The Nintendo Strategy

Sailing towards a blue ocean.

Direct Screenshot 2020-04-07 13-03-05

After more than 200 days, Nintendo finally deigned to release a Direct showcasing the company’s plans for 2020. In case you don’t know, a Nintendo Direct is a livestream (or simply a video) Nintendo releases to show off the games coming to the Switch (or whatever console happens to be out at the time). So, after months of anticipation and speculation, what did Nintendo have to show for itself? Did we see more footage of the sequel to Breath of the Wild? Or even for Metroid Prime 4? Maybe even a release date for either of them? Or perhaps we even caught a glimpse of a more powerful iteration of the Switch? Or maybe an announcement of a brand-new game in any of Nintendo’s storied franchises? If you were hoping to receive news about even one of these things, then you were sorely disappointed.

To be fair to Nintendo, the company made it very clear from the get-go that this was a mini Direct and not a full-blown presentation of upcoming games. In addition, Nintendo released it out of blue without any prior announcement. With all that being said, however, this was still a disappointing Direct in my humble opinion. The biggest news of the whole thing was that Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition would be releasing on May 29th (which is sooner than I expected to be honest), a few select 2K Games titles are coming to the Switch, a new fighter from ARMS is in development for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, an update featuring a multitude of bunny-related activities is coming for Animal Crossing, and the Panzer Dragoon remake is out now. That was the gist of the whole Direct (oh, and a cool-looking metroidvania-like game called Shinseki: Into the Depths is also out now on Switch).

What made this Direct fall flat, in my opinion, was the ending. Nintendo’s Directs usually end on a strong note. Traditionally (at least with the Switch), all Directs end with a surprise that no one sees coming. What was the surprise at the end of this particular Direct, you ask? It was more in-depth coverage of the two DLCs coming to Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield later this year. And yes, before you ask, we did already know about the DLC and honestly the Direct didn’t really provide much in the way of new information about them. It was a lame way to end the Direct especially when you compare it with the February 2019 Direct (where Link’s Awakening was unveiled) and the ending of Nintendo’s E3 2019 presentation (sequel to Breath of the Wild announced). The ending, coupled with the long wait and the scant information, made this Direct one of the worst I have ever seen.

I know it will come as a surprise to some but I didn’t come here today to just bitch and moan about the latest Direct. Although I have enjoyed doing just that thus far, my real aim today was to talk about how Nintendo’s mini Direct and light 2020 release schedule fits into its long-term strategy. I’m of course talking about the Blue Ocean strategy.

In 2004, a book by the name of Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant came out. According to this book, markets come in two denominations: the Red Ocean and the Blue Ocean. The Red Ocean is where all of the established businesses exist. All of them are competing for the same customers in order to carve out their piece of the pie. This leads to a feeding frenzy hence the term Red Ocean.

Blue-Ocean-Strategy-Book-Cover

By contrast, the Blue Ocean is where there is not much competition. Where companies can innovate and create growth instead of fighting over existing demand. Companies who adopt this mindset usually go against the grain and do their own thing instead of chasing existing trends and ideas. The Blue Ocean allows a company to differentiate itself from the competition and thus demand is created essentially rendering the competition irrelevant. Does this sound like the strategy of a certain company?

Nintendo is not only using this strategy now but has always employed it. Still not convinced? Let me ask you this then: which company released a console in late 2006 that was underpowered and featured motion controls that went on to sell the most units during that particular generation? The answer is Nintendo and the console in question is the Wii. In case you are still not convinced, then allow me to provide another more recent example.

Nintendo released its latest console, the Switch, not at the end of a traditional console cycle but smack dab in the middle of one. The PS4 and Xbox One were only three and a half years old at that point not to mention the fact that the Wii U (the Switch’s unfortunate predecessor) was only four and a half years old. The Switch came out earlier and in a different time frame than a traditional console would. Not only that but it was portable and had less power than the competition (just like the Wii). Despite this, however, the Switch has gone on to tremendous success worldwide. I don’t know about you but the Switch is the perfect embodiment of Nintendo’s Blue Ocean strategy.

