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Casual Gamers: Dictating the Success and Failure of Nintendo

Author:
Chris Hyde
Category:
Features
Tags:
3DS, Casual Games, Nintendo, Wii, Wii U, Wii U games

Casual Gamers: Dictating the Success and Failure of Nintendo

The Casual Gamer. A now derogatory term used to pigeon-hole the vast swathes of gamers that have dared to show a fleeting interest in an industry previously reserved for the dedicated, committed and knowledgeable “few” that pursued it before it became “mainstream”. Or some such elitist bollocks.

Now, I could write an entire article exploring the separation of this industry, but instead this piece focuses more on accepting the diversity that tablet gaming, motion controls et al has brought the gaming industry, and how this has shaped the strategy and fortunes of one of its biggest players – Nintendo.

Before we get too far in, it's worth me just clarifying what I will be referring to as a casual gamer. For the purposes of this article when I say 'casual gamer' what I mean is the group of people who wouldn't list gaming as one of their top hobbies or interests, it is instead a minor method of enjoyably passing the time in between other activities. As such they have no need to know the industry in depth, and similarly may not know a lot of what others familiar to gaming may know.

These variances against a more "normal" (or indeed hardcore - shudder) gamer are crucial when you apply them to Nintendo - arguably the company now most synonymous with the casual gamer tag thanks to the overwhelming success of the Wii. No one can deny that the performance of Nintendo's previous console didn't do a lot of good for the games industry. It increased it's potential and target audience massively, and gaming is enjoying a boom as a result. It gets much more exposure and recognition nowadays, and that is partly thanks to the Wii's success in bringing in an additional audience.

Casual Gamers: Dictating the Success and Failure of Nintendo

But this success has been a bit of a double-edged sword for the gaming behemoth. And they've fallen on it quite a lot in recent years.

Casual Failure

First off, let's discuss that synonymous relationship I mentioned earlier. Because of its success of the Wii, Nintendo became the casual gamer company. As if Nintendo didn't have enough stigma against its brand - the 'kiddy console' idiom because their mascots and games aren't covered in varying degrees of brown and grey paint - they now have this additional tag as well. And it's caused a few problems. For starters it creates a negative connotation for developers. Cue the shovelware and quick to market cash-ins to Nintendo machines. It wasn't rare towards the end of the Wii's life (and indeed the current trends on Wii U) to see the console's charts filled with dancing simulator games and Disney or Pixar's latest movie tie-in games.

And then it's a downward spiral of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because gamers see these charts, and what games on the system are given the shelf space in game stores, and it helps reaffirm the image of Nintendo and the "casual" tag it has been given. And it means that they look to other consoles for their less casual games. Couple this with the egotistical mechanic at play where gamers that have been around before the creation of the "casual" gamer era, do not want to be seen to have regressed to this lesser group, they have to make sure they distance themselves from such games and consoles, which again hurts Nintendo.

Casual Gamers: Dictating the Success and Failure of Nintendo

Developers then look at Nintendo machines, and how the games on it are selling, and it becomes less and less of a decent return on investment to develop games on a Nintendo console. There's no point in developing or even porting a game if you don't think it will sell, and again this hurts the catalogue on Nintendo's consoles and so the spiral continues.

But not all of this is everyone else's doing. Nintendo aren't necessarily innocent bystanders in this shift. Unfortunately for them they are actually in a bit of an unenviable position. The success of the Wii demonstrated to them and to the industry what could be achieved if you tap into the market effectively. And it's clear that this strategy has been evident in how the company has been thinking. It is aware that these new users aren't as competent at games, or have the experience that others may have. But it also knows that it has a core loyal, and experienced fanbase. It's a tough spot to be in, and Nintendo unfortunately has ended up not really pleasing either party.

Take arguably Nintendo's greatest ever game - Ocarina of Time. When Nintendo decided to remake this game on the 3DS, they didn't do much to change the core gameplay, because when you have the highest rated game on Metacritic, you probably don't need to tweak it too much. But even to this title, they felt the need to tweak for the casuals. And so they included visible hints of what to do next if you were stuck on any particular part of the game. Because apparently the best game ever was too hard for millions of teenagers (and younger children) who completed it the first time around, and realising their mistake Nintendo felt the need to provide additional hints. More recent examples are the Luigi walkthroughs on New Super Mario Bros U after you failed a level a few times, and an idiot's guide to the level was presented to you just in case Nintendo thought abject failure wasn't enough humiliation for you.

Casual Gamers: Dictating the Success and Failure of Nintendo

But it's not even just the games, Nintendo's insistence on reminding me that I should probably take a break every 30 goddamn minutes of playing a Mario game is exhausting. I dread to think what the big wigs with the kid gloves would think if they knew I've gone through many a 5 hour stint solid in the dark, repeatedly dying whilst playing Dark Souls. Most probably in my pants. I'm sure it keeps them up at night - and yes I'm sorry for that mental image.

And on top of that they have released a console in the Wii U that smacks of middle ground uncertainty. It's looks and plays like a tablet game machine but with none of the accessibility or huge gaming catalogue. You see in their effort to create the Wii 2, they've tried to accommodate the newcomers, by making the console easy to use and straightforward - and it is. But so is a tablet, and in fact it's much quicker, you've probably already got one, and you can play Angry Birds on it. But these concessions for the casuals have hurt Nintendo's more loyal fans. The touchscreen controller has pushed up the cost of the machine, and can sometimes create a frustrating point of difference for developers rather than an intriguing one. This leaves the loyal fanbase dwindling in the vain hope of the sparse AAA Nintendo titles they have come to know and love. And that's enough to cause a lot of people to question that loyalty. Some will and have already cashed out for newer, shinier machines, with more promise.

Casual Success

So why throughout all of this do I stay loyal? Why through all of these missteps do I stick with Nintendo? Because believe it or not Nintendo has shown with the emergence of casual gamers exactly what they are all about. And that steadfast belief has paid off in certain areas.

Casual Gamers: Dictating the Success and Failure of Nintendo

So what has the casual gamer given Nintendo? Well to understand that you need to consider the full term "casual gamer". All of Nintendo's above mistakes have been when they have been focussed on the "casual" part, but their biggest successes have been when they've focussed on the "gamer" part.

For all it's criticism, Nintendo has always stuck to it's guns on a very simple principle. It is a games company. It makes games and games consoles. For gamers. Those priorities have always been there since the days of the NES, and it's that unrelenting philosophy that has given birth to some of the most memorable gaming moment of the last quarter of a century or so. The difficulties it has faced have always been when it's tried to please too many different types of gamers, and this is no more prevalent than when we consider the rise of the casual gamer during the Wii era.

And a philosophy like that should not be overlooked. It can be very easy in today's gaming world to be a sheep, go for the easy buck, and not dare to be different. Nintendo could have gone this way, and their latest console would be more a multimedia machine with bells and whistles, and less about gaming. But Nintendo believes that the reason we all play games is because of the games and nothing else. They are constantly looking for ways to innovate not only the games they produce, but the way we play games as well. Sometimes they win, and sometimes they lose, but for my money, a company with a goal and vision such as this should be applauded in our industry. As Peter Molyneux says, you can't write Nintendo off, because they have a proven track record of bouncing back with something new and exciting which is 100% gaming.

Casual Gamers: Dictating the Success and Failure of Nintendo

So whilst I belittle the Wii U a lot of the time (despite owning one myself and playing it frequently) it is a symbol of Nintendo doing what they always do - trying to appeal to gamers, be they casual or otherwise. Not even a vast swathe of different gamers halted Nintendo steadfast principles. It means their direction has become a little muddled of late, as pleasing everyone becomes an almost impossible balancing act. But the casual is proof that Nintendo will always hold the gamer in the highest regard.

And let's not forget of course that Nintendo have done a few things right in this respect. Securing unique hotly anticipated titles for Wii U like Bayonetta 2 and X is again Nintendo trying to appeal to gamers at large, and realising they can't rest on their laurels any more. And then of course we have the phenomenal success of the 3DS. Arguably the casual's handheld on the face of it. More gimmicky and less multi-functional and powerful than it's rival the Vita. But the reason it has worked? Because of the games - because of Nintendo putting gamers and their experiences first. Its a lesson Nintendo have taught themselves on how to make themselves popular and relevant in a stage in the company's life where their brand image is at one of it's lowest points. Whether of course they can turn around their console success will be a very different matter entirely.

Summary

So on the face of it the birth of the casual gamer, despite bringing remarkable success to Nintendo in terms of profits from the Wii, has been a curse on their success ever since the console launched. It has plagued their brand, which has caused them to lose customers, loyalty and developer interest. All of which are hurting their bottom line business. However when you look a bit deeper, the rise of the casual gamer has also been the acid test of Nintendo's nerve on their gaming philosophy. And it is a test they have passed with flying colours. This approach should be commended, and it's success can be seen in the likes of the performance of the 3DS - but it remains to be seen if this can be passed onto the Wii U

But what are your thoughts on the casual gamer? How else do you think they have impacted the gaming industry, and where do you see their future? Let us know your thoughts below.

