Wither and Die: The Strange Business of Nintendo

_If you’re a gamer, you likely know about Operation Rainfall. For those of you who don’t know about it for whatever reason, Operation Rainfall is the name of the fan movement to try to get 3 games (Xenoblade, The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower) localized and released in the United States of America…and probably also Canada. It’d be wrong of us to forget that they’re also getting the shaft as far as a North American release is concerned. There are many, many interesting aspects to this story…depending on how much I feel like writing, maybe I’ll get to all of them.

_Unlike your average, everyday online petition which anybody can just sign and forget about 5 minutes later, Operation Rainfall staged an organized online event consisting of spamming Nintendo’s e-mail, sending envelopes laced with anthrax to NoA’s headquarters, mass posting on their Facebook page, webcam death threats to Reggie Fils-Aime posted on youtube, and pre-ordering the game on Amazon.com (Still under the title of Monado, and you can still pre-order it here!) The pre-ordering of the game was a huge success, and Monado/Xenoblade was, for a day or two, the best selling video game on Amazon. Unlike normal online petitions, people put their money where their mouth was, and money talks. That’s why you’d put it where you mouth is, because your mouth doesn’t need to be used because the money is there doing the speaking. Nintendo’s response? “Ha ha, very nice, America. That was fun. Keep trying!” I’m paraphrasing a little, they basically said “Thanks for supporting us, we currently have no plans to bring Xenoblade to the US.” That’s all we got…a wishy-washy nothing statement that didn’t contain anything we didn’t know before. No shit you’re not currently planning to publish it in the US. Nobody would start a fucking campaign for a US release of something that was announced to be released in the US, would they?

Even so, it’s interesting that Nintendo even commented in at all. Nintendo is a company that generally plays everything close to the chest. Take Donkey Kong Country Returns. Development on the game starts in 2008…and nobody hears about it until E3 2010, a couple months before its release date. Wait, really? A game in the Donkey Kong franchise was in development for 2 years and the first time we hear about it is less than half a year before the release date? Yup, that’s Nintendo. How about E3 this year? Everyone goes in thinking “They’ve got Skyward Sword and this new console thing…is there anything else?” Yeah, they pulled two Kirby games out of their asses. Where did they come from? What, you mean that old Kirby game from like, 5 years ago that nobody has seen and assumed was cancelled is coming out? In like…4 months? Yup, that’s Nintendo. New Super Mario Bros. Wii? Summer 2009 announcement, fall 2009 release. Nintendo. Gone are the days where they show off Earthbound 64 for 3 years before cancelling it, or showing off 20 Marios walking around and saying it’s Super Mario 128. The fact that they said anything at all in regards to OR actually shocks me.

_Let’s take a look at the other end of the spectrum for a bit…Capcom. Capcom is currently running in “Let everybody see everything we’re doing all the time” mode. New update to Street Fighter? We’ll blog post about the alpha patch version balance changes…and then when we’re beta testing it, we’ll blog about that too. Oh, we just greenlit 3rd Strike online? Let’s announce it to the public the same day within the hour! Lost Planet 2 is 9 months from release? Let’s release a 4-player online co-op demo for it and get feedback! (Yeah, there was a bigger gap between the Lost Planet 2 4 player online co-op demo and the game’s release then there was between the announcement of DKCR and that games release.) We’ve only got 4 characters out of the roster of 30+ ready in Street Fighter X Tekken and the game is 2 years from release? Show the fucker off on a big stage!

This business practice has been good for Capcom…but it’s also gotten them in deep shit. Case in point: The Mega Man franchise. Mega Man Universe had 2 teaser trailers that basically showed off nothing except the title of the game and hinted at a Capcom mash-up of franchises and characters built around a user-created content. At least, I think that’s what it was. There was one gameplay trailer that looked like Mega Man: Powered Up 2, and then it got cancelled. What about this doesn’t sound like they announced the game early on when it was basically a neat sounding concept, then Inafune left early on in development, they found out that it wasn’t as cool in practice as it was in theory and they canned it. Or how about Mega Man Legends 3, the spinoff series with a small but rabid fanbase that have been clamoring for a sequel for a decade? They announced it, made a special area on Capcom Unity called the Devroom, dedicated the Legend 3, and had fans contribute in various ways towards the game via voting polls and being able to leave feedback on the way the game was looking. Then they cancelled it…and it turns out the game was never even greenlit. Not even greenlit! If that isn’t the definition of a cocktease, then I don’t know what is. That’d be like Lucasfilms announcing a Blu-Ray release for the original Star Wars trilogy and in the same announcement, asking fans if they’d wan to see the original uncut versions included as extras, then a month later saying “Oh, we never had any real intentions of putting those on the Blu-rays, we were just curious!” Capcom is on disaster control with this and for good reason: They fucked up.

