I could start this off by talking about how I'm the biggest Nintendo fan ever, but anyone can say that, and half of the people who write these kind of criticisms of Nintendo have moved firmly into the Sony or Microsoft camps over the years, whether they admit it to the world (and themselves) or not. So instead I'll just post some evidence that, while not particularly proving one thing or another, will at least give you an idea of the type of fan of Nintendo that I am:
$10 to anyone who can name all of the games in this picture!
There you go. As you can see, my Nintendo collection greatly dwarfs my Sony collection, and I don't even own a Microsoft console. I'm not trying to make any striking claims here, I just want to set a bit of context. The following isn't coming from some long disenfranchised Nintendo fan, but from someone who has primarily supported Nintendo up to this point.
I'm also not going to threaten that I'm done with Nintendo and going to skip out on the Wii U. I'm not going to threaten it, because it would be an empty threat. Of course I'm going to buy a Wii U. But that's just me. Many others are making this threat right now, and although some of those will probably give in and buy the Wii U eventually, I am certain that some will not. Do I really believe that people will pass on the Wii U because of three missing Wii games? Well, no, not really. But I believe that this goes far beyond just three games: there is a much bigger picture here that you have been missing, Nintendo, and perhaps I can help you to see that picture.
Before I get into the nitty gritty, I want to clarify something here. I don't really like the term “core gamer”. It's a very difficult term to define, and it is usually used in ways that completely marginalize many of the great experiences that exist on Nintendo platforms (specifically the Wii.) From Muramasa to Trauma Team to Sin & Punishment: Star Successor, the Wii has gotten plenty of great titles that get ignored in discussions about core games for core gamers, and any true gaming enthusiast should be able to find at least some things to love about the Wii. Or rather, about the pre-2011 Wii. Still, I think the term core gamer can be useful when speaking in broader terms and I believe, for the most part, that we all at least have a working understanding of what the term core gamer means in a discussion such as this. To be more specific, I'm going to focus my use of the term on the Nintendo core gamer, IE core gamers who still buy and love Nintendo platforms. People such as myself and the others at Negative World, the type of people who know and care about games like Xenoblade, The Last Story, and Pandora's Tower. If you start losing us, you're going to have a lot more trouble expanding into the greater core market again.
I also want to clarify that I am speaking only as a North American Nintendo fan. The rest of the world seems to have a much different experience than we do, nowadays. Although this wasn't always the case.
If this is not just PR speak, and is a legitimate desire of yours, there are a couple of things about core gamers that I think you desperately need to know. I may be able to help you understand why the lack of North American localization for the three games in question has become such a touchy point for Nintendo fans in recent days, something that, based on your recent handling of the issue on Facebook, you don't seem to fully understand yet.
1. Core gamers enjoy casual games, but get truly excited about deeper games
I think it is a pretty amazing fact that core Nintendo fans will buy casual (and bridge) titles such as Wii Sports Resort, Wii Fit, and Mario Kart Wii in massive numbers. And why shouldn't we? These are great games that have a lot to offer for anyone, from the casual to the core. But these are, for the most part, not the games that get core gamers truly excited about a platform. This is to say that, while we buy them and enjoy them, they are not the games that, when announced, make us run off to instantly add to our wish lists and post about on forums and generally raise our excitement levels to that of a frothing demand. Yes, of course it is nice to see a new Mario Party or Mario Strikers announced, but it is the deeper (and often more character based) franchises like Zelda and Metroid that make us core Nintendo fans get excited about the Nintendo platforms that we own. After all, you don't see people put time and energy into fan projects like this for Mario Party games.
This is also, incidentally, why Nintendo fans as a whole did not react well to Reggie's comments following E3 2008 about why we core gamers should be happy with the Wii because a new Animal Crossing was on the way. I love Animal Crossing, as I'm sure many core gamers do, but it's not exactly what we're talking about when we say that we want core games from Nintendo. (It didn't help that City Folk was a bit of a rehash either.)
