How Nintendo tries, and fails, to be Apple

Nintendo apple logo

It’s apparent Nintendo wants to replicate Apple’s approach to product cycles. Tweak a product slightly on a regular basis, sell the product at a favorable profit margin (instead of a loss), starts printing money, etc; that has certainly been working well for Apple, and for the most part Nintendo has been successful with that strategy as well with Nintendo Wii (which is more of a GameCube upgrade, cynically speaking) and the Nintendo DS/DSi/XL series.

That is, until now.

The iPad 2 is a marginal update compared to the original iPad. Yes, it’s thinner, lighter, boasts two cameras, a bigger hard drive, and has a faster processor. But other than that, there aren’t any major differences compared to the original iPad. The product launched earlier this year with much fanfare and has been selling like hotcakes every since.

The 3DS is also an update to the already popular Nintendo DSi. It features a stereoscopic (3D) display, a more powerful processor, as well as a series of much-needed software refinements. Unlike the iPad 2, however, the product launched earlier this year to cold shoulders and hasn’t been selling too well. The press (and the general public, by proxy) has since deemed the product as a failure, to the point where Nintendo has announced today massive-cuts not only for the 3DS, but also on the salary of the company’s president as well as the representative directors in an attempt to please the increasingly-disgruntled shareholders.

Though, just to provide some sort of perspective, the Nintendo 3DS did sell 4.3 million units globally in the past four months. In contrast, the original Nintendo DS sold 5.4 million units in the same duration that was also over the holiday season. It’s also worth noting that this isn’t the first time Nintendo is slashing prices shortly after a product’s launch. They did the same thing with the Nintendo 64, Gamecube, and yes, the Virtual Boy.

Both iPad 2 and the 3DS were created as updates of a previously-successful device, but why did the outcome of these two devices vary so much? One of the signs point to the 3DS’s hefty $250 price tag. Unlike the iPad 2, where despite the marginal technical upgrade, the price remained the same from its predecessor. The 3DS, however, started off with a premium price-tag of $250, a sharp jump from Nintendo DSi’s $170. The price hike implies 3DS to be a completely new device (even though it really, really isn’t), but moreso it exudes arrogance: you’ll buy it no matter the cost.

Of course, the demographic for both companies is different as well. A $499 entry-level iPad is ultimately more affordable to a full-time working hipster living in San Francisco than it is for a typical middle-schooler who relies on his monthly allowance for a $250 Nintendo 3DS. But even though both companies have their own die-hard, loyal fanbase, Apple tend to create products that cater to their “I’m a Mac” demographic while Nintendo continuously ignore their fans in their new products in hopes to expand their market share. As a result, the blue ocean has never been colder.

Then again, every cloud has a silver lining. This recent price cut may just be the alarm call needed for Nintendo to stop their stubbornness and finally get some work done. From what I’ve seen of the next-generation game console, Wii U seems to be another “minor upgrade” product to the current Nintendo Wii. Yet from the single-touch, non-portable tablet controller to the limited Internet support, the console can be so much more if only Nintendo gets more aggressive with the product, instead of sugar coating their complacency with half-hearted “That’s not what we’re about” excuses as usual.

There can only be so many comebacks before consumers give up. Apple came back with the iMac and never looked back. Can Nintendo do the same?


Image courtesy of Nexus404.com

Twilight Princess is better than Ocarina of Time

(This article contains minor spoilers for The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.)

Having never been a Nintendo 64 owner, I’ve never had the chance to play The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time until Nintendo upgraded the graphics and rereleased the game for the Nintendo 3DS earlier this month.

I guess that makes me a bit of a late bloomer, but at the same time, I’m fortunate because I get to experience the game for the first time with a fresh 2011 perspective. Because I’m not tied to any sense of nostalgia, I actually noticed a lot of issues with Ocarina of Time that slowly helped me realize why Twilight Princess, despite its disrepute among fans, is overall a better game in every conceivable way.

Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time 3D
Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

The reason I’m comparing the two games — as opposed to Wind Waker or any other Zelda title — is simple: Unlike Wind Waker, which features a Hyrule drowned beneath a vast ocean, the world and characters of Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess are quite similar.