That is the reason Nintendo stays quiet about everything: To avoid situations exactly like this. Nintendo has a very small and quiet internet persona, which you wouldn’t expect in this day and age when every company and their mom pimps out their corporate twitter hashtags. But it’s done them a lot of good…up until now. How many games has Nintendo quietly started and quietly cancelled in the life cycle of the Wii? I don’t know, not a clue. How much stuff do they end up cutting from their games? No idea. Basically, Nintendo simply doesn’t reveal enough for people to get upset with them…until now.

_So what ARE people upset about, anyways? The US market is down on Japanese developed RPG’s. Unless it has Final Fantasy in the title, 100,000 units is quite a feat nowadays for a Japanese RPG. The successful companies publishing them in the US are SE, which is brand recognition, and Atlus, which is because they target the small niche audience, know they’re not going to move a million copies of anything and they don’t try to. A quick look at the million-selling titles of this generation on Wikipedia, there are a grand total of 2 JRPG’s that have moved a million copies (Monster Hunter Tri and FF13). So…why are people suddenly clamoring for a JRPG for the Wii? Because the Wii’s life is winding down, and Nintendo is prepping for a new console and whilst prepping, they’re not giving Wii owners jack shit. Wii owners are hungry. Well, sure, it’s a shitty situation, but is that any different from what they did with the Gamecube? Or the N64? The last years for those while waiting for the consoles successors were absolutely brutal.

_The Gamecube launched in September and November of 2001 in Japan and the US respectively…there were 12 N64 games released in 2001. How did Conker’s Bad Fur Day gain a cult following? Nothing else came out in 2001! Playing it now, it’s clunky, and while a great send-up of that gen’s cutesy3D platforming collectathons, it was ridiculously uneven in design and really could’ve stood to be better polished…but it’s still fondly remembered as a bright spot of the N64 library, mainly because it was something decent for sad, N64 owners to play while waiting for the ‘cube. And yet…Nintendo still hangs on to this notion that somehow, people don’t want new games for their old console when a new one is on the horizon. Now, I can understand that as you’re getting ready to launch a new console, that development for the old console is going to slow down. That’s fine, that’s understandable. But why wouldn’t we get something that’s already finished? Why wouldn’t you translate and release a new game in the midst of a void on your console? Better question, if a game is already translated, why wouldn’t you just print those copies and start selling them while your audience is going without any new games and craving something new? I don’t know…why didn’t we get Starfox 2?

_By all accounts Starfox 2 was supposed to be pretty much done. “Eh…I know we’ve finished this game and all..but we’re so close to the N64’s release…fuck it, can that old graphix sack of shit! Who cares if we spent a bunch of time and resources in development? We’re better off making nothing back than something, right? That’s smart business!” I’m no business major, but that sounds kind of like the business equivalent of a grade school kid writing a bad paper and then not turning it in because it’s not very good and taking a 0 instead of a 40. Now let’s jump to the N64. Sin and Punishment, a game fully voiced in English and with gameplay simple enough to figure out without any kind of manual. It’s like localizing a shmup. You don’t have to translate bullets from Japanese to English. “I know we originally planned to release this in English speaking territories…buuuuuuut fuck it, we’ll go out with a whimper rather than a bang.” How about the Gamecube? The last year for the Gamecube was harsh…but at least we were gonna get Zelda. Nintendo was clearly going for the bang on this one…until they announced it for the Wii at E3 six months before the launch…and the Wii version launched a month ahead of the GC version in the US. The anticipated bang was gone. All the months spent suffering the Gamecube drought with the shining light of Zelda at the end of the tunnel was all for naught. Nintendo has proven that they’d sooner let their consoles wither and die rather then send them off in a blaze of glory. Need another example? Mother 3. We were going to get it when it was Earthbound 64, but they decided that since they changed the consoles, we probably wouldn’t have much interest. After all, they brought over Earthbound with a terrible ad-campaign and a box so large that distributors didn’t want to carry it because it took up too much space. That’s a can’t miss recipe for success, and it bombed! And it turns out they were right, because nobody cared enough to spend 2 years making a fan translation of it themselves. Wait…wait a second…

