Friday, September 30, 2011

The Rise And Fall Of The House Of Mario: Can Nintendo ‘Leave Luck To Heaven’ Anymore?

Nintendo once held the undisputed position as the king of video games thanks to its long-living handheld Gameboy series as well as early consoles like the Nintendo Entertainment System and its many successors. The company has captivated the gaming audience ever since the mid-70s when they decided to look to electronic games to turn around their fading fortunes as a playing card company. Now the likes of Donkey Kong, Link, Samus Aran, and, of course, Mario, are recognized names worldwide for casual and core gamers alike.

Today, however, things are different as competing gaming consoles with superior technology from Sony and Microsoft and numerous smartphone games threaten to bury the venerable video game mainstay.

In 2006 the Wii jump started Nintendo’s resurrection from the failure of its predecessor, the Gamecube. Many bought into the Wii’s unique motion controls, which led to it completely leapfrogging the PS3 and Xbox 360 in sales for years, even remained in short supply for a awhile. However, the gimmick kept the console popular only briefly as gamers realized the other consoles provided more mature, engaging content and not just family-friendly fare that Nintendo is known for.

The 3DS, the latest in Nintendo’s handheld line which launched this year, has suffered disappointing sales and in a few short months resorted to a large price cut to encourage stragglers to purchase the glasses-free 3D gaming experience. With the announcement of the Wii U over the summer, fans were confused by the unclear purpose of the controller-console hybrid that finally seemed to have caught up with the level of current generation consoles. Investors were also unconvinced as demonstrated by a severe drop in shares following the reveal. Another negative change in their stocks occurred following a string of announcements at the recent Tokyo Game Show, though the drop is hotly contested.

Though uneven, there is urgency behind these sudden changes. While core gamers are over the various gimmicks and casual players have plenty of options in the saturated mobile games market, how can Nintendo secure their future in the industry?

Japan Society’s panel Nintendo: What’s Next for the House of Mario? on October 6 features two experts who look at the Nintendo’s “ups-ups, downs-downs”, as one Japan Society Facebook fan so cleverly put it, and how the company can compete in today's market. Dan Sloan, author of Playing to Wiin: Nintendo and Video Game Industry’s Greatest Comeback, leads the discussion, and Jamin Warren, founder of Kill Screen Magazine, moderates. Whether attending as a concerned shareholder or an anxious fan of the Big N, the discussion promises insight into the now and future of the once undisputed gaming system king.

--Sean Tomizawa

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