To start, Ocarina of Time has more than its fair share of annoyances. First and foremost is Navi. She is rarely helpful. Like a sugar-addled child with ADHD, she zooms around willy-nilly, often flying over to random objects and calling attention to them, even though they’re of no importance.

By contrast, Midna actually has a personality and is tremendously likable. She’s mostly stays out of your way, but in the instances that the player gets stuck, Midna jumps in with helpful, precise advice about where to go and what to do. Navi offers only generic, idle chatter that generally amounts to something like “Hey, let’s go to the next dungeon!”

Some of the puzzles in Ocarina of Time really bothered me, too. I’m not talking about finding heart-container pieces and Gold Skulltulas. Such collectibles are par for the course in any Zelda. It’s the puzzles you have to solve in order to keep the story going that get to me.

The challenges seem arbitrary compared to Twilight Princess. I would have never in a million years guessed that playing the Song of Storms at the windmill would drain the well water or that I’d have to take a leap of faith by walking through the wall at the bottom the well.

The same goes for the Spirit Temple. After realizing that I need to become a kid in order to pass through the small hole, I hastily warped back to the Temple of Time. Only then did I realize that I needed to walk outside the Spirit Temple first in order to get Sheik to teach me the Requiem of Spirit. Without it, young Link isn’t allowed to pass through the Gerudo Fortress. In the end, I had to turn back into adult Link, warp back to the Spirit temple, reenter the temple, and exit the temple normally in order to initiate the cut scene with Sheik.

I know I probably acted too fast for my own good, but what player would trudge all the way back to the Temple of Time by foot when they could easily warp to the destination? It would’ve been fine if Nintendo had provided some kind of barrier or advice (i.e., an actual reason for Navi to interrupt me) against prematurely leaving the temple. In Twilight Princess, players are not able to warp inside of dungeons, period.

Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

The puzzles in Twilight Princess arise more organically. For example, when someone stole the medicine-soaked wooden statue, I instinctively knew to seek out the scent and locate it. People might think these puzzles are too straightforward, but at the very least they make sense.

I understand there’s an eight-year gap between the two original releases, but playing Ocarina of Time makes me appreciate what a great game Twilight Princess really is and why it deserves more recognition than it gets. When I finally returned to Twilight Princess after finishing Ocarina of Time, the detailed hubbub of the castle’s town market left me speechless.

Twilight Princess’ art direction is unbelievable. The fully developed characters populate a vast world and fill out a compelling story. The dungeons are challenging, and the minigames are bountiful. And best of all, it has the series’ most epic Ganondorf showdown. Players have always yearned for a darker, more mature Zelda game, and with Twilight Princess, Nintendo delivered.

Twilight Princess seems to correct many of Ocarina of Time’s misses while simultaneously hitting all the right notes with the things it changes. So what is keeping it from being an all-time fan favorite? Is it because it’s too similar to Ocarina of Time? Or is it because Ocarina of Time was the first encounter fans had with an open-ended Zelda experience? Maybe it’s just plain, old franchise fatigue.

I’m not saying Ocarina of Time is a bad game by any means. But playing Ocarina of Time so far after its original release simply made me more aware of the improvements Nintendo implemented with each successive Zelda. That said, it has been five years since Twilight Princess came out, and I am eager to see how Nintendo will take another step forward with the upcoming Skyward Sword.

Update: This post has since been featured on the front page at Bitmob.com!

Amateur Advice: 5 Things Nintendo Needs to Do

Amateur Advice is a new, on-going series on my advice to gaming companies and the overall tech industry from someone outside the fence, without the typical “industry” experience and with nothing to lose. In this post, we take a quick look on what Nintendo is trying to achieve and what they need to do to get there.

In the E3 media presentation this year, Nintendo unveiled their next generation gaming console named the Nintendo Wii U. They mentioned that while they brought over many casual, nontraditional gamers onto the Nintendo Wii, they now want to bridge the gap between casual and hardcore gamers with the new console. So, in a sense, what Sony and Microsoft have been doing but in reverse order.

The Nintendo Wii U controller has a 6.2″ touch screen in the middle of an otherwise traditional controller. Users are able to use the touch screen as a supplementary screen to the game they’re currently playing or to transfer the visuals from the television over to the controller. The controller can be used to play games by itself, but it is not meant to be used as a portable device and will not function outside of the home console’s reach.

