One of our top stories this week is Donavan’s report on Operation Rainfall. He makes some great points, does some fantastic reporting, and does an ultimately bang-up job. His take on the situation seems to be parallel to that of the rest of the internet, or at least the rest of the internet that cares about this situation.
I beg to differ, however. Not because I don’t care about these games; I do care about them, I do want them over here, and I think Nintendo’s wasted our time with this debacle. However, I think there’s more to this than simply Nintendo being stupid.
First off, I have a little announcement to the people behind this who seem to think that Nintendo isn’t catering to the “core” gamer, like they said they would at E3: you are not the core gamer anymore. You, who like outstanding JRPGs and want these beautiful games, are not what is defined as the core gamer in 2011. Today, the core gamer generally is someone who plays the big name, AAA titles - usually FPS games, but most franchises will do - and spends money on DLC. The core gamer is the frothing idiot calling you unbelievable names while you play Call of Duty. They are the ones who drop $100 for one game when all is said and done.
In 2011, the Xenoblade and Pandora’s Tower fan isn’t core. They are niche. The proof is in sales figures for other JRPGs. Namco’s all but pulled the Tales series out of America because America simply doesn’t buy the games at a rate that excuses the localization and other work that has to go into a game that deep. The same goes for virtually every other JRPG that comes out; the JRPG fanatics buy them, everyone else runs screaming. A lot of this has to do with the issue of the modern JRPG taking an obscene amount of time to fully complete nowadays (I expect to drop 90 hours on Tales in the Sky), but there’s also the changing market to consider. Simply put, the people that play video games in 2011 aren’t the ones that were playing them when I was a teenager in the mid 90s. Nintendo was able to build the SNES on titles like Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger. Sony was able to run not one, but two generations of hardware largely on their JRPG haul. But even near the end of the PS2 era, the market was starting to change. JRPGs weren’t the key driver any longer, though they did have their place (as proven by the PS2’s sublime JRPG library). Nowadays, the market is simply too big. It’s become too big, and large companies are seeing what drives revenue… and it’s not one $60 game that takes almost 100 hours to complete. It’s games with a steady revenue stream, whether that’s via DLC, a subscription, or some combination of the two. Add into that volatile cocktail the rising cost of development (especially on HD consoles) and the fact that JRPG fans tend to be fickle and demanding by nature (just check out the forums of almost any fansite. Or hell, check out some of the hatemail I’ll get for this), and it would be irresponsible for a company - especially one that’s publicly owned - to risk themselves on a risky game in a niche genre with fans who can turn on you at the drop of a hat, when they can create a Facebook game and bring in almost guaranteed revenue with much less overhead.
This is where the market is in 2011, and it’s almost surely what Nintendo is looking at when it comes to these three games. It leads to bad feelings of disillusionment among fans of Nintendo’s that have supported the company for decades, but companies like Nintendo have enough experience to know that disillusionment doesn’t matter. Video game fans have shown - especially in recent years - that they are much like political voters: they bitch and moan and make a lot of noise, but when it comes time to cast the vote that counts - either at the polls, or with the wallet - that they will fall in with the party line. Even when they say something, they very often do the exact opposite. Nintendo knows fully well that the “core” gamer who is saying he’ll never buy another system again *will* - not “might”, *will* - buy the system if there’s something exclusive to the system that must be owned. They do it every time. The same goes for must-own games. The vast majority of the people who bitched about Infinity Ward bought Call of Duty: Black Ops. Activision laughed all the way to the bank, because they know what every other major publisher and manufacturer knows: video game players have Stockholm Syndrome. Nintendo knows this, and they know that they can take their minds off the Wii and focus that system on what made it popular - gimmicky crap like Just Dance - instead of trying to cater to people who aren’t going anywhere.
It’s the Wii U that brings me to my ultimate point: I think this is a brilliant smokescreen by Nintendo. I will admit: for just another protest group (and that’s all Operation Rainfall is; the more people that try to convince me otherwise, the less successful they become), they are making an abnormal amount of noise, just because of how organized they are. Nintendo’s PR is labyrinthine; they are easily one of the hardest companies to deal with that I’ve ever seen, but they are still public relations, and if I’ve learned anything in writing about games, as long as a game is in the press for any reason, chances are very solid it’s a good thing, especially if that publicity is clamouring for a game. Nintendo is lapping this up; if anything, that’s why they made their borderline insulting post on Facebook and Twitter, because they knew that with a minute’s worth of work, they would infuriate a portion of their user base enough to make even the casuals go “what was that?”. Now, these three otherwise niche games, due to IGN’s coverage (credit Richard George, he’s done an absolutely fantastic job of staying on this), have officially become a Big Deal™.
What do you do with something that is a Big Deal™? You tie it to something else. Electronic Arts is doing that, in a way, with their insistence that digital copies of their new MMO The Old Republic must be bought with their new Steam wannabe Origin. I have a feeling that Nintendo is going to keep these three games in the backs of their minds as the Wii U comes closer to reality. Nintendo has shown that they are not against updating older games for existing technology, and I think they’re going to find a way to do that with at least one of these games, especially as they’re already translated. They know that gamers want these games, and even the casuals are paying attention, so if they add some Wii U functionality to it to make it a Wii U title, what was something that fell under the radar at the end of 2011 is now a system seller in 2012.
There is nothing confirmed about that - that speculation a major reason why this is a Blog post and not something on the main site - and Nintendo can still find a way to screw this up; after all, they’re the company that launched major portable hardware in April and didn’t have anything worth playing on it until June. But this *is* Nintendo. I’ve said before that their antiquated ways of looking at their games, and how they release them, is a blessing and a curse; a blessing because they take care to not treat their releases as mere numbers on a fact sheet, and a curse because they still hold to their Japan-centric worldview (meaning, to hell with Europe and America, they’ll see games when Nintendo deems them worthy). Maybe I’m crazy, but I think Nintendo is wise enough to give gamers a treat every now and then, and savvy enough to do it in a way that benefits them.
Though I will say this, Nintendo: if I’m wrong, and you don’t publish these titles? I have a hacked Wii and I know how to use it. I *will* import these games and play them if I deem them worthy of my time. Bear in mind a Sony just learned in a painful manner: necessity is the key to innovation, and people willing to hack their systems to play out-of-region games are extremely innovative.