Nintendo’s Marketing Missteps?

new super mario

Nintendo has quite a colorful history. From their roots as a manufacturer of playing cards to their explorations into love hotels, it’s been a long strange trip to build the Nintendo empire. Undoubtedly there have been many slipups along the way, and some quirky ideas that just didn’t work out, but over the past 30 years they’ve been able to continually innovate without many major failures (let’s not talk about Virtual Boy). Nintendo has secured their seat at the table for generations to come.

The last 30 years have brought many astounding successes, and I’d be hard pressed to assert that Nintendo doesn’t know what they’re doing. Despite my examples below, Nintendo has done many things right, and their approach has made it so that I and countless others have an incredibly high affinity for their brand and products. But over the past two years, there have been a number of questionable decisions that I can’t quite wrap my head around. It’s not to say that they were the wrong decisions, but at the very least they have made some perplexing choices. Here are a few examples of Nintendo’s marketing missteps.

Amiibo

If you have been living under a rock, Nintendo has released these new figures called amiibo. Essentially, they are little toys that also have limited functionality in certain games, the central game right now being Super Smash Bros for Wii U and 3ds. In Smash Bros, they allow users to rewrite data to and from the game; for select other games, amiibo just provide a quick small benefit of some kind such as an additional weapon or a new outfit. And yes, true to making things more complicated than they need to be, the plural form of the word amiibo is not amiibos, but simply amiibo.

OK, let’s not mince words: This is brilliant. I knew from the second they announced them that, providing they didn’t have any serious quality or distribution issues, they were going to be big. How did I know that? Because I, a person who has never owned an action figure in my life, wanted them. I didn’t just want them, I couldn’t wait for their release. I immediately picked up five of my favorite characters, and while I don’t plan on venturing into collection waters, I plan to pick up more along the way as my favorite characters are released.

I knew that if I wanted these, then everyone with an attachment to Nintendo products was going to want some of these. So far, that’s been the case: Nintendo has sold more than 5.7 million amiibos in just their first few months of existence. So why is this in the failure column?

Let’s just say that if the main creator of Super Smash Bros has trouble scoring the amiibo that he wants, then there’s a problem. How could Nintendo have underestimated demand by so much? Reports of insufficient stock of certain amiibo led to ridiculous scalping online, which meant that the real fans of Nintendo, the casual non-rich gamer, simply can’t afford to buy a toy of their favorite character. What’s worse is that this drop in supply has occurred in an incredibly short time frame; it’s not like these amiibo were sitting on store shelves for two years before Nintendo decided to axe production. No, many amiibo came and went in a matter of weeks, some in a matter of days. Orders were cancelled, and store shelves seemed to only feature the most common characters. It has been quite a mess thus far.

Some will rush to Nintendo’s defense, pointing out that they are not a toy manufacturer and thus should be given some latitude in their new venture, but while I agree with that sentiment, I still don’t understand how a company with a $50 billion war chest did not figure out the right number of products to manufacture. These little figures are insanely addicting, and Nintendo is missing out on even larger sales.

Rarity of special or limited editions

Yes, I’m aware that the word “limited” means that there won’t be an overabundance of these editions, but some recent examples of this really have me scratching my head.

Take a game like Bayonetta 2. I personally find both Bayonetta games to be among the best action games of all time, if not the best action games of all time. Yes, the story is pretty ridiculous, but the gameplay more than makes up for it. My affinity for that brand is very strong. In my experience, it seems that most people either love the game or hate it – sales are never impressive despite high quality gameplay and extremely positive review scores. It’s a challenging title as well, one that can often discourage casual games from experiencing all that it has to offer.

Nintendo knows this. They realize that the people willing to buy into the newest installment of the Bayonetta franchise are mostly people who feel a strong affinity for that brand. So why in the world did they decide not to release the fantastic special edition in North America? It just doesn’t make sense; in the case of a game with a cult following, wouldn’t you want to capitalize on demand by bringing deluxe versions to your customers? I can tell you firsthand that I would have bought the special edition in a heartbeat, and if comment sections of gaming websites are any indication, countless others would have as well. Of course, thanks to Nintendo’s wonderfully purposeful (read: no purpose at all) region locking, we can’t even import one if we were lucky enough to get our hands on a European copy.

