I have been thinking that there is hardly an article in this. The answer is just so simple and straightforward. Nintendo is an entertainment company. In fact on one of my trips to Japan I brought back a pack of Nintendo playing cards (which they have made since 1889) as a present for Jim Darling precisely to make this point.
Over their history Nintendo have always entertained even, as it once did, owning a chain of love hotels! Hiroshi Yamauchi had his back to the wall many times as he struggled to find products that would work. But he always innovated and he always sought to entertain. Then he had the luck and skill to employ two bright innovators Gunpei Yokoi and Shigeru Miyamoto who, like Yamauchi, knew how to entertain. The rest is legend.
So Nintendo are not interested in creating global media standards (as Sony are), though interestingly they did for the Gamecube, but that was just as an anti piracy tactic. They are also not interested in creating a near monopoly software platform (as Microsoft are). In fact the technicalities of the box are unimportant to them as long as it is cheap to make and allows them to entertain.
The Nintendo philosophy is very pure. They don’t want big film licenses because it is their job to come up with innovative IP, so they don’t need anyone elses. This attitude extends to allowing external publishers onto their platform. They will let them if they must, but it is not a cornerstone of their strategy (as it is at Sony and Microsoft). Nintendo know that they will make the best games for their own platforms themselves so they hardly need the external publishers.
Also Nintendo do not subscribe to the razors and razorblade philosophy, they make a profit on everything that goes out of the door. Subsidising hardware sales with future software revenue is not a road they want to go down, their corporate culture has seen enough hard times to know to avoid this folly. So their hardware is very simple, just enough to do the job. The Wii is just a slightly upgraded and repackaged Gamecube, yet it sells in the UK for the same price as the vastly more sophisticated 360.
What is a huge and important part of Nintendo culture is innovation. They have always done this and they always will. They realise that innovation piques the human intellect and allows them to develop a constant stream of new entertainment ideas. I am a great fan of this. The controller on the Wii is a creation of genius as are the two screens of the DS and they contrast very sharply with the offerings of Sony and Microsoft which are very much “me too”.
As a great part of Nintendo’s heritage is toys they have largely made computer games for children. So a big swathe of the hardcore gaming fanboys looked down on them. What passed most people by was Nintendo’s announcement a few years ago that they were going to expand their audience to encompass everyone. This really should have worried the competition because they meant it and now we can see the results. The DS is the dominant handheld worldwide and Nintendo cannot make enough of the Wii to keep up with demand. They look set to ship more units than their competitors in this cycle. Not only that, Nintendo know how to make money, they have to because they can’t cross subsidise from different divisions. They are now making outrageous amounts of it and they will make even more as the cycle grows to it’s peak.
In the future you have to wonder if the Nintendo philosophy of just entertaining can survive against the drive for global power at Microsoft and Sony. Certainly their ability to generate so much profit will give them a lot of protection.
So now you have my little summaries for all three of the current platform holders, Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. They have very different corporate cultures and very different objectives. What do you think? Please comment, it adds so much.