Creating Communities: Nintendo

Nintendo is in the fortunate position of having a clearly established brand identity and a consumer base that includes almost every demographic you could name. Their name is synonymous with quality and accessibility. There is worldwide recognition, nostalgia and brand identification that few companies can rival. In fact the very omnipresent nature of Nintendo is part of what prevents it from being able to establish a sense strong community within its consumers.

Despite its long and successful history it is really the Wii that has given a meaning and direction to the Nintendo brand not seen since the NES. From the SNES through to the Gamecube Nintendo had always been defined by its competition, something which damaged the brand. The SNES was defined by its chief competitor The Genesis in terms of which was the superior piece of hardware, and which had the better software. The N64, though fondly remembered by many, was symbolic of the conservative nature of the company with its decision to use cartridges rather than the CDs. The design of the Gamecube and the rise to prominence of the PS2 reduced Nintendo to the image of only appealing to children.

The Wii clearly apes the Apple aesthetic and took a new direction in terms of its marketing and in doing so removed many of the stigmas relating to their previous products. It also created a greater disconnect between itself and its most passionate consumers. Nintendo had always had one of the most vocal and notoriously rabid supporters but since the Wii this element has slowly disappeared, mainly because Nintendo has given them nothing idealistic to attach themselves to. The Wii, as was stated many times by various Nintendo figureheads, is not in direct competition with the other two consoles. Without that sense of conflict there isn’t a need to rally behind their product. It also happens to be incredibly successful, also making the support of an individual, no matter how passionate, essentially meaningless. Once you accept the nature of the product there is also little to complain about. The core gamers have actually had more Nintendo mascot games on the Wii than they have had throughout most of the other console cycles. The Gamecube had Mario Sunshine, the N64 had Mario 64 and the SNES had Mario World but so far we have already had Mario Galaxy 1 and 2 as well as New Super Mario Brothers Wii, not to mention a Zelda and a Metroid with another to come in the next year. With that level of success, little to complain about and little to compare to, it is no wonder that the concept of the Nintendo fanboy has now been reduced to someone calling for a new Star Fox game.

With its traditional base dissolved Nintendo’s new community is one that requires no maintenance. Individual families now make up the idealized Nintendo community and they are a consumer base that neither wants nor needs to feel a strong connection to the product or to invest in the notion of ownership of the Nintendo brand. Word of mouth rather than direct marketing to a demographic is more effective. Even today there will be thousands of people visiting friends or families who will pick up a Wiimote for the first time and decide to purchase Nintendo’s console.

Despite this, there is still much Nintendo could be doing in order to create an alternative community within the remains of their core fans. That community still has a lot to provide for Nintendo financially, but they need pandering to, to the extent which Nintendo would be unlikely to dedicate so much time and effort for such a small number of people. They already have the infrastructure to create this core community through three key underutilized infrastructures; The Nintendo website, Club Nintendo and the downloadable games store.

I’m not exactly sure who the Nintendo website is designed to appeal to and that is one of its major problems. If it is attempting to appeal to the casual gamer then perhaps its bland look and uninspiring content might be successful in helping them to feel less foolish about purchasing a games console. If that was the meager goal then congratulations are in order. If it was designed to suck the remaining passion for the product from life long Nintendo advocates then once more, a round of applause is in order. Rather than choosing one or the other, the website should embrace the split nature of their market. It should be a hub from which there is a choice between the ‘Nintendo Lifestyle’ and ‘Nintendo Culture’.

The lifestyle section would embrace the family orientated, self improvement aspect of the Wii. Wii Fit could obviously play a large role in this in which there could be supplemental exercises and dietary advice as well as videos to aid your ability to perform yoga exercises. Testimonials from families as well as advice on the best family orientated multiplayer games could provide a gentle nudge towards products other than the Wii Sports, Wii Fit, and Wii Play trinity.

The ‘Nintendo Culture’ should embrace the history of Nintendo and should incorporate elements of Nintendo Power. Editorials about older games, in depth analysis of Smash Brothers characters and their relation to Nintendo’s roots, competitions and a stronger incorporation of Club Nintendo would really help to give reasons for people to keep going back to the website. With the disorganized nature of the Wii Shop channel, a clearer layout of the games available and consumer reviews of those games would inspire those who had never owned a Nintendo console to see just what they had missed out on.

