On Nintendo

Stories like this one mystify me. Just look at the headline: “Nintendo’s Fall.” Now, far be it from me to question the experience and perspective that writer Doug Perry — a fixture in the gaming media for well over a decade — has, but I tend to scratch my head every time one of these “Wow, remember when Nintendo wasn’t doing so well?” pieces pops up.

The fact is, Nintendo’s never done anything but well. It’s as though people remember the years between 1996 and 2006 (AKA the Nintendo 64 and GameCube years) as some sort of Dark Age for the company.

Yeah, it’s true that Nintendo didn’t deliver hardware with the same level of technological advancement as the competition. The N64 and the GameCube were monuments to Nintendo’s notorious control-freak nature, in an age where weird proprietary media formats and bizarro peripherals were suddenly falling out of favor, and where third-party publishers had options that didn’t involve being handcuffed to draconian corporate policies.

And no one can deny that Nintendo kept a relatively lackluster game library, particularly in terms of third-party software. We got our requisite awesome Mario, Zelda, and (sometimes) Metroid games, as well as the occasional third-party gem — but that stuff started to sound less and less cool over the years, with growing competition from new franchises like Metal Gear Solid, Ratchet & Clank, Halo, Gears of War, and so forth. This — more than any other factor — put Nintendo in the dreaded less-than-first place for the fifth- and sixth-generation console wars (and mind you, I’m just talking about the U.S., where people actually bought the Xbox).

But Nintendo did not — contrary to what the headline of Perry’s article implies — fall. Never once did the periodic prediction of a software-only future (a la Sega) ever come close to reality. No, despite the heaping pile of fanboy console war conjecture, Nintendo’s consistently been the healthiest first-party gaming giant of them all. Pretty astounding, considering the company’s 120-year history.

Did you know that Nintendo — in the decades since it first went public in 1962 — only posted one quarterly net loss? It was back in 2003, and you can read about it here or here (side note: Nintendo made up for the loss in short order by slashing hardware prices and selling a gazillion GameCubes). And back in mid-2005, when GameCube and GBA sales had slowed down (not too alarming, as the then-current hardware cycle was almost over), Nintendo reported a 78.5 percent dip in operating profit — and still wound up profiting during said quarter. Now, I’m no industry analyst, but if those figures — and this tidy summary of Nintendo’s last three years’ worth of finances — are as accurate as I understand, Nintendo’s never stood on anything but solid ground.

And, really, when you look at the Wii today, do you see anything different? It’s yet another comparatively underpowered console with an offbeat control mechanism and a software library of questionable quality (aside from — yep — a handful of first-party games and the odd third-party media darling). The difference: Nintendo found a much more successful marketing angle (AKA “Who cares about these slavering console-warmongers, let’s sell this thing to soccer moms and grandpas!”) and ran with it.

In conclusion: I know people don’t look on the N64/GameCube era too fondly, with legitimate reason. But if you think the comparative quality of those systems’ technology and software equate to Nintendo “falling,” you’re remembering it wrong.



22 Responses to “ “On Nintendo”

  1. […] Edge Online takes a look at what it calls “Nintendo’s Fall.” Which has spurned a response from Geekbox which contests that Nintendo has always done well, just perhaps not as well. However, […]

  2. beelzebubble says:

    did i miss the part where you mentioned there would be no ep this week? i cant figure out why so often there is no mention made of a week being skipped and the fan base is left to check the site every day to see if a new ep is out of or not..

  3. Roy D says:

    wow i actually said Perfect Dark zero….
    DURRRRR I MEANT PERFECT DARK >:( zero was terrible..

  4. Roy D says:

    I agree. Although Nintendo didn’t do so well in sales and third party games, the N64 still remains my favourite console. Perfect Dark Zero, Banjo Koozie, Mario Kart 64, Super Mario 64, Goldeneye, Paper Mario the N64 had some KILLER games. Gamecube was still pretty solid even though it sold like crap compared to the PS2. Nintendo really has never been bad, you’re totally right Ryan.

  5. JamesPatrick says:

    People forget that negative feelings towards Nintendo is nothing new. It didn’t suddenly appear when the Wii was announced. Or even because of the things they did during the N64 and Cube days.

    Negative feelings toward Nintendo have existed since the Sega days.

