Nintendo and the Curse of the Innovator

EvilTw1n

Even my henchmen think I'm crazy.
Moderator
#1
It's interesting how disparate things can have a common intersecting point. Sometimes it's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Other times it's alcohol and a pool of my own shame. And yet other times it's Nintendo and...football.

Hear me out.

I'm a fan of the Philadelphia Eagles, but not one of those fans. Meaning that although I would totally chuck an icy snowball at Santa Claus (seriously, fuck that guy for not being real), I won't turn my allegiance on ex-players and staff when they walk out the door. So I still like ex-head coach Chip Kelly. When he came to Philly, it was exciting. His ideas were exciting. The team was fun. But you're not here for a dissertation on spread offenses and two-gap 3-4 defenses, so I'll just put it this way: the Eagles played fast. Chip tossed the conventional and complex rule book of slow-huddle-on-every-play offensive football, and said "we're going to play simple and fast and dare you to catch us." And it was glorious to watch.

Until it wasn't. Eventually, other coaches caught on, and instead of having very dense, complex defenses, they started playing lighter and simpler, too; instead of a defensive coordinator calling in a complex shift adjustment, the opposing defensive players on the field began using simple call-outs and hand signals. Chip didn't evolve fast enough with that change, so he was fired. But what he did is now something every coach in the NFL keeps in their bag of tricks for NFL offense. Before Chip ever got to the NFL, Bill Belichick was already using his ideas. The offensive coordinators on other teams freely admit that they're using Chip's stuff.

Apparently, this is called the innovator's curse. It obviously happens in football.
https://theringer.com/chip-kelly-san-francisco-49ers-offense-f332f053870e#.vqkk94txl

But it happens everywhere else, too:

"On a recent panel I moderated in Taipei, Ming-Je Tang, Vice President for Finance Affairs and Professor of International Business at National Taiwan University, took up this question. He listed a number of companies that were home to some of the most miraculous innovations of the 20th century—from mass production assembly lines to the personal computer. The thing they all had in common in addition to that innovation was that they are all either now struggling—or gone. They are victims, he says, of the 'innovator’s curse.'

Why was this? 'They failed to transform themselves to meet new technology breakthroughs,' says Tang. It was not enough to just produce innovation; they needed to continually adapt to market shifts and trends. So the real imperative for companies in today’s fast-paced economies, suggests Tang, may be the ability to respond to change.


http://globalblogs.deloitte.com/del...hange-and-surviving-the-innovators-curse.html

Sound like any Kyoto-based videogame company that you know?



It's not that disrupting a particular market isn't important, or that innovation isn't needed; they both obviously are. But when you make a breakthrough, you have to be ready to keep moving around and beyond the new goal posts you've just set down.

I was talking with @repomech last week, and he had a really interesting point on Nintendo. When they broke through with the Wii, they created a formula. The Wii proved that a funky input method and 2D Mario could light the market on fire. Their biggest Western development house had their biggest hit with a DKC game. So what did they do with Wii U? Funky controller and 2D Mario on day one. Have Retro churn out another DKC.

But it didn't work, because the goal posts had already been moved again. The smartphone and tablet market exploded in the interim to woo many of the Wii's mass market base, and Sony decided $600 home consoles weren't a great idea this time, so the more "traditional" gaming market went to the (relatively) more affordable PS4.

Which brings us to NX. After the PS4 Bro (official console of "hey guys, I think the stripper likes me!") reveal by Sony, it seems like people are a bit underwhelmed by slightly shinier graphics. It isn't like 4K isn't gonna be a thing - it has been decided from TV companies that they're gonna make 'em, so sooner or later you're gonna buy 'em. But making slightly nicer light beams visible through clouds in Horizon Zero Dawn (really, I can't find the article right now, but that was one of the main improvements touted in something I read yesterday) is a bit of a tougher sell. Don't get me wrong, the PS4 Pro will sell, but it's likely going to be a supplementary part of PS4's dominance this gen. Which means the market is ripe for NX to come in and provide something a little bit different.

The problem is, even if Nintendo does, they may still screw this up. Because if they follow the same playbook they did from Wii to Wii U? They're still cursed.
 
#2
I think the dislike towards the PS4 Pro and the Xbox [Hank] Scorpio are just that these consoles are coming out a mere three years later after the non-Pro and non- [Hank] Scorpio. Especially considering since the PS2 era, launch windows are dog shit. It takes months, sometime a year or so to get those killer apps out. Now that the consoles are starting to prove their worth (well to me at least) they're not throwing these upgrades out.

