weird experiment, a trojan horse of Nintendo's glasses-free 3D, and I hated it.

This odd reinventing of franchises has occurred many times recently, and it comes across as Nintendo trying to leverage their fanbase in order to push forward the games THEY want to make, not the games the fans have been asking for.

The latest Nintendo Direct has three such examples: Off-screen play on the WiiU (which isn't really a game, but still...), Link to the Past 2, and Earthbound.

The off-screen play for WiiU was something promised when the WiiU was announced. Why it has taken so long for the Virtual Console to be included, I'll never know. But what irks me is that we're being asked to - for the third time now - pay for titles that are already available on the Wii and 3DS Virtual Console shops. I know Nintendo has options to transfer VC games and buy them at a discount, but it just reeks of leveraging. Sony has allowed cross-platform play of our digitally-downloaded PS1 games since the inception of PSN. Is it really so difficult for Nintendo to do the same thing?

Next, let's focus on Link to the Past 2, which actually looks incredibly good, I might add. My gripe with this announcement is that Nintendo isn't even trying to hide their pandering. At least with Skyward Sword they kept it vague and said stuff like "we're going back to the roots" and whatnot. This time, it's a blatant appeal to the fans: "Please! Zelda franchise sales have been steadily declining. Please bail us out! We'll...give you a sequel to Link to the Past, okay?" Before anyone jumps down my throat, allow yourself to observe the Zelda franchise as a whole. What is its biggest problem right now? In my opinion, the biggest problem is that it recycles too much content. The series hasn't felt fresh for years, and making a direct sequel to a previous entry in the series isn't going to freshen things up, either. Now, we only have one gameplay section being showcased right now. At E3, Nintendo may announce a whole string of added features to the game, but I can't shake the feeling that my love of the old Zelda games is being leveraged. I haven't forgotten that Nintendo tried to shoehorn Ocarina of Time onto the 3DS to entice Zelda fans (it didn't really work, either).

The Earthbound announcement is one that really frustrates me. I will admit that I am not the biggest fan of the Earthbound series. However, I do have one close friend who is the biggest Earthbound fan that money can buy. He wears Earthbound-themed clothing from He has Ness and Lucas posters on the wall of his apartment. He played through the fan translations of Mother 1 and Mother 3. And he has been asking for a Virtual Console release of Earthbound since the VC came into existence. Years ago, he showed me a page of Nintendo Power (when that magazine was still around). He showed me the "Most Requested VC game" spot. Earthbound was #1. "It has been this way for months," he explained. "People keep writing in and asking for it. I hope Nintendo listens." This was YEARS ago, probably back in 2009 or 2010. Did Nintendo listen to its fans and put it on the Wii? No, it seems not. Did Nintendo put it on the 3DS, their strongest current platform? No, it seems not. They put it on the WiiU, claiming that the fan demand on Miiverse is what finally pushed them over the edge. I am here to say: bull. I've seen the fan demand for Earthbound from the start, seeing how my buddy always kept me in the loop with all the latest Earthbound news (often against my will, I'll admit). Earthbound fans have been asking for this game for YEARS, and yet Nintendo has the balls to give it to their smallest installed base. That's leveraging, plain and simple.

What breaks my heart is that Nintendo fans have been so beaten down and broken over the years, they'll take whatever is given to them. I've scrounged the comment sections for the Earthbound announcement on sites like Joystiq, IGN, here on N4G, and also checked Youtube. Nowhere do I see Earthbound fans saying "Gee, thanks for listening to us Wii owners, Nintendo". Everyone is jumping for joy and declaring "WiiU is so worth it now!" I read a comment that said the following:

"i know some people own the game but even if you own the cartridge, it is time for earthbound fans to step it up. nintendo is finally recognizing this series and we need to let them know that we want it. so even if you own the super nintendo version you should still buy the upcoming release to show earthbound our support"

Those are the sort of fans that Nintendo has, and the folks at Nintendo know it. There are gamers like me who enjoy some of Nintendo's games but who will never have this sort of single-minded devotion to Nintendo or one of their franchises. As a consequence, we have to watch Nintendo dragging its feet in almost every department (online, graphics, controls, 3rd party support) while the really, REALLY devoted fans buy it anyway.

Moving forward, Nintendo faces a lot of challenges. Their handheld line is doing well, but their console market is being infringed upon. Add that to the fact that their online functionality is average, at best. The LAST thing they should be doing is leveraging their fanbase, which will only chase them away.

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PopRocks3591827d ago (Edited 1827d ago )

The quote you cited was confusing because you used it to seemingly label Nintendo fans as blind sheep who will buy Nintendo products no matter what (or so the wording seems to suggest).

