Jump to content
  • Advertisement
awesomedata

"I know my audience!!" -- Nintendo's path to failure.

Recommended Posts

Posted (edited)

Check back soon -- needed a bit of TLC thanks to the fancy WYSYWYG editor...

Edited by awesomedata

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Advertisement

Hopefully this was worth the wait!! -- (I originally posted in response to the below question -- I've struggled with this too, so I thought some fleshed-out insight could be useful to someone here.)

 

Quote

I do rapid prototyping but the biggest problem is how to analyze the results. If something is not popular right away, how do you distinguish between if it's a bad idea or just needs more polish? Cause many ideas will not be interesting until they reach a certain level.

 

 

Nintendo has had some spectacular successes with prototypes. And some spectacular failures too. "The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker" (for the GameCube) almost crushed the Zelda fanbase thanks to its overly-cute graphical style. Up to that point, die-hard Zelda fans still expected "tough-as-nails" coming from Zelda -- not "Disney" lookalikes. Fortunately for Nintendo, that final "sword-to-the-head" scene in WindWaker showed that even a "cutesy" Zelda still had some vicious teeth. So hardcore fans weren't entirely left out in the cold. It took quite a bit of time, but as HD WindWaker's sales have proven -- most could agree -- despite the distinct change in art style, it was still a pretty good game.

But it just as easily could have been a total failure.

Nintendo, even with all of its clout and all of its goodwill it has generated over the years, could have lost Zelda right there.

The reason was clear -- Zelda's aesthetics didn't match Zelda's audience.

 

In the prototype stage, Zelda probably looked (and felt) like a Zelda game. If you removed the visuals from the Wind Waker (and replaced them with OoT 3d models), you could probably feel the "Zelda" in the controls. However, this wasn't enough for people back then. This did not LOOK like Zelda. So it couldn't FEEL like Zelda either... :(

But the problem wasn't the prototype. It wasn't the controls. And against popular belief, it wasn't even the GRAPHICS that were the mistake. As WindWaker HD proves, people finally accepted those as part of the Zelda universe (graphics and all). It wasn't easy though. It was a very slow (and arduous) burn, and a lot of time passed (and a lot of flaming happened) before WindWaker finally became synonymous with the "Zelda" universe to its core audience. And we are all the better for it. But that was never Nintendo's problem.

 

Nintendo's problem was that it either did not know (or did not accept) its audience.

 

Remember, this was before the days of the Wii, and Nintendo hadn't learned its lesson about handing its kingdom over to the likes of Sony or Microsoft by giving them their core audience all so Nintendo can go chasing after a "better" one. But by chasing after that fickle bride-to-be, Nintendo lost sight of the importance of the audience they already had (and knew how to cater to.)

 

Targeting the _correct_ audience is too important to hand-wave, or ignore -- and Nintendo missed the mark on this one. "People were just expecting something else" was the easy answer with Wind Waker's original release. However, the problem wasn't with Wind Waker at all -- It was a great prototype and a great game. No, the problem was with Nintendo's choice of audience for Wind Waker.

Nintendo has always had a disgusting habit of sidelining its audience in an attempt to target a broader demographic.
The "Wii" is my case-in-point on this one. Wind Waker was the original Wii for Nintendo. However, by sidelining your main audience for a vastly different one (and by appearing to ignore the "old" one), we risk alienating the audience we rely on the most. It's like "cheating" on your girlfriend. What?? You didn't think she'd be mad you took time out of your day for the girl from the store in the hot-pink shirt with the big boobs??? You say you were just helping with her studies??? Did you really think your girlfriend would buy that?? Nintendo did just that with Zelda WW. In the end, for Nintendo, the girl in the hot-pink shirt turned out to be a pretty cool chick despite her appearance and even became friends with the current girlfriend too. For Nintendo, this was no harm, no foul (as HD WindWaker proved). But if _your_ girlfriend (i.e. your intended audience) isn't quite as understanding, and _your_ version of the "hot chick" turns out to be a steaming turd-pile on your current girlfriend's doorstep (i.e. a bad game that your intended audience could never find the heart to advocate), expect to be left out in the cold.