"Yeah, you don't have to buy it, but buy it, it's prettier right?"

Reminds me of micro transactions in full priced games. No company doesn't put in these payments and not want you to use them.

Where was I going?

I think the fact the PS4 is dominating this time, and Wii sold like gangbusters last time is just how simple it is. I think the vast majority of people who buy consoles want them for convenience. If you want adjustable frame rates, graphics, free online, just buy a PC and be done with it. Sony/MS doing this is kinda throwing away what it means to be a simple console.

Side tracked again.

Are people ready to buy new consoles so soon? 7th gen lasted longer than normal, and this gen broken into two consoles, so I'm curious how well Pro and [Hank] Scorpio will really do. Sure, you'll get those people who have to have the newest tech no matter how little games it has or whatever, but I'm curious about the mass market.

In terms of innovation, Nintendo seems to just do it without committing. Skyward Sword's control scheme should have been a launch title, as with something like Wind Waker HD or Deus Ex on U. A lot of those 2D games doesn't use much motion at all, DKC: TP didn't use anything about the gamepad beside off-tv. Star Fox is there sure, but...yeah.





I have no idea what I just typed up. I just ate a lot so I guess I'm food stupid. Hmm, debating not posting this at all
 

DarkDepths

Your friendly neighbourhood robot overlord
#6
It took my awhile to digest your post fully (acid reflux... what are ya gunna do?).

I think something that stood out to me was the phrase about needing to be able to "adapt to market-shifts and trends." I see this as a fairly big problem for all of the console manufacturers.

Traditionally, consoles have been "locked in" for several years. Five to seven years without an upgrade was kind of the norm. Not only was that expected, but also appreciated, I think. In a world of fast moving and expensive computers where installing a game and making it work (damn you Sound Blaster!) took just as long as beating the game, consoles provided easy and affordable stability where you didn't have to worry about getting left behind.

This is still largely true when it comes to the PC/console relationship, though of course matters have improved greatly on the PC. I think the biggest trend that should worry a console maker is... smartphones!

*boo* *hiss* *shun the heathen*

To be clear, I don't think they need to worry about smartphones replacing dedicated home gaming devices. What I intend to say is that with the rise of smartphones came a rise in the general publics willingness to spend hundreds of dollars every year to get a new device.

More than that, smartphones technology has evolved at a rapid pace. Thanks to huge funding, public appeal, and generally starting out at a disadvantage, smartphones have been able to improve in all aspects, basically by leaps and bounds almost every single year.

So now it seems that people are willing to spend large sums of money, much more often, with the expectation that there will be bigger gaps in capability between iterations.

This presents a paradox, I think, for our friends at Nintendo (and Sony, and MS). How do you maintain the safe/affordable/easy platform, while simultaneously iterating at a faster and faster pace.

Sony's approach seems to be to just fail miserably (source: my bias).

Microsoft seems to be trying to solve this problem by (a) integrating with Windows to create a common virtual platform moving forwards, and (b) releasing "half-step" consoles that guarantees users who don't upgrade won't be left in the dust.

What is Nintendo's approach? It's difficult to say, just now. Maybe we can answer this better in a few weeks. However, Iwata spoke of trying emulate Apples model, and allowing games to carry forward. That probably shouldn't be a huge stretch - backwards compatibility has been thing for a long time now. But Nintendo's digital platform has not kept up.

We've seen Nintendo make strides towards a unified account system, as Iwata said they would. Specifically, he talked about creating a bridge between mobile phone users and Nintendo users, such that anyone who plays Pokémon Go (read: everyone in the world) can easily transition into a Nintendo console.

The beginnings of this virtualized platform seem promising, but there is still the hardware aspect to be concerned about. I don't know what their plan is, but I expect the NX will show us pretty clearly.

The things that I'm most worried about are:
  1. More frequent console releases
  2. Lack of ability to experiment in the future.
Let me elaborate on point 2 briefly. In software engineering, there is something called the "open-closed principle". The idea is that an interface (a conceptual interface, not a physical one) can be open for extension, but closed for modification. Such a principle allows you to ensure that an implementation of the interface will work as intended even as development continues in the future.

That was just an analogy, but I think a very close-fitting one. If Nintendo aims to create a virtual platform, I worry that they will have to close themselves off from certain possibilities for the sake of unification. If that had happened 12 years ago, would we have seen the Wii? I don't know.

