Nintendo DS – Redemption Of A Name

The Nintendo DS was literally a console out of nowhere. Appearing at a press release by Satoru Iwata, the mystery machine was a seemingly defensive approach by Nintendo to combat the recent announcement of the PSP. Quite clearly neither console at the moment is a failure, with both having exceeded 10 million units in sales in around 14 months.

The Nintendo DS was the name given to the handheld during its development cycle, its ‘codename’. The console promised to do a lot of things, providing new definitions of gaming, by addition of a touch sensitive screen, secondary screen, microphone input along with wireless interaction. These were all design features intended to drive gaming in new directions, broadening the market. They promised to open up new avenues, gaming avenues, extended gameplay options, opening up games to not just gamers, but non gamers also.

The Nintendo DS also promised to demonstrate to the world what the Revolution, Nintendo’s fifth generation home console, would be like, kind of like a window. We have now learnt that rather than these similarities being materialistic, like the Revolution mimicking the DS with a touch sensitive panel for example, they are more theoretical, such as difference in control technique, open access to new players.

The DS was an experiment for Nintendo to determine how the world would react to a new type of gameplay, with inferior graphics to the competition. The DS is comparable to a Nintendo 64, whereas the PSP is a PS2 on the go. Furthermore, Sony went with their traditional roots, making the PSP a multimedia centre, jacking up the price, and releasing a proprietary format for content. As a result, the PSP is beginning to look less attractive to supporters, as the UMD movie range is doing quite badly. Nintendo followed their tradition, and made the DS a games only console. Now, along with the release of the Lite in Japan, the DS is walking over the PSP, with a better than 2:1 sales ratio, consistently, often as great as 3:1 or even 4:1, and is competing quite competently elsewhere in the world.

However, what is in a name? Nintendo, on several occasions, quite confidently and assertively promised the name would change for retail. Then came along the press release where the final design and name were revealed. Surprise surprise, it was the Nintendo DS. Was it an uncreative approach? Could Nintendo simply not think of a better name to apply to the new handheld? All along, Nintendo has claimed that the DS is not the successor to the Game Boy. In itself, it is an entirely new and different machine. However, it had a far greater purpose than just simply preparing the gaming population, as well as the non gaming population, for the Nintendo Revolution.

The Nintendo DS was deliberately left with the name ‘Nintendo DS’ in order to do what companies tend to do all the time. Recreate brand awareness. Nintendo has no doubt lost much awareness since the days of the SNES and NES, with dwindling sales of the Nintendo 64 and the GCN. Of course, there is the Game Boy, but it is quite amazing to learn how many Game Boy owners are not initially aware that it is actually a Nintendo product. The theory behind the name of the DS was to re-establish Nintendo in the video game market. They were so certain that gamers would pick up the new console in droves that they deemed it safe to name the console with the company’s name. As a result, it provides instant recognition of the Nintendo name. And because the unit is a massive success, it will have ramifications further on.

All of a sudden, it isn’t only the GCN owners that are potential buyers of the Nintendo Revolution, it is also the owners of every Nintendo DS unit. Suppose there are some 10 million DS owners that have never owned a GCN. Already, the potential adapters of Nintendo’s next generation console are the total combination of GCN owners and unique DS owners, which are some 30 million gamers. Furthermore, the DS boom is set to continue, with the sequential release of Metroid Prime Hunters, New Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, various Pokémon games and also third party hits like Castlevania and the upcoming Contact.

Of course, not every DS and GCN owner will want to buy a Nintendo Revolution, but the majority will be interested, and even if only two-thirds of existing potential buyers buy a Revolution, Nintendo has already equalled the GCN in sales. That in itself is a success, although the GCN was in no way a failure. If the Revolution is able to follow the trend of the Nintendo DS, it will be an exceptional success, and will further strengthen the Nintendo name.

The Revolution will be cheap. It will be at the impulse buying level. It will be the preferred second console. It will have experiences that no other console will provide. And although it may be graphically inferior, we know that that has no major impact on the determination of gamers and what they intend to buy. It’s evident with the Nintendo DS. Consumers care more about content, and the Revolution will be the console with the most unique content. People will be intrigued. People will want to experience it. Even non-Nintendo gamers are interested in the hardware. They want to know what the hell Nintendo is doing.

Thanks to the Nintendo DS, gamers and non gamers alike will recognise who Nintendo is. They are that company that made that fun dog simulator. They are that company that have that free online service. They are that company that give gamers a great experience for a cheaper alternative. They are that company that the Nintendo DS re-established. They are Nintendo.