Perplexing supply issues happened again with the release of the special edition for Hyrule Warriors. The special edition for North America was only released in extremely limited numbers at a single store in New York. Why did they offer only a few hundred copies (don’t know the official number, but it sold out almost immediately) of this collectible limited edition? On top of that, why in the world did they only offer those at single store in New York, essentially forcing anyone with an interest in it to pay outrageous prices on ebay, sometimes equaling 3 or 4 or even 5 times the original cost? If Nintendo had made a bunch of these limited editions, you better believe that the devoted fan base would have picked them up in a heartbeat.

There have been many examples of these shortages, but some even more recent examples are the Majora’s Mask 3d Limited Edition, and the Majora’s Mask Limited Edition New Nintendo 3ds XL. These both sold out faster than people could even react, effectively meaning that Zelda fans had zero chance of buying these special editions or consoles unless they’re willing to pay exorbitant prices on ebay. Why bother going through all the trouble of creating and marketing these special editions if you’re not even going to produce enough to meet the demand?

Club Nintendo

Nintendo’s reward program could be worse. It’s nice that they have it, as it means free games or products as a perk for buying Nintendo goods. However, there have been a slew of problems with it, and as a customer appreciation tool, it has failed. Nintendo apparently realizes this, as they have plans to close the doors on Club Nintendo in favor of a new yet-to-be-announced program.

I hesitate to be too harsh on Nintendo for this one. After all, it’s something they simply don’t have to do. While on the one hand I think that reward programs are a great way to potential drive additional future purchases and could easily pay for themselves, they still take a lot of work to coordinate and maintain.

Club Nintendo is yet another area where North America seems to be forgotten. Most recently, a soundtrack for the excellent A Link Between Worlds was made available on the European Club Nintendo site, but nothing of the sort is seen on the North American site. While I understand that different markets might have to receive different goods for a variety of reasons, and that there are other regions that are “worse” off than North America, I still find it perplexing that they don’t offer more of these unique items in stores across multiple regions. Heck, for a game like ALBW, I would actually pay money for a nice soundtrack! It’s got some of the best tunes out there, and I could listen to them for hours on end.

That brings up another question: Why not produce soundtracks for other games as well? Even if you weren’t going to give them away through CN, they could make good money by selling them through their official site. Nintendo games tend to be highly polished, including the music, and it puzzles me why they haven’t offered more in this area. NintendoLife even published an article identifying some of the best soundtracks that they’d buy (along with a poll), and even if they don’t completely line up with my own interests, I could definitely see paying money for several of them.

Nintendo 3, I mean 2ds

I’m still pretty shocked that this exists. Maybe it’s a fine piece of hardware; I’ve never held it in my hands and played around with it so I couldn’t tell you for sure. But I can give you some impressions that I know other people share: namely, this thing is ugly as sin. Who is this for?

Yes, it’s marketed toward the younger crowd that is playing games in the ds family, but I still ask, why? There’s a parental control feature on 3ds where you can disable the 3d slider, and the clamshell design is infinitely better to help keep screens in good condition than just having them all exposed to the world. After all, young kids are usually the hardest on their toys, so doesn’t that seem like a problem to have the device you’ve created for that market be so vulnerable? The argument could be made that it’s more durable since it doesn’t feature a clamshell design, but this device still seems strange to me.

Admittedly, it feels strange to write a critique on this since I’ve never used it, but I can safely say that I don’t understand this product. It is cheaper – I will give it that – but Nintendo hasn’t exactly been bragging about the sales of this model, and something tells me that they have good reason not to. It seems like a piece of tech that would have been appropriate and successful if it was released 10 years ago.

Eshop

Have you ever tried to buy games on the eshop? If so, then you probably know what I’m talking about. Most companies work to make the process as seemless as possible; Nintendo has opted for a different approach.