We need something more to fuel the fires of fandom. Which leads me to...
2. Core gamers get super excited about new IPs
Let's take your average casual gamer, and say that they buy 1 or 2 titles per year. Even over the course of 10 years or so, there are probably plenty of Nintendo franchises that they have yet to explore. Not so much for us core gamers. We have been steeped in Nintendo, many of us for years and years since Mario hopped his way into our hearts back on the original Nintendo Entertainment System. I can't even begin to count the amount of Mario, Metroid, and Zelda games that I have played over my years of following Nintendo. And Nintendo, I love you for continuing to make them feel fresh, and incorporating new ideas into most of your franchise releases. I honestly believe that no one does this better than you do, and I eagerly look forward to the latest games in my favorite Nintendo franchises.
However, the core Nintendo gamer wants more. Call us selfish, but we do. We see the fact that companies like Sony and Microsoft are supporting their older franchises while continuing to introduce new ones, and we get jealous. We want to try out new characters in new worlds, and this is something that you have not done the best job of giving us lately. And this is part of why it hurts so much to see three Nintendo published games that are new IPs (barring the loose connection of Xenoblade to past Xeno games) that are not being released in North America. To you, perhaps, they are just a few more games on a list that includes many. But to us they represent something that we have really not gotten from you on a home console since the original Pikmin nearly ten, yes ten years ago. It's been a very long wait, and now you are telling us that, despite the fact that the rest of the world is getting these games, us North Americans have to wait even longer. You have to understand that we are not going to take this very well.
Part of the excitement over this game? It's a brand new IP!
And, for the record, banking on third parties providing the new IPs on your platforms instead doesn't quite cut it. For one, that simply hasn't happened on the Wii much, in fact core third party support has pretty much been absent in 2011 and looks to be even more absent in 2012. But the main reason it doesn't cut it is simple. Many of us truly believe that Nintendo is the greatest publisher/developer combo in the world, and that third parties simply can't match what you can do. We don't want just anyone giving us new IPs, we want you giving us new IPs. Because we love you that darn much.
3. Core gamers see home consoles and handhelds differently
I remember after the backlash of E3 2008, Reggie also seemed confused about why Nintendo fans were talking about lacking core games and listed several upcoming DS games as evidence that they were coming. What he missed was that almost no one was talking about the DS lacking core games, we were talking about the Wii lacking core games. These are two separate platforms, Nintendo. Yes, many of us core Nintendo fans own both, but that doesn't mean that we consider them interchangeable. Besides, there is a certain type of core game, call it the “epic”, that gets us most excited in a way nothing else can, and is very hard to translate to a handheld and keep the epic feel. One genre that is known for epics is the Japanese RPG. Incidentally, two of the games Nintendo fans are currently fighting to get released in North America are Japanese RPGs. Coincidence?
This E3 Nintendo had a pretty good show overall. The 3DS had a ton of great games to show off (if not much new), and the Wii U debuted and looks to have a lot of potential. But the Wii was pretty much completely ignored, outside of a small handful of decidedly non-core games, despite the fact that you have several excellent looking games that could be released in North America on the Wii. Nintendo, we are fighting to get these games released because we want to play games on our Wii, a system that we have loved and supported for years and we would like to continue loving and supporting until the Wii U comes around. And frankly, we didn't expect to see the Wii all but die off nearly two full years before the release of the next home console. Pointing towards the 3DS and the Wii U isn't going to change how badly we want Wii games to play in the upcoming months, and Zelda alone isn't going to cut it. And this again leads to my next point...
4. Core gamers will put up with a lot... if the games are coming
There are a whole host of reasons, whether they be legitimate or overblown, that are cited by core gamers who have not chosen the Wii as the console of choice for this generation. I'm not going to get into that here. What I will say is this; despite the fact that the Wii was lacking in many areas that core gamers consider essential (HD, “mature” games, online functionality, etc.) it still maintained a respectable amount of core gamer fans, if mostly from the long-term Nintendo gamers. And the reason these fans remained Nintendo, was not that everything was all peachy keen in Nintendo world, because it wasn't. It was the fact that despite many things that could potentially push people away, there were great games to play. Heck, I'll go on record and state that, for my tastes, 2010 was the best year yet for the Wii. No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, Monster Hunter Tri, Sin & Punishment: Star Successor, Metroid: Other M, Super Mario Galaxy 2, Kirby's Epic Yarn, and Donkey Kong Country Returns all hit the spot nicely. The Wii could have used some more third party support, but us fans stuck around because the first party games were there.
Fast-forward to 2011. It is now July and what have us core gamers been playing on our Wiis in America this year? Well, I played some BIT.TRIP FLUX awhile back, and that's about it. And what is left for the rest of the year? In the eyes of the core, it basically comes down to another Kirby game, and Zelda. Yes, Zelda is huge, and will undoubtedly be one of the best games of the year, if not the generation. But outside of that, 2011 has been a pretty barren wasteland for the core on the Wii, and 2012 looks even worse. It may actually end up that Zelda is the only notable core release left on the Wii in North America until the Wii U comes along. This is not a good way to end a platform cycle, Nintendo.
The games are coming... right Nintendo? RIGHT?
I'm not even necessarily saying that this is how I personally view the Wii line-ups of 2011 and 2012 (although it is close), but that this is what I'm picking up, on various forums and the likes, as the Nintendo core gamer viewpoint. So you may as well stop pointing at your release lists and thinking you have your bases covered, to a large majority of your fanbase you are coming up very, very short at the moment. You don't have to agree with this outlook, Nintendo, but if you want to satiate the core you darn well better understand and respect it. I hope you are beginning to understand why these three games mean so much more to us than would first appear.
5. Core gamers are informed about the global market
One of the things that you need to understand, Nintendo, is that video game fans, especially Nintendo fans who have been with the company for 20+ years, view their fandom as a relationship. Likewise, the rules of a relationship apply. If I tell a girl that I care about her, and then she finds out that there is another girl who I'm not only telling the same things to but actually giving so much more to, what do you think her reaction would be? She would be distressed, of course, and moving forward, distrustful of the words that were coming out of my mouth. And why shouldn't she be? Actions have to match words, or words mean nothing.
We live in an age of global connectivity, where anyone and everyone can have their fingers on the pulse of worldwide happenings. And core gamers most definitely have their fingers on the pulse of worldwide happenings in the video game industry. We know what is going on. We know that these games are not only releasing in Japan, but that all three have been confirmed for Europe as well. We know that, on some level, you are singling out North Americans as not worthy of games that the rest of the world is receiving.
And it stings, Nintendo. It really does. We start to ask ourselves why does this have to happen to us? What is it about North America specifically that makes us undeserving of these games? You tell us you care about us, but why won't you give us what everyone else is getting from you? Do you, on some level, just not like us very much? Ok, maybe I'm not totally serious with that last question, but you have to understand that we have a real investment in Nintendo, and to feel like the rest of the world (even Russia and South Africa?!) are getting games that we are not hurts. You have to understand that this is not, and can never be, a neutral decision that you are making.
And, to be 100% frank, it makes us wonder why we should believe anything that you say when you talk about wanting to appeal to core gamers (in respect to North America.) I mean really... why should we? What reasons are you giving us to believe you?
6. Core gamers have long memories
And now I'm going to say something that might be a bit controversial, but is true nonetheless. The recent outcry over Xenoblade, The Last Story, and Pandora's Tower isn't really about these three games. Or to be more precise, it isn't just about these three games, and if these three games not releasing were the only issue, it probably would never have blown up into what it is. I almost imagine the minds over at Nintendo trying to figure out why a mere three games are causing such a ruckus. But it goes back. Way back. Let me add a few more to the list:
Another Code: R - A Journey into Lost Memories Disaster: Day of Crisis NPC! Pikmin 2 Captain Rainbow Fatal Frame 4 NPC! Chibi-Robo! Takt of Magic Zangeki no Regenleiv Earthbound (Virtual Console!)
I could mention many DS titles as well, but I want to focus on the Wii. Nintendo of America seems to have taken an almost religious view of what can sell on the Wii, for the most part localizing only two types of games, Nintendo's staple IPs and Wii *insert something here* titles. Ok, fine, you guys clearly don't feel that the North American market has enough gamers who want anything else to bring over some of the more niche and/or obscure titles (yet somehow the European market does?) But, keeping in mind some of the points that I made above, what message does this send to core gamers, Nintendo? These are precisely the type of titles that we feel like we are lacking, and need to see more of. Failing to bring them over, to the point of what feels like exclusion in North America, sends us a pretty clear message. The message is simple, Nintendo of America has no interest in appealing to core gamers. How else do you expect us to interpret this?
Another famous lost Wii game. Lost in North America, anyhow.
The recent games are only the icing on the cake (the cake that we see but don't get a taste of), the bigger issue at stake is that we see a long-term pattern of being denied games that we want, even in the midst of what core gamers like us perceive as massive game droughts, and there is no real indication that this is going to be changing anytime soon.
7. Core gamers will play the games they want to, one way or another
I kind of hesitate to put this one in, because I certainly don't condone piracy, and I'm not totally sure if I condone hacking the Wii either. And I also don't want this editorial to come off as threatening, because it is definitely not my intention to make threats. But the fact is, after the recent announcement that these three games were not coming to North America, the desire to hack a Wii has grown exponentially. Just look at the comments on your own Facebook post, Nintendo. And although I'd love to believe that everyone will hack the Wii just so they can play these games and leave it at that, the temptation to take it further once you have a hacked Wii is difficult to ignore. It's a fact that many of the games we pay for can be obtained for free illegally, and it's (probably) a fact that once someone has the means to do so easily (IE a hacked Wii), they will be much more likely to do so. As a company who generally fights piracy tooth and nail, Nintendo, it is kind of astounding to me that you would make a decision that everyone in the core gaming community knew (did you really not see this coming?) would lead to a much greater interest in hacking Wiis.
And honestly, can you really blame someone for wanting to hack a Wii to play these games at this point? The Wii has been all but abandoned for core gamers, and hacking gives North Americans a chance to play some of the core games that the rest of the world gets to enjoy. Combine this with the fact that there really isn't much left coming to the Wii for core gamers, and hacking a Wii becomes a very appealing solution. Again, I don't really condone hacking a Wii, and I definitely don't condone pirating, but without the option to legally purchase copies of these games, your fans will naturally take action into their own hands.
8. Core gamers take things personally
If it appears that we are being mistreated, Nintendo, it feels insulting. And it definitely feels that we are being mistreated at the moment. Not just because of the unexplainable failure to release these games in North America while the rest of the world is getting a release (although that is certainly a part of it), but because of the way that you handled your PR response to Operation Rainfall as well. And this shows me something about the way that you are thinking that is not in tune with the way that we, as your fans, are thinking. Because when you announced that you would have something to say, it naturally led to excitement. Many of your fans assumed that you would not plan an announcement unless there was positive news to come out of it. A natural assumption, no? Instead it merely created a larger build-up to disappointment. And the result was something that anyone who had spent more than 10 minutes on a gaming forum could have told you it would have been: your fans were not very pleased. At all.
We take these things personally because, as stated above, we are invested in you, Nintendo. Many of us have spent years of our lives telling everyone we knew about how amazing you were, selling them on your products, getting them to join your forums, etc. Again, you simply cannot make decisions like keeping these games out of North America and expect them to be taken neutrally. A relationship of any sort, even that of a corporation and its fans, is a two way street. And a poorly worded PR statement as your only response makes us question why we continue to support you to such a high degree.
Why do you do this to us Nintendo? Why?!!!?!
Does it make sense that we can feel so connected to what is, in the end, a corporation that will inevitably make decisions to put money in the bank first and foremost? Probably not. But that doesn't change the fact that when we first picked up a controller and played Mario, or Zelda, or one of the many other excellent and creative titles of yours, they drew us in and made us feel something truly special. Remember the reaction when John Lennon died? Kurt Cobain? It doesn't have to make sense, people tend to feel a strong connection to those who create the things that they love, whether or not it is reciprocated.
Still, the PR statement only caused this reaction because we were already feeling hurt by a wide variety of things, many of which I have already detailed above. There is another path, however...
9. Core gamers want to be your biggest supporters
As stated above, we tend to view our fandom as a relationship, and have a personal stake in it. And you know what Nintendo? This can only benefit you, if you will allow it to. Because we will be the first to jump to your side on forums, in the workplace, with friends, whatever the situation may be, and we will often defend you with a passion that no other company can expect from its fans. We're your word of mouth marketing, and the Internet knows that no one is more passionate than a diehard Nintendo fan. We don't just approach fandom passively, we pride ourselves on how big of a fan we can be.
And I think you need us.
I'm not going to call the casual gaming thing a fad because I don't think that it is a fad, I think video games are moving towards broader acceptance and someday, perhaps very soon, people will think of video games the way people think of TV and movies. Which is to say that there won't be “gamers” and “non-gamers”, it will be something that almost everyone partakes of, in some form. However, whether Nintendo can continue to dominate the casual gaming market moving forward has yet to be seen. Microsoft has successfully taken a chunk of it with the Kinect, and I think the battle for the casual gamer is going to get even more heated moving forward. It's certainly no longer a blue ocean.
Will casuals prove to have the same kind of dedication to Nintendo as its core fans have had over the years? Who knows. But I'll say this Nintendo, you have a lot of fans who absolutely love supporting you, and they're mostly what could be called core gamers. I built this very website nearly ten years ago as a haven for Nintendo fans, and I've been running it strong ever since. I know a bit about core Nintendo gamers. Right here is your Nintendo hardcore, and if you want to seriously crack into the hardcore market that Microsoft (and to a lesser extent Sony) have been successful with this generation, you most certainly need to maintain your relationship with us. Consider the Nintendo faithful the bridge to the broader core market.
Many of us have been here since day one. What happens next?
However, we also tend to feel like we deserve something back in return for the years of support that we have given you. And right now, I'm sorry to say, we're really not seeing it. Not us North American Nintendo gamers, anyway. We're seeing a lot of lip service about appealing to core gamers, in the midst of one of the biggest droughts we have ever seen on a Nintendo home console, while watching the rest of the world get big game announcements that we are not getting. This feels like nothing less than a slap to the face. And it makes us feel marginalized, and then confused about why you would want to marginalize the biggest gaming fanbase in the biggest market in the world.
And if you don't believe that this is as big of an issue as some people are making it out to be, I'd suggest popping on some video game forums and taking a look at what Nintendo fans are talking about at the moment. It's not good Nintendo, not very good at all.
I'm not writing this as some kind of ultimatum. What you do is up to you, and whatever the case is with anyone else, I'll be playing your games on your platforms for a long time yet. I simply think that there is a large misunderstanding between yourself and your core fans, and there are certain things that you need to understand if you truly want to reach us. Whether you actually want to do this or are just speaking PR, I have no idea. But you should know that your actions will always speak louder than your words. If you're really serious about reaching out to your core fanbase, you should take another look at the localization of Xenoblade, The Last Story, and Pandora's Tower for the North American market. You might not make millions off of them, but I guarantee that it will be worth your while if you want to win the core gamers back. It can't be the end of your efforts, but it might be a good beginning.