    Nintendo falling from “grace” or whatever as some people phrase it “in the hearts and minds of gamers” is silly. Nintendo is doing what they’ve always done. Mario Paint, Mario Teaches Typing, Mario is Missing, the Gameboy Camera and Printer, the virtual boy, et al.

    As Ryan says. Nintendo has always made money. They are a very well run company. And Sony, and Microsoft on a couple of occasions have even said they aim to be at where Nintendo is now.

    I myself have always loved Nintendo systems, and preferred them overall in every console race since the NES. But I have also always played games primarily on the PC so that explains why I didn’t notice or care about the lack of games on the N64 and Gamecube. (I also had parents when I was younger who only let me get a game for Christmas and my Birthday, 2 a year)

  6. Andres says:

    @Tom

    I came here to make the same point, re: Pokémon and the Game Boy line, except I wanted to mention that not only did Nintendo have a healthy home console business as Ryan wrote, but that they had an absolutely booming portable business at the time.

    In any case, as far as I know, the Pokemon franchise’s mega success has been considered on a separate profit/loss sheet from the mother company since ’98 when the Pokemon Company was formed. So it was mostly a relevant point of argument in the N64 era, not the Gamecube era.

  7. Vertrick says:

    @Clint

    I think you’re missing the article’s point with regards to the hardware.

    As a graphics programmer, you’re drawing a line that is not typically drawn in practice. All components are linked – if storage is a bottleneck, it doesn’t matter if my graphics hardware can handle higher resolution textures, has better filtering or anti-aliasing. If it takes an inordinate amount of work to fit those higher resolution textures on my permanent media, I’m not going to use them because of the work involved. It’s like building a PC with a brand new GPU and then sticking a 128 MB hard drive in it. I’m still running 10 year old games, even if the PC could theoretically do much better.

    See the port of Resident Evil (2 I think?). The devs jumped through insane hoops to compress that content into a cart – they mostly succeeded, but it meant that developing that sort of title wasn’t worth the effort in the long run. Note the lack of titles like RE for the N64.

    Long story short: s**t in, s**t out. No amount of filtering or extra graphics hinky makes up for bad input (very low resolution textures). Sure, some companies made the N64 sing by playing to its strengths, but they were rare (pun intended). In general, the N64 was bottlenecked by its storage, making it an inferior piece of hardware overall.

    As far as the GameCube, that’s up for debate. I think the PS2’s success was more riding the coattails of the PS1’s success than storage space benefits. Why bother crunching my data into a mini-DVD when the PS2 had a larger install base anyway?

  8. Clint says:

    I agree with the article, except when it comes to the graphical power of the N64 and GameCube. The N64 was well beyond the competition in raw graphical power. What makes people sometimes forget that is, because of its limiting cartridge format, it couldn’t display high resolution rerendered images or videos like the Playstation could. But this is not a graphics issue, it’s a storage issue. If Metal Gear Solid were made for the N64, the in-game graphics would have looked much better: more polygons, better textures, lighting, etc. With the GameCube we have the same situation, but to a lesser extent. The Playstation 2 couldn’t display as many polygons, and had the infamous issue with jaggies. While the GameCube was significantly more powerful, it was edged out by the Xbox. But in both cases, each system was not underpowered by any stretch of the imagination.

    What’s more interesting is this: for the last several generations, the cheapest, least powerful system has taken the cake: PS1, PS2, and W

  9. Javier b says:

    I’m not sure about the whole 2nd party thing. I tried looking it up, but it seems the only people who says 2nd party is a developer owned by a first party are non industry peeps. I used the term in this way, but now I don’t know what it means…

  10. Chris Ralph says:

    I didnt read article post ver. 1.0 but it sounds like Goldeneye and Perfect Dark were discussed. And alothough I think Ry-dawg is awesome, he would be wrong here…a 2nd party is generally what in house dev teams are…this is how me and friends have always known it…now i could be wrong, but judging from forum posts im not

    BUT! i agree with the artcle as a whole, Though the N64 and CUBE wernt that amazing, theyre not different then the Wii is now….infact the Cube was much more close in terms of power to the PS2 then the Wii is to the current competition….

    all the same leave it to the master of spreadsheets to tear the article to shreads 🙂

  11. […] how Sony is falling in this console generation. I would love to get into this topic some more, but Ryan Scott already took the time to explain my view on the article. I suggest you read […]

  12. Roger says:

    The second party is absolutely not the consumer. Second parties are developers owned by the publisher. Third parties have no relationship with the first party, ie. Nintendo.