Anyways, let's see what the NX brings, because I think it will tell us a lot about Nintendo's plan for navigating thelse challenges moving forwards.
 

tekshow

Active Member
#7
But it happens everywhere else, too:

"On a recent panel I moderated in Taipei, Ming-Je Tang, Vice President for Finance Affairs and Professor of International Business at National Taiwan University, took up this question. He listed a number of companies that were home to some of the most miraculous innovations of the 20th century

The problem is, even if Nintendo does, they may still screw this up. Because if they follow the same playbook they did from Wii to Wii U? They're still cursed.
There was a book I enjoyed called "Good to Great" when I was in college. It examined several companies that all survived great evolutions and innovations. Horse and buggy companies that adapted to the automobile, how Kleenex started to find ways to sell paper products to every home. It was a solid read, and it's exactly fitting for Nintendo.

The interesting thing about all the companies looked at in the book is once they became able to adapt at a systemic level they developed staying power.

I think the Wii U is a bump in the road, and Nintendo is definitely going to try to make things right. Their recent expanded efforts in marketing, owning e3, being at the olympics, showing up at the Apple event, partnering with Universal to make a theme park, they all point to a responsive company looking for an edge.

They have such a guaranteed appeal, they could hedge their bets and figure out a way to profit. I'm just wondering if they have enough love and passion left to take the money from SMB Run and finance projects that fans want. Not projects that increase huge swaths of revenue, but games and developments that sky rocket good will and customer satisfaction in a holistic way. Sometimes a business can tire of doing things out of passion, and just use the balance sheet to guide every decision.

The latter is probably my biggest fear for them, cause I believe the NX is going to be something infinitely cooler than the Wii U. And lucky me, I love my Wii U and convinced a few friends to pick one up. Hopefully we will know soon!



Great post EvilTwin, great post.
 

Odo

Well-Known Member
#8
I don't see Nintendo doing weird stuff as a problem of innovation but as a result of the fact that Nintendo, since Wii, is slowly leaving the gaming console market.

Consoles need more and more "teraflops". Better graphics. Advanced online features. Traditional control input. The only way of disruption seems to be the console itself vanishing and games become 100% operational by cloud computing (Sony is right now innovating in that). But other aspects like better graphics and control input don't change much. So it's the physical gaming platform going to the cloud.

For Nintendo, they don't care. They're selling amiibo, the same old games over and over again via Virtual Console, new controllers, mobile games, anime, cards, all sorts of stuff. The Nintendo portfolio of products is totally different than Microsoft and Sony who have been selling "gaming processing power" for years.

Nintendo sort of created the market, had some trouble with N64 and decided to leave it. Sony took their market since Playstation is the true successor of SNES in my opinion. (PS1 is a more powerful SNES, keeping most of the franchises (the 'thirdies', of course), delivering a successor of the SNES controller and changing the old cartridges for disks: the necessary innovation of that time).


My only question is: for whatever Nintendo sells, are there enough buyers?
 

EvilTw1n

Even my henchmen think I'm crazy.
Moderator
#10
Consoles need more and more "teraflops". Better graphics. Advanced online features. Traditional control input. The only way of disruption seems to be the console itself vanishing and games become 100% operational by cloud computing (Sony is right now innovating in that). But other aspects like better graphics and control input don't change much. So it's the physical gaming platform going to the cloud.

For Nintendo, they don't care. They're selling amiibo, the same old games over and over again via Virtual Console, new controllers, mobile games, anime, cards, all sorts of stuff. The Nintendo portfolio of products is totally different than Microsoft and Sony who have been selling "gaming processing power" for years.
Sure, as hardware in the abstract improves, you improve gaming-specific hardware, too. But Sony won the PS2 gen partially on doubling as a DVD player. The 360 didn't truly take flight last gen until Kinect went gonzo. The PS4 is proving a marketing campaign centered on software is enough to win the gen, although its supposed power is certainly a factor there. Some tech industries reach a point where outright power becomes a secondary or tertiary matter; people buy cell phones now just as much for screen size, battery life, camera quality, and app support as they do for processing benchmarks. We're about to see just how big the appetite for specs wars is with the PS4 Bro and XBox Astrological Sign. I'm interested to see what the public decides.
 

Odo

Well-Known Member
#11
Yes.

That data is 2 years old. Surely things are better now after Pokemon Go and Super Mario Run, and all those licensing deals Nintendo is doing with Universal, clothing companies, etc.
That's impressive, and yes, Nintendo is still bigger than Sony, however Nintendo still struggles to make profit.
 
Top