Even if the girl in the pink shirt is ultimately a cool chick that doesn't threaten your current girlfriend in any way (i.e. like WindWaker), your (intended) audience must (already) feel this too, otherwise, if you pursue her (that _other_ audience), you're in for some long, cold, lonely nights by yourself. The facts don't lie -- Know your audience. Guide your audience. If it don't work for your audience in some way already though, it won't work for you. If you aren't fully-satisfied with your girlfriend (intended-audience) though, it's best to just break it off.

Intent doesn't matter.

In the end, you have got to find something that fits _you_ as well as _you_ fit it. Knowing your audience means knowing your own motivations behind selecting them. Avoid dodging/ignoring simple facts about your game, and whether your intentions fit (or ignore) your audience's expectations of you. The prototype is never 100% representative of your game, but if that prototype does not lead to a plan that represents your truest intentions to your intended audience in its barest state, the prototype is incomplete, and there is no way a fully-fleshed out game will do any better at explaining your true intentions to your audience.

 

Being fully 100% truthful to yourself (and your audience) about your game (and your intentions) is always the best approach to finding the (target) audience you should _actually_ target.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think I understood the essence of this: know your audience. But I'm not sure Nintendo (or Wind Waker) is an example of this problem. As a company, Nintendo always were a bit odd when compared with others, taking risks and following a different path. Sometimes, it leads to failure (Wii U, which was a bigger problem than Wind Waker, in my opinion), sometimes, it leads to success (Switch, which basically fixed everything wrong with the Wii U).

Why do you think Wind Waker was really a problem, other than "it was not what the audiences expected at the time"? Nintendo took a risk and it paid of in the long run, so what they could have done differently? Deliver the same game as Majora's Mask?

Sony did a major rewrite of a beloved character in the recent God of War, and it paid of. Should they have delivered the same game as God of War 3?

The message is good, but it looks like a rant against Nintendo or Wind Waker, because they take risks despite what people think (Wii, Labo, all the different Mario games, etc). I think they know they audience very well, but are not afraid of trying something different, even with its consoles and major franchises. I think more game companies should try that (at least sometimes), instead of delivering the same game over and over again.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think a better example of this is the N64 rather than Windwaker. I've been fan of the Zelda series since the beginning. Windwaker was a good game in the series and I didn't even know I was supposed to not like it until years later.

However for the N64, there was a mandate for all approved games too be family friendly. Not that there would be some family friendly games, but that all game would be family friendly. I had grown up with Nintendo and the N64 came out when I was getting older. In one example, I loved the Final Fantasy series and was looking forward to FF7 on the N64. But Square did not want to take out the very few "bad words" and some adult themes in the game (for good reason) and they left Nintendo for that and some other reasons.

This mandate for all games being family friendly I think is a good example of Nintendo not understanding that a lot of their audience was growing up and that they would like games geared towards adults. Sony picked up the audience that Nintendo was ignoring, including getting Final Fantasy VII.

If you lived through the time, that was Nintendo's first big failure. Now the N64 was a great system with many great games, but compared to the SNES (49 million), the N64 (32 million) did not do great. And they also lost a lot of their market to Sony. There was speculation at the time that Sony would fail because up to that point, no console without in house game development had ever succeeded, and to be fair there were some failures. But the thing that saved the Playstation was Nintendo losing their adult audience. They could have killed it if they didn't try to make all games family friendly, because they would have had a system that both the adults and kids wanted. And it's not like all the games for the SNES were family friendly, there were some great games targeting adults. The change is what killed them.

They eventually did lift the ban, but it was much too late.

For Windwaker, I think you should consider your audience, but also great games take risks that aren't market approved. There are many cases of games, that at the time, people were very much against citing the audience as the reason, that turned out to be awesome. Sometimes you have to take risks and just make the game the way you think is great and realize that if you're taking a risk, that you'll probably fail. Don't treat the audience and their expectations like shackles, often, the audience doesn't know that they'd really like (and often dislike), something.