  13. karen says:

    Great read, Ryan.

    @Tom
    “If it weren’t for X, then [insert company] would’ve dissipated/disappeared/failed.” Though your point is valid, it’s difficult to exactly pin-point and prove what was item was the actual Saving Throw. I mean, the same claim applies to a lot of things; if it weren’t for Halo, then Xbox would’ve failed; if it weren’t for the awesome homo-erotic beach volleyball scene, then Top Gun would’ve tanked. It’s always easy to say and casually claim what saved a company from a sadder fate, but in the end, no one knows what would’ve happened in these alternate timelines and “what if” stories.

    Man, Top Gun was awesome.

  14. Tom says:

    Sorry… I agree with the article. If it weren’t for Pokemon and the Gameboy, Nintendo as we know it could have easily disappeared in the early 2000s.

  15. […] post by The Geekbox […]

  16. Seth says:

    Very well written article. While I don’t agree with the direction Nintendo has gone, I certainly cannot deny them their successes.

  17. Ryan Scott says:

    scot: Yeah, you’re right about GoldenEye and Eternal Darkness, obviously — my bad. Well, they were DEVELOPED external from Nintendo, at any rate. 🙂 I’ve edited the story to remove those references; they weren’t essential to the overall point anyway.

    Also — and correct me if I’m wrong — “second party” refers to consumers, NOT to publisher-owned developers. The way I’ve always understood it, it’s basically like a transaction — the console publisher is the first party, the consumer is the second party, and any outside developer/publisher is a third party.

  18. Joe says:

    I wouldn’t dare prophesy the fall of Nintendo anytime soon, but I will say that they are certainly not catering to me or people like me.

  19. hello says:

    While you are right in your main argument you are wrong on one point, N64 and Gamecube were technologically superior to their PS counterparts, the only thing were the PS-consoles were technologically superior was that PS1 supported CD’s and PS2 had DVD playback

  20. scot says:

    I hate to be the one to burst your bubble on this one Ryan, but you sir are just plain wrong. Goldeneye and Eternal Darkness were not actually third party games. They were second party games. Much like Microsoft currently “owns” Rare these days, Nintendo “owned” Rare and Silicon Knights. Both titles were published by Nintendo at the very least. Other than that, you are 100% correct. Nintendo has always been healthy, and to my knowledge, they’ve never sold a console at a loss either. Which is probably why they remained healthy during those “lean” GCN and N64 years. I think some of this discussion would be well played on the Geekbox. Do it up yo!

  21. lwelyk says:

    THANK YOU, I’ve been saying this for years. No one ever listens.

  22. Have to agree with you there, Ryan.
    Nintendo has ALWAYS one pretty well.

    Ironically, when I look back at my most favorite Nintendo games ever, a lot of them come from the GCN and N64.

    People whine that Nintendo has fallen out of hardcore eyes with the Wii, but the fact is that they’re producing just as many, if not MORE, 1st party core games on Wii than they were on GCN. There’s just a LOT more casual games and a lot less core 3rd party titles. Even THEN when a gem 3rd party title comes, half the time they get ignored in sales. It’s sad.

    But yea, Nintendo sure as hell isn’t perfect, but as a whole, as a company, they’ve never let me down, they’re never “fallen from grace” in my eyes. They just stumble now and again like everyone else.

  23. dfudfgud says:

    N64 was in 2nd place during that generation, hardly last. Did you forget about the Sega Saturn or 3DO or Jaguar?

  24. Chris O says:

    Thanks for the other side of the coin with this. I pretty much agree with you but its easy to forget with all the hate that is/was thrown at Nintendo during the N64/Gamecube era.

  25. Topher says:

    Think you’re reading into it too much. I think the “falling” here refers more to…well not being #1. Quite honestly, with Nintendo’s pedigree, anything but #1 SHOULD have been considered a failure to them. (and I’m sure it was…despite still being a profitable business) The N64/Gamecube werent underpowered..quite the opposite (though the N64’s cartridge format obviously held it back in some ways), but basically Nintendo became #1 again when it STOPPED trying to keep up graphically. Let’s see what part 2 of the article says before we judge the writer too much.

Leave a Reply