Add a comment5 comments
Late  Apr. 7, 2014 at 12:04

I've been saying much the same for the last couple of years. Despite it's shortcomings in terms of power and AAA titles, the first Wii was a great machine. I had one - I think we all had one - and it thoroughly deserved it's successes. The "casual" or new (many of whom were old) gamers maybe stuck with it a bit longer than the "hardcore" gamers (mine was rarely turned on after the first year or so) but it brought something new to the market with it's focus on party play, motion controls, and just differentiating itself from the other consoles.
And part of it's success was down to it being the second console of a lot of gamers. It was a relatively cheap console, it's games were cheap, and it's games were different. If you've got an xbox or a ps3 there was arguably more reason to buy a wii then to buy the other console.

I've mocked the Wii U over the last year or two, and it is of course failing hard in it's sales - but lately I've been looking at it again. I bought my "next gen" console, and I've had it for a good few months now, and I've played most of the new stuff - and tbh I've not really seen anything new. I like it - don't get me wrong. But it's not like the step up from NES to SNES, from ps1 to ps2. The graphics are marginally better than their last gen counterparts but essentially the games aren't really any different. We're still getting our annual instalments of COD, FIFA, NFL, Assassin's Creed, etc. - all of which are available on 360, One, ps3, and ps4, and are largely indistinguishable from one to the other. Nothing's really changed.

The Wii U is continuing to fall in price, and is starting to build up a bit of a games catalogue - and is actually starting to look more appealing to me.
If I want a second console I've got to weigh up the £350 ps4 with it's handful of games that aren't much different to those on the xb1, against the £150 Wii U with it's fairly reasonable catalogue of games totally different to those on the xb1. Sure, the graphics aren't as good, and the hardware can't handle the newest fanciest engines, and developers aren't focussing on it too strongly - but that counts for little. Despite the ps4 clearly being a much better machine than the Wii U in almost all ways of measuring and comparing the two, I'm pretty certain I'd get more out of buying a Wii U at this stage than buying a ps4.

And that could be what saves the U. If it can corner the casual market and be second console for the hardcore market it could well end up outselling the two "proper" consoles. Again.

stevenjameshyde  Apr. 7, 2014 at 12:15

If you've got an xbox or a ps3 there was arguably more reason to buy a wii then to buy the other console.

So much this. Only since nowhere would take my old Wii as trade-in towards a PS4 have my eyes been opened to it's virtues as a gaming machine. Skyward Sword and Mario Galaxy, acquired super cheap thanks to the good people of HUKD, are two of the finest games I've ever played and an excellent change of pace when Dark Souls 2 gets too much for me

If I buy another console this gen it'll be a WiiU

Zeipher  Apr. 7, 2014 at 12:27

I bought my "next gen" console, and I've had it for a good few months now, and I've played most of the new stuff - and tbh I've not really seen anything new. I like it - don't get me wrong. But it's not like the step up from NES to SNES, from ps1 to ps2. The graphics are marginally better than their last gen counterparts but essentially the games aren't really any different.


I felt like this regarding the Xbox to Xbox 360. I played Burnout revenge, followed by Burnout Most wanted, and I remember feeling a little twinge of disappointment that I'd just paid out so much money to get little to no difference. Now, however, if you compare the XBoxOne to the original XBox, you see a massive jump. It's great to see developers get as much out of the machines as possible.

I think it's software that will provide the best graphics over time, rather than hardware.

Late  Apr. 7, 2014 at 12:36

I absolutely agree games on the xbox One will look much better in a few years than they currently do, as artists/developers/etc. get to grips with squeezing as much out of it as they can. I look at Tomb Raider on the 360 as a prime example (Legend vs reboot).
And that's entirely down to software, as you say, rather than the hardware being upgraded in any significant way in the intervening years.

But in terms of looking for something new in games, and bearing in mind I already have one current gen console, I maintain I'd get more from a Wii U than I would from a ps4. In the short term at least.

Zeipher  Apr. 7, 2014 at 18:45

I bought a Wii U on release, and I don't regret it one bit. I like having a new way to game, especially since I can get the Xbox/PS experience on my PC. The only real thing for me are the games, which is why I always end up picking a next gen machine.

Recently bought myself a PS4... which is currently unplugged because I have no decent games :(

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