Saturday Soapbox: Nintendo's creative decline

The 3DS' woes are part of a broader problem that remains unaddressed.

It's been an unhappy 48 hours for Nintendo. The 3DS price is being cut by a third, Satoru Iwata's cut his own salary by half, and shareholders have cut the Kyoto company's share price by a double-digit percentage.

There are a lot of things that bother me about this. For one thing there's personal loyalty: I grew up playing Super Nintendo games, I bought a Japanese GameCube on 14th September 2001, I banged the drum for Wii Sports back when everyone was dismissing it as a mini-game compilation, and while my reasons were mostly to do with residual playground bias, I was one of the only people who didn't declare Nintendo mad when it first revealed that its next handheld after the Game Boy Advance would have two screens.

At the time I didn't really understand why the DS was a good idea, but now with the benefit of hindsight I do.

Whether by accident or design (I suspect a bit of both), the Nintendo DS and Wii succeeded - just as PlayStation had before them - by tapping into a latent market; they won their millions of customers because their millions of customers were out there and ready to be won, and DS and Wii were the right systems at the right time.

It's no coincidence that your aunt bought a DS a few years after she learned to do email.

The special thing that Nintendo did wasn't "being Nintendo" or even being good at game design, although those things were helpful - it was designing consoles and software that appealed to lapsed gamers and a rising tide of more technologically amenable women and grown-ups.

It's no coincidence that your aunt bought a DS a few years after she learned to do email. Learning to do email trained her to accept technologies that she had previously never understood and even dismissed, and across these broadened horizons Nintendo handsomely marched at just the right moment.

But the one thing that bothers me more than any other is that the failure of the 3DS - and right now it is a failure, although I hope it finds success - is part of a deeper, more widespread malaise that has been hiding in plain sight for several years: Nintendo has lost its mojo.

First things first, it is a terrible example of a modern electronic entertainment device. It doesn't connect to modern wireless networks. It costs - or at least did cost - more than far more powerful and elaborate alternatives with which it directly competes. It has a single USP - its large, glasses-free 3D screen - and yet it requires software to allow for its absence, so nothing is designed to use it imaginatively.

Say what you like about 3D films - at least when that dismembered penis floats across the foreground in Piranha 3D, it does so with commitment.

But that isn't the problem. The problem is that the huge, evergreen sales of games like Wii Fit, Mario Kart and Super Mario Bros. have masked a significant decline in Nintendo's creativity.

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