I don’t know if any of you have heard of Sean Malstrom, but if you haven’t, let me introduce him. Malstrom was one of the staunch defenders of Nintendo’s initial marketing strategy with the Wii. While the so-called “hardcore” were afraid that Nintendo’s new direction would alienate them, Malstrom heralded the Wii’s direction as the return to Nintendo’s glory days. Simplicity, ease of use, games focused on one thing: delivering fun. A self-proclaimed classic gamer, Malstrom’s favorite games for the Wii are Wii Sports and New Super Mario Bros. Wii.
He’s sort of stopped singing this tune after witnessing much of the Wii’s more recent direction – more GameCube-like software, very few games that actually fully embrace motion controls, a drought of “classic-style” software when everybody knows it’s Nintendo’s strong suit. While I personally don’t see eye-to-eye with him on a lot of issues, namely his view that games like Super Mario Galaxy were franchise failures or bad pieces of software in general, I can definitely sympathize with him on one key subject: the modern idea of “core gamers” is a total myth.
There’s this idea going around that “core gamers” want a few things from their games:
- Cutting-edge 3D/HD graphics
- “Mature” presentations (whatever that means)
- Online multiplayer
- Deep stories
- Tons of hours of gameplay that require a large playtime investment per session
While I won’t argue that gamers in general have these preconceptions, the people who market them definitely do. Walk into any game store – almost all of the games that are heavily marketed to “core gamers” have these qualities. You can probably cross “mature presentations” off the list for a lot of people, but it’s still a factor that’s clearly extremely influential in game-making circles.
Interestingly, Nintendo hasn’t exactly fully embraced any of these directions – Mario Galaxy has great graphics, but the Wii wasn’t designed to push graphical power to its limits, it’s definitely not wrapped up in trying to come off as “mature,” there’s no online multiplayer or deep story to speak of, and each of the courses is designed so that you can grab one or two Stars and put it down if you feel like it.
What Nintendo does seem to be doing, however, is creating a separate “core” myth – that “core” games are made in 3D. You can tell this from their direction with the Mario series: there wasn’t a real Super Mario Bros. game for almost 15 years! Instead, we got Super Mario 64 and Sunshine, which while I loved both definitely weren’t Super Mario Bros. Nintendo seems to have spent the last decade or so thinking that 3D Mario is the new core Mario, and that they don’t need Super Mario Bros. anymore.
People forget that Nintendo fans were not first born on the NES. They were actually born in the arcades and on the Atari and Colecovision (and other similar consoles). If you accept this as the original Core Market for Nintendo, then the NES and even SNES make sense. If you loved games like Donkey Kong and its spiritual sequel Mario Brothers, then the game of Super Mario Brothers and its sequels would satisfy you.
Mario wasn’t the only platformer. There was Pitfall. On computere, there were games like Montezuma’s Revenge and Jumpman. The original video game audience gravitated to these particular games. Most of these ended up being the Core Nintendo Audience that was the momentum behind the NES.
Over the decades, this Core Gaming Audience became under served and eventually abandoned. There was less and less reason for this audience to buy future game consoles.
Malstrom argues that this is far from the case – that this actually constitutes a slap in the face to the real “core gaming audience,” the ones who loved the NES and SNES Super Mario Bros. and are eager for more, but felt alienated by the new direction taken with the 3D games. He cites the massive decline in sales between the classic NES/SNES and the 3D-oriented N64 and GameCube as well as the equally massive consumer response to New Super Mario Bros. and its Wii sequel – the “core audience” of the 80s and 90s is still alive and well; they’re just waiting for Nintendo to give them the games they really want.
With the 3DS, Malstrom sees that Nintendo is going back to its backstabbing ways, abandoning these gamers yet again by making a system whose entire philosophy is oriented around the 3D direction that kept them away from the N64 and GameCube, by prioritizing 3D Mario over another New Super Mario Bros., which is clearly in higher demand. And I have to say, I completely agree. Nintendo’s got to be batshit insane to keep ignoring the gold mine they’ve been sitting on all these years.
If you bought the Wii for 2d Mario, you’d be equally as distressed. The 3DS direction would scare you away. You’d look at the control configuration and realize you cannot play 2d Mario with the odd positioning of the D-pad. And even if Nintendo put out the best 2d Mario ever for the 3DS, it would just be one game among a sea of 3d games. Is a 3DS worth buying for one game and one game only? Not at the ridiculous price the 3DS is at.
They’ve had at least a year and a half to work on a new Super Mario Bros. title – a good head start on creating a 3D Mario, even – and yet they have nothing to show for it so far. Maybe it’s coming to Café, in which case I’ll have to give Nintendo major props for putting their biggest fans first when building games for their next console, but the fact of the matter is that someone who feels like they’re getting left behind and thought Nintendo was going to finally start focusing on them again is sure to read this as just more attention to 3D while forgetting about the core customer.
The reason why this is the Core Market and not a ‘new’ market is due to how fast it sold. With the example of Super Mario Brothers 5, a new market would have bought the game slowly. New markets are always ‘cold markets’. However, this did not occur. The sales explosion indicates it was a ‘warm market’. It means that there were people waiting for this game for quite some time, and they all rushed to buy it. To give you an idea of how strong a game like Super Mario Brothers 5 was in relation to the world, it is the best selling home console game in Japan in the past twenty five years. There is no way all these new gamers could appear, like overnight, and buy the game at once.
The Core Market for Nintendo is not N64 or Gamecube games. The Core Market for Nintendo is arcade games and NES-esque games.
The success of the Wii is not the rise of the Expanded Market. It was the return of the original Core Market. Since the Wii and DS were designed to return to the original values of video games, it resulted in the return of that Core Market.
Now, I won’t go so far as to propose that Nintendo stop making 3D Mario because it “doesn’t sell” – it clearly has a lot of value for a same-console sequel to secure over 6 million players, nearly keeping pace with the sales of the original during its first year – but I do think that they should start making more Super Mario Bros., or at least games more in the vein of arcade classics like Donkey Kong, and they’d better do it fast, or else they may lose the core crowd – the real core crowd that built up Nintendo into a gaming legend in the first place – forever.
Not only will the Wii audience not buy the next Nintendo console, they no longer trust Nintendo. This is very different from 2004 [when Nintendo unveiled the Revolution]. They used to trust Nintendo. That trust was destroyed during how badly Nintendo handled the Wii. I do not think many of these people will buy a Nintendo console again.
Anyone else in the house who grew up with gaming in the 80s and early 90s who can relate to this? (I know I’m not the best representative, since my first home console was the N64, but my first experiences were with the Super Mario Bros. games for the NES.) Now is the perfect time to have your voice heard.
Source: Malstrom’s Articles