It doesn’t feel that long ago when Nintendo was on top of the world. With the Wii and the DS becoming huge mainstream hits since they were released, over time Nintendo became a seemingly unstoppable titan of the industry, raking in massive profits over the past half-decade. Just last year, commercial hits like “Super Mario Galaxy 2,” “Donkey Kong Country Returns” and “Just Dance 2” made it look like the Wii was still going strong.
However, this year has shown that no company is unshakable: Nintendo has had a fairly shocking reversal of fortune as sales for its products have been down across the board. With Wii sales slowly diminishing and the 3DS’s inability to gain traction in the market since its launch in March, Nintendo’s profits have been shrinking fast. The 3DS did so poorly out of the gate Nintendo cut the price from $250 to $180 this August — one of the quickest price drops in recent memory. Stockholders in the company have been so alarmed that they suggested that Nintendo should think about developing Pokémon for the iPhone, a pipe dream that will likely never happen.
So what’s the problem? What has happened to make Nintendo look so dire all of a sudden? Let’s look at the 3DS first. Many people in the industry have speculated that the market for iPhone games has become so large that consumers don’t want to buy a dedicated gaming handheld anymore (like the 3DS). Others think the name 3DS is too similar to DS, and casual shoppers don’t realize that the 3DS has completely new and improved technology over the regular DS. And then there’s the issue of it being too pricey as well. All these are valid criticisms, but there’s a much simpler explanation to Nintendo’s struggles: games, or more specifically, a lack thereof.
Nintendo launched the 3DS prematurely, with an overconfidence that the market would buy it simply because it was there, even though there were very few games worth buying and the 3DS had missing features. Three months later, in June, it released “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D” and also implemented an “eShop,” a slick marketplace where you can download games digitally right to your 3DS. If Nintendo had simply waited and launched in June when there was a somewhat substantial amount of content, it probably would have done much better. Still, despite how excellent “Ocarina of Time: 3D” is, it’s only one product, and a port at that. Besides that, there’s been little of note for the 3DS over the last several months.
The same goes for the Wii. There’s a very simple reason no one has been talking about the platform this year. It’s because there’s been practically no games coming out for it. Can you think of a single major Wii game that has come out this year? I actually don’t think there actually are any. I can’t tell if it’s because Nintendo can’t convince third-party publishers to develop big games, or because Nintendo is confident the Wii will continue to sell no matter what. Whatever the reason, it’s bizarre that the market for Wii games seems to have disappeared overnight.
Of course, Nintendo does still have big games coming out this year for its platforms. “Mario Kart 7” and “Super Mario 3D Land” are both marquee titles for the 3DS, as are “Kirby’s Return to Dream Land” and “The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword” for the Wii. But these are only four games. Compared to the bevy of high quality games that have been released for the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC this year, the release schedule for Nintendo looks anemic. Furthermore, all of Nintendo’s major games for the fall are made internally by the company. The big N has a history of struggling to get third party publishers to make games for its platforms, and 2011 is proof of that.
It would be silly to think Nintendo is down for the count. It’s a veteran company that has made some risky moves in the past to achieve great success. But, as this year has shown, even the biggest video game companies will face adversity if they don’t have, well, games. If Nintendo can’t figure out a way to release quality games on its platforms more consistently, it’ll be hard pressed to match the level of success it has had in the past.