In Zelda theme's, Breath of the Wild was a huge change in the series (I think they kept the heart of it, but it was very unlike previous Zelda games), it was a big risk and wasn't exactly what the Zelda audience said they wanted. It had elements of what the audience said they wanted, but it had other things as well that the audience loved when they played it. I think it's a near perfect example of listening to the audience, the devs being huge fans of Zelda, and coming up with something new and experimental that worked great in the series.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)

I would say that this is less of Nintendo not knowing their audience and more of them taking risks. They try new things regularly, sometimes to great acclaim (i.e. the Switch, and yes, even the Wii, which sold very well) and sometimes to resounding failure (the Wii U).

Moreover, many major franchises try to reinvent themselves and try new things all the time. Now we can argue about whether or not franchises should keep on going rather than just ending, but ultimately if it makes money, arguably the developers did their job and it's a moot point anyways.

3 hours ago, TerraSkilll said:

Sony did a major rewrite of a beloved character in the recent God of War, and it paid of. Should they have delivered the same game as God of War 3?

This is exactly what I wanted to point to as well. The new God of War isn't at all the same as the previous games. But it did very well. Arguably they also made radical shifts though.

So knowing your audience can mean a lot of things, depending on what you are trying to do.

Edited by deltaKshatriya

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
11 minutes ago, TerraSkilll said:

Why do you think Wind Waker was really a problem, other than "it was not what the audiences expected at the time"?

You've made some fair points.

Again, the problem wasn't ever with Wind Waker itself -- or even its audience at the time -- but instead, it was with the fact that Nintendo simply did not consider (because they clearly did not understand) who they were actually talking to. In their mind, they were talking to other Japanese. They didn't yet understand their overseas audience, even though they wanted to believe they thought they both saw "Zelda" the same way.

Japanese culture and American/European culture are very different. Overly-cute stuff might work in Asian countries, but it's hit-or-miss for primarily european countries like the US. This is because males in the US tend to have a complex with "cute" things. If it's not badass, it's not "cool". Fortunately, a sword to the head of Ganon (in human form) kinda made Toon Link "badass" too.

But first, Nintendo made a rookie mistake:  They assumed they knew their audience so well that they could provide 'value' to other (additional) audiences by simply changing the aesthetics. They thought they could keep their current demographic even with the change. The new coat of paint probably would work in most asian countries. They probably thought "Well, it says "Zelda" on the box, and it feels like a Zelda game, so now that it looks unique (and cute), Zelda should stand out to even MORE people! Now it appeals to everyone~!!!"

A marketing person/team's famous last words.

Most marketing experts will tell you -- appealing to everyone is a terrible idea.

The common wisdom is that you pick your audience out of a small group of people whose problems and complexities you understand very well. This allows you the important insight of knowing how to carefully (and methodically) solve them. The problem with Zelda's broader audience is that it strays as much from the experiences of Japanese boys and men as the gameplay does from most other games. Nintendo was in a difficult enough position with that fact alone. Assuming they understood (all) its audience well enough to play the field was a bad move in general.

Simply knowing a part of your audience "well enough" isn't enough -- you've got to have facts that can (objectively) show you've hit your chosen audience's complexes and pain-points thoroughly. And you've got to confirm those are still your audience's pains and complexities (objectively) too.

Wind Waker was just a convenient example of the arrogance of the old Nintendo trying to play the field. After the success of the Wii, they, again, thought they could just put a "2" on the box and sell that without establishing an audience. "We already have an audience" they probably said. Wind Waker was the Wii 2 -- in game form. -- It just didn't flop quite as spectacularly.

Maybe it's because it didn't use a "U" instead of a "2"? -- Americans don't like puns as much as Japan either...

In my opinion, the Wii U was a great system... But like Wind Waker -- it just didn't yet have exactly the same audience Nintendo thought it did... The Wii U didn't give itself an opportunity to have ANY audience but Japan. Nintendo sold the "2" on the box (which was actually a "U" lol), assuming people would buy it because "Wii" was there too. And they probably would have. If there was also a "2". But most people already had a Wii. "What the heck is a "U" for the Wii?" they probably asked themselves as they passed the box on the shelves. In Japan, adding a letter behind the name of something indicates it's "cool" or an "upgrade" -- but in the US... it just means you've gotta be EXTRA clear just what it is you're talking about...

 

 

6 hours ago, TerraSkilll said:

Should they have delivered the same game

This is an important question.

Like I said in my original post -- We are all the better for it that Wind Waker exists (Nintendo included). Gamers learned not to put so fine a point on graphics because a solid game could still exist underneath. The indie scene now thrives on this fact. Lots of games nowadays, even wildly popular ones (like Minecraft and Undertale) still err on the side of stylish 'crap' graphics on occasion. Yet we still embrace these games.

There was a time we wouldn't.

That audience has changed -- and it keeps changing -- and it's up to designers to keep our ears (and minds) open to the audiences that are available to us already. There's nothing wrong with creating a new audience, but the huge risk comes from how huge are your resources for building that audience if your marketing fails. Nintendo made Smash Bros to follow Wind Waker, and Toon Link was in it. People in the US audience accepted Toon Link probably because they knew he wasn't going away. Nintendo devoted some very hefty resources in building a european audience for him (i.e. Making Smash Bros.) that an indie team wouldn't have had.

People's tastes can change -- but they rarely change quickly. When you offer them something different, most will politely decline your offer and continue indulging in whatever's familiar. The bright side is -- people only hate change -- until something gets stale.

Until that happens, indies have little option but to offer something at least a little familiar, appealing to audience's current tastes, even if the appeal happens to be drastically different fundamentally (i.e. an "FPS" like Gone Home). People love narrative-driven games these days. And narrative-driven FPS games. There was an audience for Gone Home before it even released.

Before Wind Waker arrived, Zelda was still quite fresh. People didn't want something else so "new" so very soon.

Every game style has a shelf-life.

As the audience grows weary of that style, that style of game begins to age, and eventually, as with anything that gets old, it will expire.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I remember the hubbub surrounding Wind Waker's graphic style. The "uproar" was caused by some tech demo shown, prior to Wind Waker, where Link looked hyper detailed. Fans salivated over that new version of Link and many expected that to be the new graphical standard for the Zelda series moving forward. Nintendo's only mistake was letting marketing people do what marketing people do with tech demos: letting fans believe that this is the way the next game will look.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
42 minutes ago, awesomedata said:

They didn't yet understand their overseas audience, even though they wanted to believe they thought they both saw "Zelda" the same way.

Japanese culture and American/European culture are very different. Overly-cute stuff might work in Asian countries, but it's hit-or-miss for primarily european countries like the US.

OK, now I see your point. It's valid. Today, a fair number of players are good with cute characters, as long as the gameplay kicks ass. So when is Nintendo going to die? Or did I miss that part.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 5/28/2019 at 9:18 AM, DavinCreed said:

all games being family friendly I think is a good example of Nintendo not understanding that a lot of their audience was growing up and that they would like games geared towards adults. Sony picked up the audience that Nintendo was ignoring, including getting Final Fantasy VII.

Yes, I would agree here.

Nintendo really did lose their core audience with that choice. I lived through that time myself. Before that, many people trusted Nintendo and wouldn't switch to a new system simply out of respect. Final Fantasy VII was really a system-seller back then though, and Nintendo had no idea just how big of a fish they lost thanks to their arrogance.

 

On 5/28/2019 at 9:18 AM, DavinCreed said:

Sometimes you have to take risks and just make the game the way you think is great and realize that if you're taking a risk, that you'll probably fail. Don't treat the audience and their expectations like shackles

This is great advice.

Heck, making an FPS (while everybody loves the genre) is still a huge risk due to competition and the rising potential for staleness as others enter the market and age your product. The reason Zelda didn't age as quickly is because nobody else was making Zelda gameplay except for Nintendo. FPS games are a different story. One of the main characters could look particularly wonky or boring or just outright unappealing, and your game is sunk. It doesn't matter that you're not looking at his face the entire time (it is an FPS after all) -- the very thought of an unappealing avatar alone is enough to sink your game. But if you know your audience, and your main character looks downright goofy -- why not play to its strengths and goofy looks by adding some self-depricating humor into your game? Make it relatable. The staleness it risks suddenly becomes less noticeable. It's like cheese toast from slightly stale bread. It still tastes great.

