Nintendo is home to some of our most cherished and celebrated videogames, and right now those titles are locked away and collecting dust. The company needs to get back into the business of syndication. Immediately. Taking a look at how Disney has reconsidered the value of their own classics —and adapted to streaming culture— would be a great starting point for Nintendo’s own strategy going forward.
When it comes to family media, Disney and Nintendo are some of the best in their respective industries. But with so much history behind them there’s always going to be a balancing act of making sure they cater to their old fans while bringing in new followers. It’s a lot like being a rock star: people sit around yelling for the oldies, but condemn you as greedy if you don’t make new music.
Disney has always been a notoriously protective company — these are the folks who singlehandedly changed copyright into the monstrosity that is it today. Traditionally, Disney would temporarily halt the distribution of their ‘classics’ by locking them away in the metaphorical Disney vault. This allowed Disney to re-market the same movie over and over again, building a campaign around each re-release (diamond and platinum editions, ho!)
But last February Disney unveiled a new service dubbed “Movies Anywhere,” which not only dismantles the idea of ‘the vault,’ but acknowledges that delivering content through a 3rd party —in this case Apple’s ever popular iTunes— has its place. The implication here is two-fold.
For starters, we’re spoiled.
Kids aren’t only subject to what their parents buy for them anymore. They’re playing free games on iPods and browsing Netflix quite literally by character. There’s a short window of probably about ten years where a kid needs to know who the hell Mickey Mouse is before he becomes ‘just another cartoon mouse.’
Secondly, it’s hard to ask customers to go out of their way when the competition is readily (and cheaply) available. Disney’s first step towards opening up their content came last year when they started adding some of their less popular movies to Netflix — presumably to combat DreamWorks’ monopoly on the popular service. This lets kids cut their teeth on Dumbo or Hercules for 8 bucks a month, and gives parents the chance to save up for the egregiously priced copy of a nearly 80-year-old Snow White. When your audience is —in large part— kids, giving them the opportunity to engage with your material is key.
Disney has always been good at playing the long con: remaking old movies so that parents could vicariously enjoy their children’s excitement in seeing something for the first time. This strategy worked in the past because of how few options were available; not only was there less competition vying for a family’s attention, but the cost of buying a movie or game was prohibitive compared with the subscription services offered today. If you were going to spend hard earned money on a single game or movie, it had to be something that could be consumed again and again. What it had to have was a seal of quality — something that Nintendo was well aware of.
But the internet has come around and flipped everything on its head.
Today people have infinite options for free, or for less than the cost of any one game or movie. No one is going to wait around to be charged extra. Kids aren’t born with a blind devotion to classic characters, they learn it. Which is why —in the weirdest turn of events— a decade later Sonic is making headway against Mario in the mascot mindshare battle. No matter what machine you play games on, there is a Sonic the Hedgehog game available (with ten on iPhone alone). Meanwhile, if you want to play a Mario game today you’re going to need to pony up the cost of a 3ds or Wii U + the price of the game itself which is sure to be in the $40-$60 range. If Nintendo wants to keep their premium content locked up on the Wii U/3DS that’s their prerogative, and maybe that still makes sense. At the same time, if no one is playing their classics, they won’t —hell, they can’t— be considered classics to a new generation.
Our very understanding of a classic work of art is “something so exceptional that it is passed on from generation to generation.” People love to share the things that they care about. Twitch Plays Pokemon? The lightning strike that caused over ninety-thousand people to meet online and battle their way through the original Pokemon game, happened because those people grew up playing Pokemon. Nintendo needs to be fostering that kind of love for their intellectual property or it will be forgotten. A good game is still a good game, but Nintendo has decades of material they are actively hiding; even if you buy a Nintendo console there are only a handful of Mario or Zelda games available to purchase.
Meanwhile, Sony is gearing up to launch their own streaming service, “PlayStation Now,” which could set them up as curators in the same vein as GOG. We are so close to the beginning of game history, from where we sit it’s hard not to see Super Mario Bros. as important primer for the medium, but we’re also only 30 years into what will hopefully be a long history — things can change oh-so easily.
Sharing is the route of nostalgia. Family’s share things, friends share things, my mom showed me Star Wars, but if it was gated behind a $100+ paywall (or made entirely inaccessible), you can bet I wouldn’t have seen it — unless I somehow stole it, but that’s a whole different conversation.
When you walk into Disney Land you see the new, you see the old; it’s generations and generations worth of memories. 2012’s Nintendo Land is evidence that Nintendo encourages this comparison, but if they have any interest in holding that same level of relevance years from now, people (and kids, especially) need to be playing their games today. A part of what makes these two companies so special is their ability to create things with lasting appeal, but pretending their artistic endeavors are so special that they are somehow worth holding for ransom is not only a bad business decision, but a mindset that hurts the value of the works themselves.