The thing of it is, if you want more of something you need to support it. Nintendo did not previously believe that Earthbound had a viable following in the west. Through Miiverse, they learned otherwise and responded. I think it's pretty disrespectful, not to mention narrow-minded, to take this as a negative. Fans made their voices heard and Nintendo listened; I don't see how this is bad in any sense of the word. Except maybe the slang term.

As far as leveraging is concerned, I'm not sure if you noticed this, but the 3DS VC has no SNES games and furthermore Nintendo has ceased their expansion of the Wii's VC library. From where I'm standing, the only place to go is forward with it. Sure, it sucks from a gamer's standpoint because now they have to wait until they own a Wii U to support the title, but from a business perspective it's one hell of a smart move. At least fans are now getting what they wanted, and furthermore as a Wii U owner I can do so without any issues.

Now let's talk about how Ubisoft constantly holds Beyond Good And Evil 2 hostage (with zero results, mind you) or Capcom's glorious fan-savvy nature with the Mega Man franchise.

EDIT: Wanted to add this article as well.

According to this article, the success of this correlates specifically to Miiverse and Miiverse alone. Take it as you will, but something about it worked and made Nintendo believe that fans with Wii U consoles would pay for Earthbound on the VC.

Donnieboi1827d ago

"I think it's pretty disrespectful, not to mention narrow-minded, to take this as a negative."

Hey man, you really ought to relax. The guy is just sharing his opinion. Are you always this prone to assuming that people are attacking your beliefs, just because they don't agree with you?

Take a deep breathe. Life is good. Well, it is for those us who live ours out peacefully, embracing all points of views, instead of fighting in blogs.

Good day <3

PopRocks3591827d ago

I was actually pretty calm. Sorry my opinion made you think I was upset? Maybe you should make a few less assumptions about people yourself. If you actually read my comment, the way he worded his response to the quote came off that way.

Unless you're referring to yourself, in which case, I would think accusing someone of boosting himself with alt. accounts or calling them a delusional fanboy just for commenting differently would come off as an attack, don't you?

dedicatedtogamers1827d ago (Edited 1827d ago )


If Earthbound was the one and only instance I mentioned, then I think you'd have a case. However, Nintendo has a track record of leveraging fans in plenty of other franchises, and they've been doing it more frequently in recent years.

The Virtual Console launched 7 years ago on the Wii. For seven years, Earthbound fans have been writing letters, sending emails, voting in Nintendo Power, etc, etc just to get their voice heard. And now, a Nintendo says "due to you using our Brand New Service(tm), we're bringing you Earthbound!" Ehhhh, no. I don't buy it.

Yes. It's happy news that it is coming out at all. But like I said, this is leveraging. Earthbound fans have already tried 7 years to get their voice heard, and then suddenly less than 6 months after Miiverse launches, Nintendo decides to push it forward? It doesn't add up. Nintendo is either incredibly lazy, incredibly ignorant of their fans, or both, because if Miiverse really IS the cause, then Nintendo was able to get all of the licensing rights sorted out for Earthbound in a matter of months. That must really sting for Earthbound fans, who have been spending all these years thinking it would be impossible for Nintendo to license Earthbound. Nope. Apparently it only took them a few months. On the other hand, if their claim that Miiverse was responsible is a lie (and I do think it's a lie), then they're lying to cover up their decision to give the middle finger to the fans on the Wii who have been patiently waiting for this game. There is literally no other explanation.

It would be like Wii owners clamoring for a Pikmin 3 for years and years, a new Pikmin gets hinted at for the Wii, and then "OH! Holy bait-and-switch Batman!" It's coming to WiiU. Ohhhh wait...

PopRocks3591827d ago

Sure it adds up. I've been on Miiverse and the amount of people who were asking for Earthbound in some of the other VC related Miiverse sections was staggering.

The thing is a group of fans online doesn't make much of an impact. The reason Xenoblade became such a prime issue was because outlets like Destructoid and other big media names were suddenly bringing the issue to the forefront of discussion. Even with Project Rainfall, the likes of both Nintendo and XSEED both stated they weren't particularly influenced by the group when they decided to publish the big three Wii RPGs in the US.

Miiverse is Nintendo's direct window to their fans. Why they would not pay attention to the rhetoric on there would be pretty baffling to me and considering how little Operation Rainfall influenced them, it doesn't surprise me that Nintendo would not pay attention to EB fans until they started shouting on Miiverse.

As for Pikmin 3, isn't that grasping a little? The game is now in high definition and it looks pretty good as such. Plus I remember Miyamoto saying that the game started development around the middle-end of the Wii's life cycle and he made the decision to move it over to Wii U. I think this is a lot less corporate than you're making it out to be.

