What They Do Right: Nintendo

In the third instalment in of our “What They Do Right” series, we’re going deeper into the House of Mario to see just how they do what they do.

1) First out of the gate. Nintendo always has crazy ideas. But not in a way that would bankrupt them. Not unless they actually decided to release that vitality sensor of theirs. In all seriousness, though, Nintendo has always been on the bleeding edge of innovation when it comes to home consoles as well as portables. Their DS was one of the first mass-produced touchscreen devices outside of a Palm Pilot – remember, this is well before the iPhone days of 2007 – and the Wii spurred what was arguably the most influential shift in gaming in the last fifteen years with motion control. People have doubted Nintendo for years, and some still do. But that comes with the territory of being a company that is at the top: people will always try to knock you down. With that said, far fewer people are doubting Nintendo’s prowess now because of just how smart they’ve become.

Nintendo has been the innovator with every major gaming technology in the last ten years: they’ve been putting cameras in their Game Boy since 1998, touch screens in the DS since 2004, and motion controls into the Wii since 2006. What may be more astounding is that the companies that Nintendo competes with (Sony and Microsoft, most notably) have arguably larger research and development budgets if only simply because they do so many other things in software and hardware. One might think that Nintendo would be last out of the gate, but that has rarely been the case in all its years.

2) Platforms. Sure, Sony has had a portable and home device for the better part of a decade now, too. But Nintendo pioneered the first widely successful handheld device (it’s a crying shame Sega’s Game Gear didn’t work out), and they’ve managed to do something unique with their platforms ever since. See, Nintendo has always been at the forefront of innovation on their console and portable fronts. While Sony’s PS Vita is a fantastic system, it is essentially a PlayStation 3 in your hands. Now, a lot of people are saying, “yeah, exactly!” but we’re also thinking about new experiences, and that is what Nintendo delivers with the DS and 3DS over the Wii.

The first thing of note is that Nintendo seemingly develops consoles completely independently of each other. Whereas Sony seems to have let its tech from the home console market trickle down into its latest portable, Nintendo developed the Nintendo DS, and subsequently the 3DS with different goals and processes. Each system allows for a different way to play Mario and Zelda and any other type of game you throw at it. It even seems that Nintendo has gone backward – but forward, somehow – by clearly letting the DS design and gameplay influence their latest console, Nintendo Wii U.

3) Content and Classics. Nintendo has a long history of creating great franchises. Actually, when we think about their latest truly-unique franchise, we can’t name anything post-Pikmin, but that’s not the point. From Kirby to Pit, Mario to Link, and Luigi to Donkey Kong – not to mention Koopa, Bowser, Peach, Yoshi, Toad, Zelda, Samus, and the five-hundred plus Pokemon in existence – Nintendo has got the content franchise game locked down. And with the number of platforms they have that are truly unique from one to the next, they need them all.

Heavily tied to content, Nintendo has managed to take their longest running franchises – their classics – and not kill them. While that may sound like it’s quite simple, some games, even ones released in the 2000s, are already showing signs of age because they simply don’t evolve (we’re looking at you, Modern Warfare). Nintendo has had Mario and Zelda around for nearly three decades, and they constantly improve, make more than subtle changes to gameplay, audio, graphics, and the mechanics of the games, and in turn, keep them fresh. Nintendo has the widest selection of platforms as well, so their franchise releases come more than once every other year. In 2011 alone, we saw four games featuring Mario, and we can expect another five this year. But they’re not all strictly Mario games, and that keeps them fresh and unique, which no other game company has managed to do. Ever.

Nintendo is the king of gaming for a few reasons. They always manage to innovate in ways that most people think to be overkill. But then they go and sell a half billion units of whatever it is they’re making, and everyone says they knew all along that Nintendo would kill it. When we first heard of the Wii, we doubted its success greatly. Even before that, we doubted the Nintendo DS. And most recently, we doubted the 3DS. And then we played them. And we were convinced. Along with the rest of the world. Nintendo is a force to be reckoned with for a reason and they’re most certainly here to stay.