2004, Nintendo is struggling with the GameCube and losing the support of third parties. Game Boy Advance is doing well but the future is in doubt as the threat of a competent Sony handheld looms. After a kiddy Zelda game (that will never get a remake) gamers were desperately clinging to the hope of a proper “realistic” Zelda. A poor marketing campaign for Super Mario Sunshine didn’t help matters, where are the traditional Mario games? The future of the system was dependent on instant megaton announcements that didn’t happen, and Resident Evil 4 which was no longer an exclusive game. E3 2004 changed everything, with the introduction of a new system and a new attitude.
Nintendo DS was unveiled and Reggie’s confidence and the promise of a new Metroid title brought excitement to the terminally-hip crowd. However, as the dust settled, sites began taking the mickey out of Nintendo and this was the predicted downfall of the company as the unstoppable Sony showed off their new handheld, the PSP. Comparisons were inevitable and many people thought Sony would carry PS2’s success into the handheld arena. Here’s an article from IGN from just before DS and PSP launched, very clearly stating their mindset. It’s the best article I could find because they are trying to be open-minded, but it’s almost eerie how wrong they were. Here’s some quotes that highlight the apathy of DS’s unveiling.
“With the Nintendo DS, I can smell something good in the kitchen, but with the PlayStation Portable, I can taste it. This is the portable system that gamers have been waiting all along for, ever since the PlayStation burst on the scene and pushed the business to where it is now. The console biz is reaching a saturation point, and PSP would be a great overflow for talented works to get their due. DS will be quite cool and quite different, but Nintendo’s approach just doesn’t seem to have the oomph to push it gamers to it, whereas Sony is sitting at the wheel of a bulldozer.”
“I think Sony will support it a lot longer than Nintendo will support the DS and have a much stronger second generation of software than the DS’s second and third combined. ”
“I pick the PSP simply because I know what I’m gonna get from it. I’m not expecting a gameplay revolution, but I already know it’s just gonna be a pocket PS2. The DS is still a mystery to me. Do I want dual screens? Are the games using touch screen something that I’m personally going to enjoy? I don’t know.”
“Two screens is nifty but I’m more excited about the possibility of listening to some tunes or watching a movie on my gaming device.”
There was some curiosity towards DS’s approach, but nobody had any confidence in it, and the idea of a touch screen and two screens was alien at the time. The only people with any confidence in it seem to be Nintendo and a few appropriately adjusted gamers. As a result, every single one of them predicted PSP would get stronger support.
“– Craig: PSP. More companies are comfortable jumping onto the PSP because it’s not such a drastically different portable system.
— Nix: PSP.Nintendo is the big guy on Nintendo’s systems, and that’s left a lot of third parties out in the cold. Sony gave them a warm home on PS and PS2, and they look to be doing the same on PSP.
— Jeremy: PSP. This is a question? Sony has the biggest third party lineup in the world and with a strong commitment already by companies like EA and Activision, it’s gonna be tough.
— Hilary: PSP. Sony brings the third party like no one else. Nintendo’s strength will remain it’s first-party titles, but having full support from EA and Konami is going to do wonders for the PSP.
— David: PSP. This is an easy one. Nintendo continues to alienate itself in terms of 3rd party games. This suits some people just fine, but not me.”
You’re right David, that was a very easy one. But you all fucked it up.
“DS may run out of steam after Christmas.”
This was one thing they got right, because DS did run out of steam after Christmas, 2012.
This continued for several months after the DS launched, with the head Nintendo editor Matt Casamassina writing articles about how great the PSP is, and fabricating rumours that DS was buried and Nintendo was already working on a new handheld called “Game Boy Evolution”, and some kind of Portable GameCube that never existed. Even Nintendo fansites had to deal with people like this.
“Doesn’t matter what Nintendo’s doing to innovate. People want PS2 graphics. Said and done.”
It was even worse on forums where people weren’t held back by the need to be professional. (quotes taken from the excellent article linked above)
“Put the PSP next to the DS in the eyes of a customer and you can bury the DS the next day. The DS started very well, but so did the Dreamcast. The DS, IMHO, was a knee jerk reaction to the PSP and is sloppy all the way down the board. The launch titles between the two systems are night and day. The DS couldn’t even sell 1-1 software to hardware. The PSP is over a generation ahead in terms of technology and is going to wipe the floor with the DS. I completely respect Nintendo as a software company, but as far as hardware is concerned, they are a sheep lost in the woods, and Sony is coming home to grandma’s house (how’s that for mixed literary allusions? ) The DS will sell decently for 6-12 months, but it’s so far behind the PSP, customers are going to jump ship.”
“The PSP will indeed slaughter all competition.”
“PSP vs DS is gonna become the NEW analogy of choice for demonstrating Nintendo incompetence.”
So what happened, how did Nintendo turn it around? How did the lonely DS become such a star? There was no big overnight announcement, no acquisitions and no dramatic change in business strategy. The answer was simply new software, and the slightly redesigned DS Lite. I still remember the first week Brain Training came out, I laughed with fellow Pietriot Deguello at its ridiculously long Japanese title (Tohoku University Future Technology Research Center Professor and Supervisor Ryuta Kawashima’s Train Your Brain DS Training For Adults), and we were very impressed that it sold 43,000 in it’s first week. Then it just kept selling. Every week. It stayed in the top 10 for YEARS and has now sold 19 million worldwide. Nintendogs, Mario Kart, Animal Crossing all jumped aboard the success train as word spread and people were simply having a lot of fun with their DS’s. It was obvious all these people hadn’t read IGN’s articles about the PSP, or they would have known better.
Fast forward a decade to 2014! Let’s take a look at all the systems on the market today!
Every Smartphone Ever
What do all of these have in common? Every single machine has either a touch screen or second screen feature. Every. Single. One. Some of the functions are crappy and tacked-on, but they exist and all are advertised to sell each system. Nintendo didn’t invent the ability to touch a screen or look at two things, but they were BRAVE enough to introduce an idea that people thought was dumb and ride out all the negative press.
“Do I want dual screens? Are the games using touch screen something that I’m personally going to enjoy? I don’t know.”
Hopefully the industry has cleared this up for you now, timid IGN writer. This risky gimmick is now a standard feature across the entire tech industry. What does this mean for Wii U in 2014? Absolutely nothing. It does mean that the hype, doom & gloom, expert analysis (from the biggest gaming websites) and forum trolling can all amount to nothing in the face of a new idea and a good time. Now let’s all play some games and forget about where the industry is headed, because we have no fucking clue.