Nintendo… Where next?

When it comes to criticism in the gaming world, the only company that ever seems to be on the receiving end are Nintendo. Whether it be due to lack of sales console wise, poor game sales or complete loss of contact with their legion of fans or even the “casual” gamer, and their apparent inability to give them what they want.

Back in the 80’s and early 90’s Nintendo was the biggest name in gaming and had much more competition than it does currently. Even in the Nintendo dominated handheld arena, there was constant competition from other manufacturers for a share of the market but none seemed to be able to take it. But now in the “Playstation Generation” (TM registered by me!) Nintendo seem to have found more than one opponent capable of hammering in the last nail to the lid of Nintendo’s gaming days.

In Sony they have a Brand much more substantial than ever their own was. And in Microsoft they have a competitor with the fiancial clout to lose out to Nintendo everytime, but still keep coming back and eating away at what is left of Nintendo’s market share to eventually finish them off. But can this and will this actually ever happen? Although Nintendo are a lonely operation they are still cash heavy and as stated by their current President Satoru Iwata “we still have a heavy financial spine”.

Formidable competition may now be coming to their handheld market dominance in the shape of the Behemoth that is Sony, yet Nintendo hit back with an all new handheld that is the NintendoDS (still a project name), which is said to bring about change in a gaming world, which is certainly in need of an injection of life at the moment. Current games are not taking the gaming world in the direction it needs to be going, and that’s forward. It seems to be stuck in 4th gear at the moment, unable to find that last gear, to give it that boost it needs to reach another plane. But in the shape of the NDS Nintendo are trying to take the risks needed to move forward, whilst the new handheld from Sony, will just allow you to play today’s current crop of games on the go, and watch movies while you are at it. This is all well and good; the machine is without doubt very sleek, stylish and capable of what the PS2 will produce on a smaller screen. But this could now be a point against the PSP (name of the Sony handheld PlayStation Portable). Not many gaming sites seem to hit upon this fact, which in my opinion is a massive weakness.

Lets say Sony release their upcoming title Gran Turismo 4 on both PS2 and PSP on the same day, which are you going to buy? I know if I’m paying for a game I want to get the most out of it, and the way to do that is to play on my big screen TV with the sounds and sights my money is paying for. Or what if Sony release Spiderman 2 on the same day for both DVD and the PSP, are you going to spend £30 – £40 for both or just the £15 or so pounds to watch it at home on the big screen which I believe is what movies aim to be made for “The Big Screen”.

In the NDS Nintendo have a system daring and bold, willing to push new boundaries and move the industry along in the right direction. Its games will be different from anything you can currently buy on any system, and from what we have seen so far, look a joy to play even if the systems full potential may yet be fully realised.

And what of Microsoft’s Xbox which always never seems to be on the end of any criticism, yet had it not been for the massive financial backing would of faltered at the first hurdle. Microsoft will probably admit itself it has lost billions of pounds in its development, marketing, and selling of the Xbox and will certainly never make that money back. Yet onwards it goes, looking for another market in which Microsoft can flex its muscle and try its hand again at the only thing Microsoft seems to understand – “dominance”; the complete dominance of what ever market it wishes to enter. (Don’t get me wrong though Nintendo is no angel. Its dominance in the handheld market is massive, more so than Microsoft’s probably is in the PC market or Sony’s in the console market.)

Yet the main selling point of the Xbox from their own point of view is its Live service, the all in one complete online gaming community, yet only 7% of all Xbox users actually use this service (Microsofts own figures show 1 million subscribers from its 15 million consoles sold) can this be viewed as a success from anyones point of view. The so called future of gaming, as stated by every online gaming site you could visit, is only being used by the smallest proportion of gamers owning said consoles (Sonys PS2 online arena fairs no better with a smaller percentage still using its own online services) yet developers and online gaming communities still seem to think this is the way forward. Some developers even dropping support for Nintendo’s home console due to lack of online support from Nintendo themselves. Although the GameCube is more than capable of online gaming, it just means the developers would have to set up the servers and required networks themselves, and they know it’s not profitable to do this and so shy away from the idea. The only developer who has so far taken advantage of the GC’s online abilities is Sega and thet seem to have done fairly well for themselves out of it.

Back to Microsoft own market share in the console world, which is smaller all though not by much than Nintendo’s. However it never seems to be mentioned by anyone in the gaming media. Developers even dropping games (yet again) from the GC in favour of the Xbox and PS2 due to installed user bases to sell to. Yeah I know sounds strange, doesn’t it? Or could it be due to the fact that games which receive mediocre scores, or fail to live up to their hype, just fail to sell on Nintendo’s home console. Developers are aware that in releasing a game on a Nintendo system, your game is judged against a Nintendo game of its own type, and if you fail to stand up to it, you won’t sell. Nintendo seem to sell their own games very well. With a higher percentage of owners of GC’s buying major 1st party releases than any other console, but its in the 3rd party sales that Nintendo then hurts itself. Do GC owners expect more from a game? Well surely no more than £40 requires, even though this generation of Nintendo games have not been on par with past performances of the same franchises (Zelda, Mario, Mario Kart e.t.c) they have still sold well outselling any 3rd party release on a Nintendo system. Why is this? Is it because this generation of games has also failed to deliver anything extra apart from fancy visuals and wonderful crisp sound, or to deliver the promises of fresh gaming which will be fun for everyone?.

In either case I’m sure we’ll agree to some extent that the gaming world needs to move forward and the only way to do so will be to move away from the current trend of home systems just becoming more powerful and failing to deliver anything new from what we already have.

My eyes on Nintendo in the next round of Gaming Wars after their promise of giving us this new fresh approach to gaming, and if the NDS is anything to go by, it should be worth looking forward to.