So, what does this have to do with the latest Direct and Nintendo’s 2020 as a whole? Well, it seems to me that Nintendo may have planned for 2020 to be a light release year since it wants to avoid competing directly with both Sony and Microsoft (or, at the very least, wants to ignore both of them as it always has). In case you’ve been living under a rock, both Sony and Microsoft have new consoles coming out later this year; the PS5 and Xbox Series X respectively. Consequently, a lot of hype is swirling around the impending release of these two new machines. Nintendo may want to avoid being overshadowed by not having many major releases during this time period hence the mini Direct.

Let’s look at this from another angle. The Nintendo Switch had a big year in 2019. Nintendo released a gargantuan number of exclusives on the system. There was Super Mario Maker 2, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Astral Chain, Daemon X Machina, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, Luigi’s Mansion 3, and, to round it all off, Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield. This list isn’t all-inclusive either as a ton of smaller exclusive games released on the system as well. Not to mention the fact that Animal Crossing: New Horizons was originally scheduled to be released in 2019 but was pushed back to 2020. Nintendo even apologized for the delay as if there was nothing else to play on the Switch in 2019.

The reason I brought up all of the games which released last year is so I could pose this simple question: why would Nintendo have a packed 2019 but a relatively quiet 2020? The answer, I believe, is what I stated before. Nintendo knows that people will be focused on the PS5 and Xbox Series X and thus doesn’t want to release too many games this year.

This is why I think neither Breath of the Wild 2 (or whatever it will be called) nor Metroid Prime 4 will be coming out this year. As a side note, Metroid Prime 4 may have originally been scheduled for release this year but, as everyone should know by now, development was rebooted on the project early on in 2019. As I was saying, things could change since Nintendo loves to keep things a secret but I don’t think 2020 will be quite as exciting for Switch owners as 2019 was. It’s worth noting that we at least knew a little bit about all of the major releases in 2019 earlier that year. Flash forward to 2020 and all we know so far is that Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition and two Pokemon DLCs are coming out this year and that Breath of the Wild 2, Metroid Prime 4, and Bayonetta 3 are in development (at least in the major titles department). Speaking of Bayonetta 3, that’s really the only game that I could see getting a surprise release date sometime later this year.

As I said, things could change but I really don’t see Breath of the Wild 2 or Metroid Prime 4 releasing anytime this year. I’m sure that Nintendo has other secret projects in the works that they will reveal in due time but I don’t think they will come out this year either. I believe that Nintendo will let Sony and Microsoft have all of the hype in the second half of the year and then come out swinging again in 2021 once the excitement surrounding the release of the PS5 and Xbox Series X dies down. If I had to guess, I would say that the big Direct with the really juicy reveals will happen in June of this year. That’s when E3 was supposed to happen and I could see Nintendo forging ahead with a Direct in spite of E3’s cancellation. If it doesn’t happen then, I would say watch out for a big Direct in September because Nintendo has to announce its future projects at some point.

Of course, I could be talking out my ass here (and, let’s face it, I am) since Nintendo likes to keep everyone on their toes. An easy counterpoint to my argument is the release of the first Breath of the Wild back in 2017. Both the Switch and that game released in a very busy couple of months in the world of video games and both of them did quite well. And that’s the whole point of the Blue Ocean strategy, isn’t it? Do your own thing, carve out your own space, and render the actions of your competitors irrelevant while keeping people guessing every step of the way.

 

 

Thanks for reading! What did you all think about the latest Nintendo Direct? Did you like it? Or did you, like me, think it was kind of lame? What do you think Nintendo has in store for us for the rest of 2020? Let me know!

p.s. Recent rumors have come to light which suggest that Nintendo may be planning to fill out the rest of the year with Super Mario ports for the Switch. These are just rumors at this point so take them with a grain of salt but we could potentially get a collection containing Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy and a Deluxe Edition of Super Mario 3D World by the end of this year. Not only that but rumors also point to a new Paper Mario title. This all sounds too good to be true but, should it actually come to pass, then that makes me feel better about boldly proclaiming that Breath of the Wild 2 is not coming out this year.

Screenshot 2020-04-06 18.10.16 (2)

p.s.s. It figures that Nintendo would choose to port Super Mario Sunshine to Switch now of all times since I purchased a GameCube along with a copy of Super Mario Sunshine at the end of last year.

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