Nintendo and its fans will weather the mobile gaming storm, even it means pulling off some Stone Cold Stunners to remain on top.
Nintendo's had quite a rough year. At least that's what critics would have you believe. A shaky 3DS launch, declining Wii sales and profits have shareholders up in arms. Others want the company to diversify and bring its games to iPhone, while journalists question whether president Satoru Iwata is the right person for the job.
Naturally, these people ignore the fact that the big N dominated the current generation with DS and Wii, and that 3DS has managed to sell nearly seven million units without a full fledged Mario adventure (Super Mario 3D Land just dropped). Yes, Nintendo lost hundreds of millions of dollars, but it's still a multi billion dollar company.
Has it made mistakes? No question. Releasing 3DS at $249.99 was the result of pure arrogance and assumption. How else to explain why a company that specializes in making products for kids chose to price its handheld well beyond their reach?
That said, this happens to every successful company. It makes Scrooge McDuck like profits, grows complacent and then sloppy.
Sort of like Vince McMahon.
You know Vince as the billionaire CEO behind WWE, or World Wrestling Entertainment, the same guy that intentionally wet his pants for ratings. The same boss that lets his employees beat him to a bloody pulp. The same head honcho that made the phrase "You're fired" (more like, YOU'RE FIRRRRRRRRED") cool years before Donald Trump. Say what you will about his methods, but he sacrifices bodily fluids for his company. How many big shots can say the same? None.
Of course his fortune is well deserved. Here's a man that transformed pro wrestling from a territorial (and admittedly boring) business into an international phenomenon. He helped give us Hulk Hogan, Macho Man Randy Savage and the Undertaker. More importantly, he gave us WrestleMania in the mid 80s.
Similarly, Nintendo took a seemingly destroyed video game business and laid the groundwork for today's multi-billion dollar industry with the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) console, which debuted in 1985, the same year as the first WrestleMania.
There was no debate. The 80s belonged to Vince, just as it did Nintendo.
Then the 90s arrived, and McMahon got a little too comfortable. Can't blame him. WrestleMania 6 saw Hulk Hogan battle Ultimate Warrior, and WrestleMania 7 followed that up with a great retirement match with Savage and Warrior, as well as (with pro American sentiment running high) Hogan vs. Sergeant Slaughter for the championship.
Much of the 90s, though, featured more mistakes than triumphs. Don't get me wrong. There were flashes of brilliance (the Razor Ramon vs. Shawn Michaels ladder match at WrestleMania 10, the Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels Iron Man match at WrestleMania 12), but I'll always remember the follies. The Lex Express, which I believe still crisscrosses the U.S. to this day, Men on a Mission, Bam Bam Bigelow vs. Lawrence Taylor at WrestleMania 11. The brief feud between Crush and Doink the Clown. I could go on, but this sums things up nicely.
We see the same bizarre decisions with Nintendo. Wii Friend Codes. 3DS at $249.99. Steel Diver. Delaying the 3DS eShop until June 2011 when the system released in March. Doesn't matter if you're on the outside looking in or a hardcore fan. All of this makes the company seem mismanaged and out of touch. Where's the passion to make great products?
To that end, the best thing that happened to Vince McMahon was Eric Bischoff, former president of World Championship Wrestling, the WCW.
Before Bischoff took WCW to new heights, it played second fiddle to WWE (then WWF). Even Turner Broadcasting didn't take it seriously, airing shows mostly on weekends during the middle of the day.
Kind of like smart phone games six years ago. Flip phones? Really? Get out of here.
Bischoff, to his credit, had much bigger plans for WCW. He wanted to take it to prime time. He didn't want to simply compete with Vince. He wanted to put him out of business.
Thing is, he nearly succeeded. Bischoff convinced Turner to put WCW on Monday nights, opposite WWF Monday Night Raw. Thus, WCW Monday Nitro was born, the first episode airing in 1995.
Why was it better than Raw? It didn't treat its fans like children. The show was live, meaning "anything" crazy could happen and often did. Wrestlers made surprise appearances, matches were made on the fly. Titles changed hands. It was in stark contrast to Raw, which was often pre-taped, the results leaked online. In fact, Bischoff made a point to leak those results himself, just to prove a point how ruthless he was.
That barely scratches the surface of the tactics he resorted to. With Turner's blessing, Bischoff recruited tons of wrestlers, even guys that made their mark in WWF. Hulk Hogan joined, then Randy Savage, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall. Eventually, WCW was 80s/early 90s WWF, but it wasn't just old guys. The company was flush with young talent, like Eddie Guerrero, Chris Jericho, Raven and an untold number of Mexican wrestlers. They worked for less money, but they worked damn hard. More importantly, they were good, and all of this fed into the WCW machine. Cheaper to attend shows, but entertaining nonetheless.