Realistically, Nintendo has always been disconnected to its consumer base and is unlikely to devote so much effort to creating a community when it has little motivation to do so. The infrastructure of the Wii just doesn’t have the same potential to create and maintain communities as it does on the other two systems. The Wii channels looked interesting at first but simply add to the sense of clutter that is mirrored in the Wii Shop’s layout. They isn’t anywhere for them to build a community on their hardware, which is a pity as if Animal Crossing had been a far more ambitious game it could have provided an alternative structure. So the only place for them to foster a community is on the internet, but with the Nintendo website a bland corporate shell and the Nintendo Power website a glorified advert for the Nintendo Power magazine, they obviously aren’t making that much effort to do so.

Their community is more conceptual than their competitors; the ideal ‘Nintendo Family’ in which the console isn’t the focus of the lifestyle as much as it is an aspect of daily life, like eating five fruits a day, doing your homework and walking Rex the Golden Retriever. Nintendo doesn’t need to provide a place for gamers to call home because Nintendo already is part of their home.

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Written by Stevie L.

Stevie Lim is a man in Japan.

5 comments

  1. KrazyFace /

    An interesting take on the current shape of all things nintendo Stevie. Nintendo has, and always will be (in my eyes) the medicine of the games world; it’s short, sweet and makes you feel good when you’re on it. While it’s true the Wii channels are a bit scattered I’ve never had any problems navigating their pages, the problem is that I like my PS3 better!

    If my PS3 was to explode under my telly today and I had nothing left but my Wii, I’m sure I’d be fairly happy with it, though they are lacking in a lot of the better older games from the store, I have about five games I’ve been meaning to get into for about a year or more and there are other I’ve never bought simply because I don’t think I’d get round to giving them my attention!

  2. steven g /

    I have to say that Nintendo DO understand their community. They know that both the DS and Wii platforms have failed with their online offering. This is partially becuase it was poorly constructed and partially because their demographic, which differs from the Xbox crowd, acts and responds differently. In the recent investor chat Nintendo made it clear that they had evidence that many of their users won’t do things to go online (which suggest they are dumping friend codes) or download channels or even demos.

    The 3DS for them, and the Wii2 with its expected increase in storage space, are real opportunities for Nintendo to ‘push content’ to its ‘community’. Its played with the idea, but I think it now really wants to see it through.

    The 3DS tagging system is also cool, I would expect a second version of the 3DS to be released later with more storage AND 3G connectivity, to allow an always on data mode. It seems Nintendo are onto something with wanting to bring the digital social world together with the physical side via its Tag Mode in the 3DS.

    Ok, I might have high hopes, which are unrealistic based on Nintendo’s history. However I think they know where the future is, and the future is creating a world of nintendo, tied to 1 piece of hardware and an online service which doesn’t just offer you things to do, but which gives them to you on a plate, no effort required….

  3. Hmm, those idea for the Nintendo website are intriguing. However, I’ll have to disagree with them. See, the thing is, I despise this ridiculous gap between the two (largely artificial) groups: casual gamers and hardcore gamers. It would be nice for Nintendo’s website to address a larger audience and contain more enlightening information, yet I couldn’t stand to see them physically draw the line between the two camps.

    The entire goal (as I understand it) is to bring in new players with titles like Wii Sports and Wii Fit, allowing them to slowly graduate to series like Zelda and Donkey Kong. If there were two totally separate rooms, there would eventually come a time to merge them; and that could prove tricky. Otherwise, those silly titles will always be attached to people as they’re forced to choose sides. Why can’t we all just play games and forget about who enjoys FarmVille, who enjoys Fallout, and which category Fable lands in?

    I sure agree with the whole online thing, though. From Halo players to Twitter users, people like connecting online… and Nintendo better get with the program! So good article, I enjoyed it.

  4. Reatha Gutteridge /

    I’am thinking of buying a golden Retriever as a puppy for my daughter. Is this a solid choice? Is a Golden Retriever good with young children? My daughter is 6 years old.

    • Luke K /

      Personally, I find that Golden Retrievers are actually best with soy sauce and a smidgen of oregano.

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