_Even so, nobody ever organized over not getting these games before. What changed? A lot of things changed. The internet, the consumer, the coverage, the connectivity, it all changed. Back in 2000, Sin and Punishment comes out in Japan with English voices…but the average gamer doesn’t know about it. Video game publications don’t talk about games we’re not going to be getting. They only ship once a month, and they don’t have space to waste telling us what we’re not going to be able to play because we don’t care. Some well informed gamers know about this, but where are they gonna complain about it? In random small forum communities that are tight knit. Their word doesn’t get around. And let’s say word DID get around about it…who’s going to organize an Operation Rainfall for S&P? “Hey guys, hop into my ICQ room and we’ll talk about what day we’re gonna bombard Nintendo with requests to bring this over?” Haha, yeah. that’s not happening.

_Fast forward to now. Modern video game news comes from any number of websites that are updated multiple times a day. They no longer have to worry about what’s deserving of the 111 pages a month they’re sending out. They have unlimited space to post any little tidbit of gaming news! “Fuck, it’s a slow day for video game info…hey, is there anything cool out in Japan right now?” Now more people are well informed people, but where are they gonna complain about it? Twitter. Facebook. Those are a little bit more widespread than any forum anybody goes to. From there, more people become informed. Thus, the 2011 average gamer knows more about games than the average 2001 gamer. Now, how is someone going to organize Operation Rainfall? In the same way everybody found out about the games in the first place: Twitter, Facebook, Youtube.

_There you have it. We’re smarter fans, getting better coverage and better connected than ever. Combine that with the same hunger Nintendo faithful have had at the end of every console cycle, and you get an Operation Rainfall. If this happened in 2008, people would have been clamoring for Disaster: Day of Crisis too.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Wither and Die: The Strange Business of Nintendo

  1. Rainfall did what none of the other online petitions did…they backed it up with physical mail, hard cash commitments on Amazon, and a persistence that nobody else has been able to maintain, at least in the video game world.

    Finally, they never played the pissy fan card. While I cannot speak for everyone who wanted Xenoblade, and I am sure many fans did send hate mail, or angry comments to Nintendo, none of their official plans ever involved rudeness or anger directed at Nintendo. They didn’t go telling everyone to hack their wii and import (though a ton of us did anyway) and they didn’t advocate sending the typical “pissed off fanboy” crap to nintendo.

    Rainfall managed to maintain pressure on Nintendo, and they managed to do it with a certain amount of class, something that is rarely seen in online communities or movements.

    Only the last step remains – the release of Xenoblade. Nintendo has something other developers would absolutely kill to get. A community of gamers, on twitter and facebook who are willing to plug Xenoblade to anyone who will listen. Gamers are a tech savvy bunch, and we hate advertising. We hate advertising and we know how to make our browsers block the majority of it. The fact that people look positively on Rainfall and won’t block them, could be a huge boost for sales, and it’s likely to keep the Wii on the radar of core gamers far longer than it would have been.

    What have we learned from Rainfall, Nintendo, and Capcom?
    – Fans love involvement.
    – Regions aren’t as isolated as they used to be, but languages are.
    – Direct involvement leads to massive backfires.

    Developers, by all means, reach out to your audience for input, but don’t make Capcom’s mistake. Let them organize themselves, and support that organization when it appears. Capcom has been pretty good at this with its 2D fighters, talking with the tournament guys, and working with EVO, but they dropped the ball pretty hard with Mega Man, and set themselves up for a big disappointment. And honestly, if you’re gonna put a game into one english speaking region? Put it into all of them.

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