Whereas we understood that both the Nintendo DS and Nintendo Wii were derived from the blue ocean strategy, or the concept of reaching for a broader audience instead of fighting over an existing and shrinking demographic, we have no idea what the Nintendo Wii U is about. Does the blue ocean strategy still apply? If not, how is this different from the now-motion-control-enabled PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360? In what way is the Nintendo Wii U not another me-too product?

With Nintendo raising so many questions while answering so few in their 80-minute presentation, it’s not surprising that many of us are now more confused (and in turn skeptical) than ever. Here are my thoughts on the five things Nintendo needs to do to get back on track:

  1. Rebuild the story and the message you’re trying to convey. Explain to us the bigger picture and how the Nintendo Wii U can deliver. The blue ocean strategy was an excellent way to explain why we needed a stylus with the Nintendo DS and why the Wii controller looked like a remote. Give us the backstory on why the touch screen is essential on the new controller and ultimate why we should care.

  2. Marketing. While it’s sounds pretty absurd to name the console with two one-syllable, unrelating words, it’s slightly less absurd if people think of it as a wordplay of Wii 2. Maybe the logo animation should start with Wii 2 with the 2 turning sideways and into a capitalized U? Whatever it may be, do the homework to find out what’s the best way to communicate the brand. Remember, it takes one bad move for consumers to dismiss a product regardless of features or quality.

  3. Don’t get complacent. You hit a home run when it came to the Nintendo Wii, but that’s because consumers never had motion control gaming before. But the Wii U is a lot more similar to the original Wii in terms of user experience, as there are already a lot of abandoned and/or inactive Wii owners. If anything, Nintendo has their work cut out for them because of that.

  4. Go out of your way for third-party developers. The era of “a good product will sell itself” is over. It’s no longer enough to make the platform flexible and expect developers to come knocking on the door. That’s because other developers have been developing for other platforms for years, and there needs to be an incentive to them to return to Nintendo’s console. Most games are multiplatform these days and Nintendo needs to do whatever it takes to ensure every multiplatform game will make their way to their new console.

  5. Make the controller portable. The controller certain looks like an iPad, so why not make the Wii U controller portable? If Nintendo is going to take a risk, they might as well take a real one. Imagine reading an ebook from Amazon Kindle or playing Plants vs. Zombieson the way to work; there are huge opportunities if the controller is integrated with the Nintendo eShop. Not only will that catapult the Nintendo eShop into the mainstream audience (akin to the blue ocean strategy), but it will also be the only mobile device with a traditional button layout — something mobile action games sorely need.

    And don’t worry about the Nintendo Wii U controller cannibalizing the sale of the Nintendo 3DS. Apple’s iPhone and iPad coexist very well because the two devices offer very different experiences. Same goes for the Wii U controller and Nintendo 3DS. They have their own unique features (one has 3D while the other one has a bigger screen) and they will certainly find their own place in time.

So those are the five things Nintendo needs to do in order for their next console to succeed, but what do you think? What can Nintendo do to make their next console a success? Do you think they’re on the right track or do you think it’s ultimately a lost cause?

E3 2011: Nevermind who won…the question is: "Where are we going?"

I realized I’d been on Twitter way too long when I started fuming on this one, single tweet that read: “Hands down, Sony won this year’s E3.” What is that…36 characters? Hardly worth losing a night’s sleep over. Yet there I was…just absolutely incensed and wondering what gave that person the right to say such a thing.

I watched all three media presentations from Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo. But honestly, who cares who wins in E3 anymore?

These presentations ran like the Academy Awards. Different game developers got up on stage, read their cheesy lines, showed the videos, and filled the remaining, awkward silence with a “joke” or two before the eerie woman with the answering-machine voice introduced the next guest. Rinse and repeat. That’s what these presentations are.

Of course, the audience is mostly interested in the products, and I’m not sure what to make of most of those this year. Microsoft largely focused on Kinect, and, specifically, voice recognition. I don’t have an Xbox 360, so I might not be seeing the entire picture here…but why should video-game experiences be based on voice-controlled menu navigation or gestured-driven gun construction? Like Adam Sessler had previously said in his soapbox podcast, why is gaming constantly trying to push the envelope to where it doesn’t need to be pushed?