But I am curious as to what other examples you have of Nintendo leveraging their fans. You're saying they've been at it for years and now I'm curious as to what exactly you mean by that.

dedicatedtogamers1827d ago (Edited 1827d ago )

@ PopRocks

The amount of people writing in to Nintendo Power every month, keeping Earthbound at the #1 spot for "most requested game for VC" must have been staggering as well. And the fact that they'd been doing this for years on end, keeping Earthbound in that Top list month after month after month? Over the years, Nintendo of America, Mommy Nintendo in Japan, and various devs who worked on Earthbound have all chimed in on why it wasn't coming to VC. Some said legal reasons. Some said there isn't enough fan demand. Some said "we are not currently considering it for the near future". So, it is obvious that Nintendo was at least hearing the fans, otherwise they wouldn't respond.

But within just a few months of Miiverse being online, with just a tiny segment of Nintendo owners (based on WiiU's installed base) asking for it, we are supposed to believe that - gasp! - Nintendo suddenly, finally realized people in the West want this game, and - gasp! - Nintendo suddenly, finally was able to sort out each and every hurdle in the matter of a few months? It seems too good to be true, because it is. Nintendo is pandering to fans as a reason for getting a WiiU. There's no other explanation, considering how it isn't coming to Wii (the fanbase that has been asking for it for 7 years) or the 3DS (the largest installed base of Nintendo's two current-gen platforms).

PopRocks3591827d ago

Frankly (and with all due respect) I don't think there's a way to definitively conclude that at all. It seems more like a conspiracy theory and, in my opinion, a cheap way to turn positive news into bad news. First it's "Nintendo doesn't care so they won't bring over Earthbound." Now it's "Nintendo's pandering because they're bringing it to the newest console."

Like I said, the Wii VC isn't being supported and the 3DS VC does not currently support SNES games. I think Nintendo figured since they were trying to reach out to the core audience again, they figured now was a good time to bring out Earthbound as a way to promote the new VC, so they went and took the necessary steps to get through the supposed legal hurdles. Obviously I can't firmly prove that either, but it's how I look at it.

Donnieboi1827d ago

Great article, I thought it was totally on-point.

maasman1826d ago

You make a lot of points here, but at the same time your arguments seem to answer themselves in a way. You talk about Zelda getting stale, while just previous you complain that they are changing too many things in their other games. You complain simultaneously that nintendo is changing things too much and that they are keeping things the same too much. Now I understand that you may want them to keep things the same for some things and different for others and that they are missing the mark on what you would like, but that seems a little unfair.

As far as the earthbound thing and leveraging the fans, I'm not 100% sure that's fair either. What does a company do to increase sales on a platform? They release games that people want for it. Sure, they could have released it on the 3DS, a system that is selling incredibly well already, or the Wii which arguably makes the most sense with your above point about the VC, but what would be the point of these things? The Wii is not needing sales anymore, and the 3DS has more good games than a reasonable person could afford right now. The WiiU is struggling, so nintendo is trying to pull out all the stops to save it. I saw someone say on here a few days ago that nintendo is not supporting the WiiU enough, and now they bring a highly anticipated game to it, and you complain that it's not on the right system. That again seems a little unfair. I completely understand that nintendo is in the business of making money, and they will do what they need to do to make people happy, but at the same time they need to push hardware, so what do you want them to do?

Another side of leveraging from my point of view: I only really buy and play nintendo handhelds for pokemon and a few other games. I didn't get to play gen4 for years after it came out because I didn't have a DS for a long time. Would I complain that they should have released it on GBA because they need to sell new hardware? No, that's stupid. Same for the 3DS now. I'm going to have to scrounge up money for gen6 and the entry price. Do I like it? No, but I'm not going to complain. They need to sell systems, I was honestly surprised that they released gen5 on the DS. Do I think nintendo needs to improve on a lot of things? Yes, of course I do. They should have had more launch games ready, and better ones. Plus, they need to get on more third parties good sides, but at the same time I'm not going to fault them for making a business decision to bring a highly anticipated game to struggling hardware.

dedicatedtogamers1826d ago

"What does a company do to increase sales on a platform? They release games that people want for it[...]I saw someone say on here a few days ago that nintendo is not supporting the WiiU enough, and now they bring a highly anticipated game to it, and you complain that it's not on the right system."

Putting a game on a system to increase console sales is, by it's purest definition, leveraging. But most of the time, people don't care because it uses the consoles' brand-new hardware, or something like that. Earthbound is a 20-year-old game, and Nintendo has VC services on two other platforms.

I don't mind that it is on the WiiU. Put it on the WiiU. However, if you want the game to sell well (which is what Earthbound fans keep claiming. "We just want the game to sell so that Nintendo knows there is a market!") then it would be most logical to put it on all three VC libraries. If someone could please explain some special feature of the WiiU's hardware that makes Earthbound ONLY possible on the WiiU Virtual Console, I'm all ears...

anderssc1818d ago

You bring up some very good points, and I am in agreement that it does seem oddly timed (especially with the details you provided about your friend) to say the least.