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Ask and You Shall Receive: How Nintendo is Responding to its Fans
The relationship between company and consumer is an interesting one to say the least. This is certainly true for the relationship between game developers and their fans. Take Nintendo for example. While the house of Mario has seen its share of big successes and even some commercial failures, the fans have stuck by them. But this also begs another question of how well has Nintendo stuck by its fans? While I wouldn’t call the relationship perfect, Nintendo has done a pretty solid job providing its consumers with plenty of great games in a multitude of storied franchises. In recent months, it seems Nintendo is trying to do a bit more than just that though. Several campaigns and events have been met with some very positive results and in general, it seems that Nintendo is responding to its fans with greater speed and frequency.
Nintendo has had an interesting history with the way it handles streaming of its games over platforms like Twitch and Youtube. During last year’s Evo, Nintendo denied the world’s biggest fighting game tournament the ability to stream videos of Super Smash Bros. Melee matches. They later retracted their cease and desist and allowed streams to continue. This year, Nintendo has given their approval for Melee to make a return appearance at Evo 2014, streams and all.
While this is certainly great news for the fighting game community and Smash fans in general, it is perhaps better news for Nintendo fans at large. One of the events leading up to this change of heart was a Twitter campaign were fans used tags like #freesmash, #freemelee, #RoM7 (Revival of Melee 7) and tweets directed to Nintendo of America in an effort to convince them to let Melee be on this year’s Evo roster. About four days later, the team over at Shoryuken reported that Nintendo had approved Melee for this year’s proceedings. This leads me to believe that Nintendo is starting to take an active interest in the opinions and passions of their fans.
That isn’t to say that Nintendo has been oblivious to its fanbase prior to this mind you. Fan campaigns like Operation Rainfall back in 2011 aided in convincing NoA to release Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story, and Pandora’s Tower on the Wii in the United States. During a Nintendo Direct last April, Satoru Iwata announced that the cult-classic RPG Earthbound would receive a WiiU Virtual Console release in the US and Europe later that year. Iwata even cited the large fan desire for the game expressed on Earthbound’s Miiverse page during the presentation. Sure enough, on July 18, Earthbound arrived on the WiiU Virtual Console.
Both of those campaigns took some time to yield results, but the gaps between fan efforts and responses from Nintendo seems to be shortening steadily. This gives me some hope that Nintendo is becoming more and more receptive to the wants and interests of its fans.
And these kinds of practices aren’t just beneficial to the fans, but also to Nintendo itself. Take Evo for example. Last year’s Melee tournament saw a participant count of 696 players. To put that into perspective, Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition, the biggest official tournament, had 257 entrants. Tom Cannon, one of the event organizers, later tweeted that Evo 2013 was officially the largest Smash Tournament ever, and its size doubled that of the previous record holder. With that in mind, Nintendo could hardly pick a better venue than this year’s Evo to showcase some more footage or maybe even some playable demos of the upcoming Smash Bros. for WiiU and 3DS.
I was admittedly surprised to see that Nintendo never made any kind of official statement regarding the internet phenomenon that is Twitch Plays Pokémon. For the better part of February, countless participants and viewers took part in this amazing social experiment and by March 1, the TPP collective succeeded in conquering the Elite 4 and Blue after many hours of running into walls, checking the Pokedex, and consulting the Helix Fossil. Twitch later reported that a whopping 1,165,140 people participated in the stream and over 1 billion minutes of stream time had been watched. After seeing those numbers, I began to understand why Nintendo didn’t intervene. Twitch Plays Pokémon might very well be one of the best marketing tools that Nintendo didn’t even have to spend a single cent/yen on.
I knew people who didn’t even play Pokémon games anymore that were getting into this thing. I also noticed more people getting curious about the most recent iterations of the games, Pokémon X and Y, while the initial stream was going on. Lo and behold, I also started seeing some of those same friends purchasing retail and download copies of the games. In an official press release in response to February’s NPD sales figures, Nintendo noted that X and Y sold around 130,000 units during that month. By comparison, X and Y moved a roughly 125,000 units during the month of January.
I’m excited to see how this growth between company and consumer continues to blossom in the months to come. The WiiU has seen some solid releases in titles like Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze while Bravely Default has had great success on the 3DS. Success that I hope will convince Square to localize the sequel in the near future. With WiiU sales steadily improving and the 3DS still being the dominant handheld on the market, the first quarter of 2014 is looking like a promising year for Nintendo, both company and fanbase alike. Who knows, maybe Nintendo will respond to some other popular fan requests and campaigns in the near future.