I recently read a gamespot article on Nintendo's president claiming the Wii had hit a wall and it got me to start thinking about the much maligned system, which in turned got me to think about Nintendo in general. I thought I'd take a few minutes and share my thought process and conclusions.
First, the Wii is by far my least favorite system of all time. In fact, leading up to its release night I just happened to be in a Walmart where they were raffling the chance to buy one. I only put my name in the pot for kicks. Much to my surprise my name was called with nine other schmucks. So I bought one release day and really enjoyed all the attention (and offers) I was getting. Little did I know then that I would rarely pick that system back up after completing Twilight Princess.
Now I could go on as to why the Wii is flawed (shovelware, wiimote controls, subpar graphics, terrible online play) but I'd rather focus on why Nintendo is here to stay.
Everyone knows Nintendo played perhaps the biggest role in pioneering the video game industry. They did especially well in creating a stable system that became extraordinarily accessible to the average consumer. The NES wasn't the first system to hit markets but it certainly was the most important. Simple controls, simple setup, simple games. When you're trying to get a consumer base to embrace a totally new product you'd better make it simple.
Many followed Nintendo's strategy of creating an easy to understand system. However, what many tried to replicate and few have succeeded in doing was creating a trusted brand with easily recognizable identity points. You ask anyone who Mario is and 9 times out of 10 they're going to say Nintendo. That's the genius of Nintendo. They took their original characters and they made them video game icons.
Mario and Luigi, Link and Zelda, Donkey Kong, Samus Aran, Kirby, Fox McCloud. Heck, Nintendo is responsible for giving Final Fantasy a home in the United States. These are all titles that continue to hold respect within the industry. It doesn't matter how terrible third-party games are for any Nintendo system, people will continue to buy a Nintendo because we KNOW the first-party games are going to make the purchase worth it.
For Nintendo, success is just as much about hardware as it is software. One of the reasons why Sega couldn't survive as a console was because outside of Sonic they didn't have any other identifiable icons to convince people to buy their systems. This is why exclusive's for consoles are such high selling points. Sony and Microsoft both know they'll never be able to push Mario or Link out of the gaming world (and I hope they don't want to) and that's why we have characters like Solid Snake and Master Chief. As good as those two are they'll never gain the same level of standing as Nintendo's top two because they weren't there at the very beginning.
Now it's easy to say that Nintendo is losing the fight because they're not going after core gamers. Many have criticized Nintendo because they don't focus on online play like Microsoft does or they don't actively upgrade their graphics to the latest and greatest like Sony does but did anyone stop to ask themselves why? Why has Nintendo chosen to innovate a new way to play? I think the answer is because that's what they've always done. Just look at their controllers, with the exception of possibly the NES and SNES their controllers are all drastically different from one generation to the next. Playstation hasn't done that and neither has Microsoft.
The point is Nintendo has continued to do what they've always done. They took a medium in its infancy and pioneered it. Now, with that medium in its adolescence, Nintendo is again trying to mold it into something more accessible to the masses much the same way parents mold teenagers into well-adjusted adults. Furthermore, the masses are where the money is. Ask yourself, if I could choose a product to make a fortune off of would I want that product to be appealing to males and females from age 4 to 65 or would I want just males age 14 to 30?
So while Nintendo might not be the coolest console on the planet, it's still vibrantly successful and maintains high top of mind because of its history and accessibility. That's why most gamers will feel a familiar sense of loyalty to Nintendo and that's why they'll continue to remain a powerful player in the video game industry.
Author's Update - I just got done reading a REALLY good article that addresses this whole idea WAY better than I did. It's pretty lengthy but was a well done piece albeit very hard-hitting. Kudos to Sean Malstrom.