Mar 30th 2017

Nintendo: The importance of innovation

Nintendo is a company revered by its fans in a way that mirrors some people’s devotion to a religion.  Ok, maybe not quite to that extent, but it’s a type of dedication that can define someone.  It’s the type of dedication that, to some, can seem obsessive.

Yet even the most ardent Nintendo fan would be hard pushed to defend the Wii U.  The console was released in 2012 amidst much criticism surrounding the name and its purpose.  It was confusing.  Was it a separate entity from its predecessor, the Wii, or was it a re-release with extra features?  What was so special about it (aside from the obnoxiously large controller and bizarrely under-utilised touch screen)?  It was a Nintendo-sceptics dream.

To date, the Wii U has sold 13.56 million units worldwide, which pales into insignificance when compared to its predecessor, which sold well over 100 million.  The disappointment of the Wii U is undeniable, and at the time many thought Nintendo might have lost the respect of the hardcore gaming community.

However last summer, Nintendo proved its ability to turn things around exactly when it needs to.  Yes, we’re talking about the roaring, yet short-lived, success of Pokémon Go.  Nintendo tapped into 1990s nostalgia and the game saw hordes of even the most casual of gamers take to the streets to hunt down their favourite little monsters.

Nintendo’s secret? It had struck the perfect combination of sentimentality and innovation.  Pokémon Go didn’t simply rely on the company’s past successes, as it can be argued that the Wii U did.  The game saw Nintendo take to iOS and Android for the first time, and utilise AI on a scale that no app developer has managed before or since.

Then at the beginning of March, Nintendo released its latest console: the Switch. Its aim? To bring together handheld, portable gaming and at-home console gaming on one device for the first time.  The console consists of a tablet device that can be taken on the go, or placed in a docking station and played through a television.  After ten days on the market, the Switch has already sold over 1.5 million units, which has seen Nintendo up its production rate to accommodate for the tremendous sales.

It doesn’t matter that Nintendo’s last console was a flop.  It doesn’t matter that the Switch is still nowhere near its competitors, the Xbox One or PS4 in terms of power.  In a recent interview with Wired, Nintendo’s Deputy General Manager, Yoshiaki Koizumi told journalist James Temperton that “It’s not necessarily about technology”.  In fact, Koizumi went on to state that Nintendo’s success stems from the fact that it doesn’t “look at what other companies are doing and try to replicate their success”.  After all, it’s already “so busy thinking about things that other people aren’t doing”.

In a sector where companies are constantly competing to be one step ahead of the pack, Nintendo sits quite happily away from the throng and continues to thrive with innovative ideas on its own island.  Let’s hope that they carry on refusing to give in to complacency and fly the flag for innovation in tech for many years to come.