Same thing with Sony’s presentation, where they pushed 3D in a very big way. Every 10 minutes or so, they told the audience to “please put on your 3D glasses now.” They’re even releasing a PlayStation branded 3D television. Yet in all of the gameplay videos and demonstrations, I have yet to see any evidence why 3D gaming is a must-have instead of a nice-to-have.

And then there are the hardware announcements:

  • The PlayStation Vita. It’s basically a Wifi and 3G enabled PSP, but with better graphics, a touch screen, front and back camera, and…a rear touch pad? Again, Sony has failed to answer why I need a rear touch pad. To make the mountains go higher? How is that taking gameplay to the next level?
     
  • Nintendo announced the successor to Wii, named the WiiU; except, is it really a successor? Or is the new controller the only feature? This device has a 6.2″ screen, which provides players with a place to view secondary information or allows them to switch the output from T.V. to controller. But why does any of that matter if I can’t use the controller as a portable, iPad-like device? And just who asked for these very features? Why should we care?

These presentations are like watching Lost. Instead of providing answers, I’m left with more questions. “Who won E3 this year?” I honestly don’t care because I’m too busy trying to find out where these E3 presentations are taking us.

Update: This post has since been featured on Bitmob.com front page!

Fine, I'll write about the 3DS

As much as I was curious about the Nintendo 3DS, I never thought I would actually buy one, much less on launch day. I did, however, play with the idea of buying the system and putting it up on eBay. Somewhere in my head I had the idea that the 3DS was going to sell like hotcakes, or specifically like the Nintendo Wii, and that it was going to be an easy way to make a quick buck. I was sure the extra $20 or whatever would surely propel me out of poverty and into upper-class status, complete with a monocle and top hat.

But unlike the Nintendo Wii, the systems never completely sold out. The economy was also not doing as well as a few years back comparing to the Wii launch. Minutes after the purchase and my tell-tale heart began whispering, daring me to open the 3DS.

Come on, you might as well.

You know you want to.

…Fine.

But only so I can write about it.

3DS: Take a Look Inside

No doubt about it, the biggest feature about the Nintendo 3DS is the ability to see 3D without the need to wear special glasses. And on that level it works really well. But it takes me half a second or so for my eyes to adapt everytime I switch from looking at real life objects and the 3DS display. The difference is even more prominent when I look in-between the 3DS display and a computer monitor.

Maybe I’m just getting old.

And the interesting thing about the 3D technology is that it’s not recommended to children under seven. Since their eyesights aren’t fully developed at that age, Nintendo warns that seeing the 3D images may permanently damage their eyesights, and they’re not shy to tell you over and over about it. From instruction manuals to parental settings to the permanent icon in the home menu, it’s hard to ignore all the warning labels Nintendo is spamming on its own device. We get it, you don’t want to get sued.

It’d be interesting to see how Nintendo will keeping kids under 7, a key demographic on any level, from using the 3D technology. “There’s a new Pokemon 3D coming out! But too bad I’m under 7 and the warning label says to not use it. I guess I’ll just have to wait until I turn 8.” Right.

“This is pointles”

Another cool thing about the Nintendo 3DS is that Nintendo seems to finally understand the need to work with and not against the internet. Instead of having friend codes for each and every game in the DS, the Nintendo 3DS has a single 12-digit code and you can manage your universal friend list at a centralized place to manage. Yep! Universal friend list!

I was quick to realize that just because you have friends on your friend list doesn’t mean you can actually communicate with them. At the time of writing, there is no way to send a message to your friends on the 3DS beside posting a public status update for all your friends to see. And by status update I really mean a 16-character line of text.

DS compatibility

A lot of people have already complained about the upsampling quality of DS games to the current 3DS, but personally I don’t think it’s a big issue. From Animal Crossing: Wild World to Super Mario Bros. 64 to The New Super Mario Bros., I’m not noticing a huge sacrifice in graphics quality. In fact, when I do run in native mode (by pressing Start + Select when launching the DS game), I find the original screen size a bit too small.

These are just a few things I’ve noticed from playing the 3DS in the past few days. Did you get the new 3DS? How are you liking it? Tell me your experience by leaving a comment below, I’d love to hear what you think!