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Originally Posted by ***** - Josh Valone
Many still poke fun at Nintendo's "kiddy" approach to video games, but the company is serving a purpose that many are overlooking.
May 01, 2008 | 10:36 AM PST
Ever since the PlayStation legitimized the adult gaming demographic, Nintendo has dealt with a perceived lack of maturity in their development style. The company's colorful, family-friendly titles, despite being of generally high quality, clash wildly with the best efforts of other publishers that tend to center on darker themes. As the industry has skewed further and further toward entertaining adults, Nintendo has remained rooted in their philosophy of delivering fun experiences for all ages. While the criticism has died down a bit of late many still view Nintendo as behind the times and lament that they never seem to debut a "mature" IP. While this is understandable considering the age of many hardcore players it needs to be noted that Nintendo's emphasis on the family actually plays a key role in our industry. In fact, if Nintendo moved toward older players, it would have a crippling effect on the industry as a whole and their contribution would be difficult– if not impossible– to replace.
Much of the criticism thrown at Nintendo throughout the years centers on the idea that they need to "grow up". The audience that bought Super Mario Bros. 3 in droves now craves deep, complex titles in HD with serious online play. A simple feeling of fun is still important, but a broad feature set has become a large part of gaming as well and Nintendo has failed to evolve with their competitors in this regard. The basics of playing a Nintendo title have changed little from 1988 to 2008. Solid gameplay, a simple narrative, familiar settings, and an inviting difficulty curve define the Nintendo experience. Familiarity breeds contempt, so it's easy to see why those that have bought and beaten Nintendo titles for decades have in some cases begun to seek out different approaches. But in their zeal for a bigger and better experience gamers have lost sight of Nintendo's role in our industry because their perspective is centered entirely on themselves. The part Nintendo plays in gaming is just as important today as it was 20 years ago: Nintendo produces gamers.
Franchises such as Mario and Pokémon are unparalleled at reeling in the young and hooking them on our hobby. Zelda and Metroid take them a step further, but remain relatively easy to pick up and enjoy. To put it simply, Nintendo welcomes newcomers into gaming and shows them the ropes. No other developer can produce such deep experiences without intimidating the player. Nintendo has consistently done this throughout the years and that tradition continues today. Parents feel safe when buying Nintendo software, they understand exactly what they're getting and can entertain their children without fear of exposing them to certain themes, imagery or language. While avid gamers might scoff at the importance of that, they're assuming that the entire industry can survive and expand without a way to consistently indoctrinate new generations of players.
Games like Mass Effect and Call of Duty 4 are fantastic titles but they have almost no chance of hooking new players, particularly youngsters. The complexity and depth that seasoned gamers revel in makes them inaccessible to everyone else who doesn't spend hours a day with a controller in their hand. Nintendo allows newcomers to play quality titles without being thrust into an ultra-competitive environment that would immediately stunt interest. You have to start somewhere, and in gaming, there isn't a much better starting point than the house Mario built. Novice players can transition slowly into gaming with titles that don't punish them for their lack of experience but instead build up their skills with a forgiving, yet still challenging, difficulty.
For this reason, Nintendo's contribution to the industry is incredibly important but often overlooked. If they bowed to the pressure and began releasing fantastic titles aimed at older audiences, where would that leave the next generation? How would they enter into the hobby? It's unfair and short-sighted to expect someone to begin gaming with titles that explicitly aim to challenge the experienced. Nintendo's role for the last two decades (whether they realize it or not) has been to raise generations of players. Some of these people will eventually tire of their style and leave them while others will become Nintendo lifers and show their children the classics that made them love gaming. In either case, Nintendo has done the entire community a service. Before demanding that Nintendo "grow up" gamers should consider what that actually would accomplish. Without Nintendo, the industry would be almost incapable of drawing young audiences, or at least certainly would not do so at the rate it does now. So while the company may never mature with its audience, it's probably better that it doesn't.
Industries need entry-level products. Nintendo is exactly that for a huge percentage of gamers. Their legacy of indoctrinating future hardcore players is unparalleled. The fact that many of the company's legendary franchises have changed little over the years helps ensure the steady stream of newcomers continues. Many in our generation started with Super Mario Bros., while children today may look back at Super Mario Galaxy as the beginning of their rabid interest in video games. The timeless aspect of this approach cannot be underestimated. The industry evolves while Nintendo stays the same, and at first glance, this is often marked as a weakness. But when the formula has been so successful in bringing up generation after generation, it seems foolish to ever tamper with what's been proven.
If hardcore gamers began to look at Nintendo as a nurturer as opposed to a company that should be dedicated to pleasing them, it would create an interesting shift in perspective. Hardcore players can enjoy Nintendo games, obviously, but the true value of their titles lies in their ability to raise tomorrow's enthusiasts. Nintendo provides an inviting gateway to gaming and in that respect they cannot be matched by anyone. While the "kiddy" label will probably never go away, it's time to consider whether that is even a bad thing. Nintendo gives to the gaming community in a way no other publisher can, probably unintentionally, by bringing up the future consumers of "mature" titles. Without them it is questionable how many would ever come to the hobby. Some may drift away from Mario as the years go by, but that should not be used as evidence to demand a change in direction. Instead, consider where you started and how others are just now starting. Nintendo's contribution isn't best measured in how many "mature" titles they produce but rather how they help nurture the future of that market.
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