R.I.P. Game Boy
Nintendo's "third pillar" has crumbled thanks to multiple Nintendo stumbles, and the unstoppable might of the DS. We take a closer look at the death of the "Game Boy" brand...
Back at E3 2004 when Nintendo unveiled the Nintendo DS for the first time, many asked what's going to happen to the Game Boy. Obviously with both units being portable game machines it didn't really make sense to call the new dual screen gizmo Nintendo DS; when you have a brand name as recognizable and as successful as the Game Boy line it would make logical sense to take advantage of it. Why not simply call it the Game Boy DS? Well early on Nintendo claimed they were going for a three pillar strategy. Have the GameCube cater the home console market, the Game Boy to attract to the hardcore on the go gamer, and the Nintendo DS to attract to the casual gamer and eventually attract to non-gamers as well.
Now in 2006 we've slowly seen the GameCube all but wither away to make way for the new and exciting Wii. The Nintendo DS is in full force with a sexy redesign and is boasting booming sales all over the world. Well all of that is nice and all... but what about the Game Boy? Didn't Nintendo commit to a three pillar strategy? Well apparently not. Even though after dominating the handheld market since it was introduced in the late 80's the Game Boy name has quietly been shown the door.
However Nintendo didn't completely leave the Game Boy Advance in the dust. In fact in late 2005 the Game Boy saw another make over with the Game Boy Micro, a microscopic and stylish design aimed to attract to the image conscience demographic. But a year later the Micro has only managed roughly 2 million in worldwide sales. Compare that to the Game Boy Advance SP which is close to 40 million in sales and it's fairly obvious the Micro bombed at retail.
Nintendo themselves stated at their corporate management briefing earlier this year that, "The sales of Micro did not meet our expectations." So is the Micro to blame for the dying Game Boy name? Does the Game Boy even have a future of that matter? Let's take a look.
While some might say that Nintendo supported their three pillar strategy - I believe otherwise. When it was announced that the Nintendo DS was going to be a portable gaming device that not only played Nintendo DS games, but GBA games as well, it pretty much defeated the purpose of owning a GBA in the first place. If you didn't own a GBA yet, why bother now? It made logical sense to just take the plunge and buy a Nintendo DS for the additional cost at $150 (original price, as the unit now retails for $130). The only things that the GBA had over the DS were price, size, and backwards compatibility.
I've always believed that Nintendo pretended to support the three pillars as a way to fight Sony's looming release of the PlayStation Portable. If the new dual screen and touch screen didn't appeal to the mass market then Nintendo could fall back on the Game Boy and ride on its success and eventually give it a true successor and act as if the Nintendo DS had never happened at all (ala Virtual Boy). But like Nintendo had hoped, the DS didn't fail and helped prove their theory that the game industry "needed to be disrupted." However the downside to this is that it put the Game Boy in an awkward position. It was now technically inferior to everything else on the market, and all of the Game Boy Advance software was now playable on the Nintendo DS, so in essence Nintendo had cornered the Game Boy Advance and it had no where to go.
In a last ditch effort to support the Game Boy Advance and its three pillar stance, Nintendo unveiled the Game Boy Micro at E3 of 2005 and claimed it was "a further extension of portable play." Nintendo had the philosophy that having three handhelds on the market (Nintendo DS, Game Boy Advance SP and the Game Boy Micro) would over power the competition, but the end result was overkill to consumers. It may seem like an easy choice to the well-informed gamer, but to an oblivious parent planning on buying a simple game device for their child, they become overwhelmed by the various choices.
Regardless of the hardware on the market, the Game Boy Micro still had the potential to attract to thousands of new comers from the variety of high quality software that was still managing its way through the pipeline at the time. Nintendo continued their dedicated support with top notch games such as Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones, Donkey Kong Country 3, The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, Final Fantasy IV, and the extremely successful Pokemon Emerald. While third parties pitched in with games such as Gunstar Super Hereos, Banjo-Pilot and Riviera: The Promised Land. And yet despite the stellar software, the Game Boy Advance in general was completely ignored in Japan, while the Micro floundered at retail in the US as well as almost all over the world.
The Game Boy was showing its age, as well as its potential future (or lack thereof.)
So what went wrong? Nintendo made a series of mistakes to lead to the demise of the Game Boy Micro, and Game Boy name as a whole, here's just some of the key events that have happened over the course of a year.
A Not So Spectacular Beginning
Typically when a company launches a new product they make sure people know about it - commercials, magazine ads, in-store displays, all the obvious forms of mass advertising. This wasn't the case for the Micro. Being a handheld nut I had to own one on day one, and I can recall that I called my local Best Buy the day it was released (September 17th) with no luck and hardly any information concerning when it would arrive. It wasn't until the 28th that Best Buy had finally gotten their shipment in. When I went to pick one up I was jaw dropped at the sight of not one piece of promotional advertising for it. Not only that but all of the units were kept in the back, away from potential buyers.
Now how in the hell is a consumer supposed to even know that the thing exists when there's no information about it? Nintendo fumbled the launch with a sliding launch date and not so much as a demo unit in stores to show off its beauty. Later Nintendo explained this by saying "toward the end of 2005, Nintendo had to focus almost all of our energies on the marketing of DS." But wait! What about the three pillars!?
Too Much For Too Little
When it was first revealed, buzz around the Micro was actually very high, with no info on pricing and launch details, there was plenty of potential for the Micro to rejuvenate the Game Boy brand if Nintendo struck the market correctly. Instead Nintendo launched at an MSRB of $99.95, the exact same price the old non-backlit Game Boy Advance had launched at back in June of 2001. Because of this it caused an enormous back lash amongst Nintendo supporters who simply did not see the point in paying such a high price for hardware that was over four years old.
While the $100 price tag had been speculated early on, at some point or another a giant rumor had surfaced that Nintendo would try and sell the Game Boy Micro with the Play-Yan bundled inside. The Play-Yan was a multimedia add-on already available for the Game Boy Advance SP in Japan that simply allowed gamers to listen to music and watch videos on their GBA. Had this been the case the price would have been seen much more acceptable, but because of Nintendo's stance that "game devices are meant to be made to play games" the rumor never became a reality, and instead Nintendo released the Play-Yan Micro alongside the release of the system as a separate accessory.