Compare that to smart phone gaming today. Sure, the big dogs (Electronic Arts, Ubisoft) hold serve, but plenty of guys developing games in their homes manage to catch the eye of App Store fans, and they do this without charging $34.99 a pop.
They're hungry and determined. They can't necessarily make it with Nintendo. Hell, Nintendo probably wouldn't even humor them with a meeting. Besides, iOS is much easier to develop for than a Nintendo system, right? One doesn't have to play by Nintendo's rules, or give up much of the spotlight to established franchises like Mario and Pokemon. Just ask a developer of WiiWare and DSiWare how easy it is to stand out amongst first party Nintendo games. Nearly impossible.
That said, iOS gives these people a chance to shine. It produced Angry Birds, Cut the Rope and Infinity Blade, which went on to become multi-million dollar hits. No big surprise. Those are excellent games.
Now ask yourself, how would Stunning Steve Austin (more on him later) do in WWF against the likes of Undertaker and Rowdy Piper in their prime? Are you kidding? He's mid card, at best, dark match at worst. Yet the man held the TV Title in WCW. Think he would get an Intercontinental Title shot during the same period? You already know the answer.
I lost track of how many times Bischoff said he was going to put Vince on the street. Thing is, it wasn't just talk. WWF was in trouble. Nitro beat Raw in the ratings for a long time. Vince's product was simply inferior, especially with so many former WWF wrestlers in WCW. Hulk Hogan, reinvented as a heel with the Hollywood character, was simply more fun to watch.
Thing is, WCW was sloppy. Wrestlers routinely missed spots, the acting was atrocious even by pro wrestling standards, and the NWO storyline was out of control. I don't remember how many guys joined NWO. Well over 20. Meanwhile, Hogan ran amok. The guy almost never dropped the title. Meanwhile, the younger wrestlers were either beaten up by NWO on a weekly basis or relegated to the mid card. There was no growth, just arrogance and cornball gimmicks.
In other words, Bischoff had transformed WCW into 90s WWF.
Sensing an opportunity, Vince adapted. He ditched the family friendliness in exchange for violence. He grew desperate, and his company thrived. We saw the rise of Stunning, now Stone Cold, Steve Austin. The Rock stepped from his dad's shadow and became The Great One. Mick Foley, a guy WCW practically spat on, became champ. There were beer trucks driven to the ring, and a fake porn star turned wrestler named Val Venis. Raw went (mostly) live, and pro wrestling saw the Attitude era. WCW refused to follow, and suffered as a result.
I'll stop short of saying Nintendo has "attitude", but the company's grown desperate. How else to explain a new Mario less than a year after 3DS launched, a system price drop and the Ambassadors Program that awards 20 free games to early adopters?
What about the 3DS lineup? A Mario and Mario Kart less than a month apart? A star studded 2012. The rapid announcement of the circle pad attachment. Monster Hunter 3G and Monster Hunter 4 exclusivity.
This from a company that normally staggers its own releases under the possible belief that fans will always pledge undying support.
Believe this: although Nintendo says smart phone games aren't a threat, the company takes them (and Sony) very seriously.
This, despite most smart phone games (like WCW as a whole) offering a cheaper experience, and I use the word in two ways. Cheap as in affordable, and cheap as in buggy as all hell. You can probably count the times Nintendo has released a first party game with known bugs. On the App Store, this happens on a weekly basis like a missed Perry Saturn dropkick that his opponent embarrassingly sells anyway.
Point being, Nintendo, like Vince, will adapt. You don't become the biggest company in video games without a tremendous amount of experience and gained wisdom along the way.
Also, rest assured that if Nintendo entered the smart phone business, it would completely dominate it, just as WWF eventually did to WCW. Nintendo's the only company that could get away with charging $9.99 or more for App Store games. You think consumers would turn their noses at a new Mario at $19.99? Absolutely not. It would hit number one in a matter of hours, and remain there for months.
Not only that, but you'd see many of those small time developers disappear, pushed to the bottom of the charts or off the top 20 altogether. It would be a massacre.
Unlike Vince, though, Nintendo cannot purchase Apple, as he did with WCW. We'd like to think, though, that if it did happen, Reggie's speech would go something like this, at least up to the 2:50 mark:
Bottom line, Nintendo's going to get through this smart phone invasion, largely because it's too smart not to, and the fans will only benefit from the increased competition, because that's what Mario and Co. needed all along, to get their butts kicked, to have shareholders breathing down their necks.
Smart phones have Rovio and Chillingo?
Nintendo has Shigeru Miyamoto and Eiji Aonuma, the Road Warriors of game designers.
So I say to Iwata, take your pay decrease with pride and do whatever it takes to keep Nintendo on top, even if it means ignoring company conventions and making blockbuster deals.
Just don't pee your pants to get there. We can do without that one.
[Editor's Note: Despite the comparison of WCW to the App Store, we're still big mobile gaming fans, and have a tremendous amount of respect for those who pour so much time, money and talent into their projects.]