My only difference of opinion is that taking risks isn't what makes you fail -- it's still not knowing your audience well enough to know what the real risk is. If you know your audience in as nuanced a way as you probably think you do, then it should be no problem finding and using objective facts to support your assumptions that your game will work because audience is on the same page as you in terms of the values they carry. This is very personal, but it is also very universal, and vital to expressing the bond you share with your audience.

If you and your audience resonate through this bond, you got no worries. -- Nintendo broke that bond with its audience by trying to exploit them and imposing on them things they just didn't want, and they paid dearly for it every time.

 

As for the Wii? -- It was a "success" of a sort, but that audience was just a quick fling. Great while it lasts, but it doesn't last long. It has long-since disappeared for Nintendo. Like a quick thrill, she (Wii audience) liked the novelty of Nintendo, but just didn't understand it deep down. The Wii U (wedding proposal) proved she really wasn't in it for the long-haul. Nintendo tried to change for her, but she made the truth clear -- Nintendo wasn't enough for her. It was the novelty she wanted. So Nintendo made the Switch. It started going its own way again. Back to its roots. And it's now getting its audience back, a little at a time. Maybe not all of it. Sometimes a pain like that never heals. But it's something.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
36 minutes ago, awesomedata said:

My only difference of opinion is that taking risks isn't what makes you fail[...]

No one said it was? But without risk you cannot fail.

36 minutes ago, awesomedata said:

[...]it's still not knowing your audience well enough to know what the real risk is. If you know your audience in as nuanced a way as you probably think you do, then it should be no problem finding and using objective facts to support your assumptions that your game will work because audience is on the same page as you in terms of the values they carry. This is very personal, but it is also very universal, and vital to expressing the bond you share with your audience.

If you and your audience resonate through this bond, you got no worries. -- Nintendo broke that bond with its audience by trying to exploit them and imposing on them things they just didn't want, and they paid dearly for it every time.

I don't think anyone can know their audience as deeply as you imply they should. I also don't think people should waste their time trying to. If you're getting so deep into your audience that you can objectively show how each thing in your game will be taken... well that's quite creepy and probably at least a little illegal.

It's important to remember that an audience is many people that rarely ever act as one. Many people join and leave the audience over time for their own reasons. It's true that sometimes many people will leave for the same reasons and join for the same reasons, but don't make the mistake of thinking that group of people act as one as you seem to be implying here. It's like when people apply statistical analysis to an individual person. Or worse, think that all individuals in a sample share the popular views of the group.

Also, don't sacrifice your game trying to never lose anyone. The larger audience you get, the higher the chances that someone in that group will not like something that you do. Appreciate the audience you have, don't be a dick to them, don't take them for granted, but also don't try to keep every single one of them.

36 minutes ago, awesomedata said:

As for the Wii? -- It was a "success" of a sort, but that audience was just a quick fling. Great while it lasts, but it doesn't last long. It has long-since disappeared for Nintendo. Like a quick thrill, she (Wii audience) liked the novelty of Nintendo, but just didn't understand it deep down. The Wii U (wedding proposal) proved she really wasn't in it for the long-haul. Nintendo tried to change for her, but she made the truth clear -- Nintendo wasn't enough for her. It was the novelty she wanted. So Nintendo made the Switch. It started going its own way again. Back to its roots. And it's now getting its audience back, a little at a time. Maybe not all of it. Sometimes a pain like that never heals. But it's something.

The Wii was sold out consistently for several years after its launch. Characterizing that as a "quick thrill" is misleading the reality. In terms of consoles, it was very successful.

The Wii-U was Nintendo trying to keep innovating and taking risks. It didn't work this time, I don't think attaching a "marriage" narrative to this accurately represents reality. I mean all companies want people to by their products.

The Switch, if you've been following the history of Nintendo, is just another in the long line of taking innovative risks. This time it appears to be working.

NES great, GameBoy great, SNES good, N64 not bad, Virtual Boy failure, Game Boy Advance not bad, Game Cube alright, DS good, Wii great, 3DS not bad, Wii-U not good, Switch good.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Advertisement
×

Important Information

By using GameDev.net, you agree to our community Guidelines, Terms of Use, and Privacy Policy.

GameDev.net is your game development community. Create an account for your GameDev Portfolio and participate in the largest developer community in the games industry.

Sign me up!