Buying games on the eshop takes skill and perseverance. OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but if nothing else it takes persistence. To begin with, Nintendo’s starting from behind due to their extremely slow operating system. They have improved speed slightly through various updates, but at the end of the day, their system moves much slower than the competition. In fact, it feels a bit like I’m on my old dial-up modem, back when I would type in a web address and then pick up a book for a minute while the page loaded. It’s that slow!

Given this limitation, they should focus on streamlining the process as much as possible. But it take click, after click, after click, after click, after click, to finally reach the point where you can download the game! Add in all the waiting time from the antiquated OS, and you’ve got frustrating experience.

To test this out, I clocked how long it took for me to buy a game on the eshop. I’m using the “A Link Between Worlds” edition of the 3ds XL. From turning on the system to being able to navigate in the eshop, it took about 55 seconds. I specifically highlighted the eshop icon before booting up so all I had to do was click the a button, and also employed an auto-signin feature, so I tried to cut as many corners and shave off as much time as possible.. I don’t see the game I want for the purpose of this exercise, so I search for “New super mario.” For some reason New Super Mario Bros 2 is the 7th choice, so I go over and click that. Then I click that I want to purchase it. Nope, turns out that because the icons are so tiny and not always clear, I clicked on the video for this game and not the actual game, so now I have to go back and search again. I go back, and I click on the same icon, and this time it lets me purchase for some reason. But nope, I have to add funds. I turn off the timer for this procedure, even though waiting for that is also painfully slow. Now it informs me about the ESRB rating, and I click Next. Then I have to click purchase. After that, I have to decide if I’d like to download it, and if I’d prefer to download now or later. The whole process, including the initial bootup time, took me about 3 and a half minutes, and that’s NOT including adding my payment method. Conversely, in the Playstation store, I can make one click to download, one to confirm, and I’m done. In the Apple App Store, I’m also able to click once, confirm, and then I’m done. Why in the world does Nintendo make their process so cumbersome?

Aside from functionality, it’s bewildering that they don’t have more classics available from previous generations. People are anxious to pay Nintendo a second and third time for the games that they already purchased and played in prior years (as well as those who want to experience classics for the first time), but they seem content to let that money fall through the cracks.

It takes time to make games available on the eshop. I get it. But for them not to take full advantage of the tremendous cash cow of games that they have in their vault, especially in an environment where their current home console is struggling to find an audience, is perplexing. Maybe they’ve already moved on to plan for the next console and are just trying to get through this Wii U mess (don’t get me wrong, I love my Wii U, but no amount of personal love can change the fact that it’s a commercial failure thus far). Nintendo’s always been a leader in innovation, so perhaps they’re just focusing on the next best thing. But something tells me we shouldn’t hold our breath for those N64 and Gamecube games we were promised.

Branding

Why would you call your new console the same name as the previous version?

To be fair, sometimes this does make sense. For example, it makes sense to call the next Playstation the PS4, as they’ve built that brand and consumers know exactly what the next number in the sequence signifies. But when you chose to eschew conventional wisdom and opt for a name that confuses even modern gamers, you are making a mistake. Wii U? What the heck is that?

I 100% sympathize with all the parents out there who were completely confused by this branding. Even to this day, I still feel like the name “Wii U” just sounds like an accessory to last gen’s Wii.

Nintendo thought they were being cute and clever with this one. Sadly, lightning doesn’t strike the same spot twice (wasn’t the name “Wii” a big enough gamble?), and they were wrong. If they wanted the Wii brand to be their flagship moving forward, they should have just simplified and called it Wii 2. Instead, they made an almost universally criticized decision to go with the U name, and likely lost many sales in the process.

Conclusion

I’ve listed just a few short commentaries on some of Nintendo’s decisions over the past few years, and it paints a curious picture. I have no doubt that Nintendo spends lots of money on market research and focus groups; I’m just not sure I agree with their recent decisions. I love Nintendo, so here’s hoping that 2015 brings better decisions and great success.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *