Playing Nintendo games without needing to buy special hardware seems like a no-brainer. Still, it’s not happening, and the Apple TV may have signaled it never will.
Nintendo’s reasons for creating a walled garden of its own are simple: control. By controlling the hardware and software, the company can create a measure of distance between itself and those who may try to pinch some of its energy.
It has taken steps to make sure nobody copies its style, going so far as to sue those Nintendo feels purposefully mislead the public about being in concept with the company.
Nintendo’s belief that it must command control and respect may go further than interoffice memos. Nintendo has deep roots in Kyoto, Japan — which might explain quite a bit.
In an interview with Dromble earlier this year, former Nintendo executive Dan Adelman laid out why:
Nintendo is not only a Japanese company, it is a Kyoto-based company. For people who aren’t familiar, Kyoto-based are to Japanese companies as Japanese companies are to US companies. They’re very traditional, and very focused on hierarchy and group decision making. Unfortunately, that creates a culture where everyone is an advisor and no one is a decision maker – but almost everyone has veto power.
Even Mr. Iwata is often loathe to make a decision that will alienate one of the executives in Japan, so to get anything done, it requires laying a lot of groundwork: talking to the different groups, securing their buy-in, and using that buy-in to get others on board. At the subsidiary level, this is even more pronounced, since people have to go through this process first at NOA or NOE (or sometimes both) and then all over again with headquarters. All of this is not necessarily a bad thing, though it can be very inefficient and time consuming. The biggest risk is that at any step in that process, if someone flat out says no, the proposal is as good as dead. So in general, bolder ideas don’t get through the process unless they originate at the top.
There are two other problems that come to mind. First, at the risk of sounding ageist, because of the hierarchical nature of Japanese companies, it winds up being that the most senior executives at the company cut their teeth during NES and Super NES days and do not really understand modern gaming, so adopting things like online gaming, account systems, friends lists, as well as understanding the rise of PC gaming has been very slow. Ideas often get shut down prematurely just because some people with the power to veto an idea simply don’t understand it.
The last problem is that there is very little reason to try and push these ideas. Risk taking is generally not really rewarded. Long-term loyalty is ultimately what gets rewarded, so the easiest path is simply to stay the course. I’d love to see Nintendo make a more concerted effort to encourage people at all levels of the company to feel empowered to push through ambitious proposals, and then get rewarded for doing so.
Parsing his statements, it’s pretty clear that Nintendo values the control it exerts — or at least those in power do. It’s the lack of control over hardware that makes truly mobile games impossible for the company to produce. Fans have long wanted Nintendo to pivot titles for play on smartphones and tablets, a request the company rebuffs at every turn.
Apple TV seemed like the happy medium that could edge Nintendo into a modern age. As third-party OEMs made game controllers, it seemed reasonable to think Nintendo would leverage its desire for control via hardware by making its own controller for its games.
Selling games and proprietary controllers would also double-down on revenue — something Nintendo could use more of.
To wit, the company has a lot of low-hanging fruit to capitalize on, too. While it would take a dedicated crew of developers, older titles could be retrofit for iOS from within Nintendo. Nothing would need to change, either; I’d gladly suffer Excitebike’s clumsy controls all over again.
It would also help surface franchises like Capcom’s Mega Man or Konami’s Castlevania (long associated with Nintendo hardware) for nostalgics.
The problem for Nintendo games for iOS or Apple TV is that it represents two companies with similar positions. Apple is forcing all apps to support its own remote for Apple TV, even if those games also support third-party controllers.
The lone angle to have mobile Nintendo games in 2015 was proprietary hardware. Forcing the purchase of a controller made by Nintendo to play its titles (or titles it has control over) was the only imaginable way we’d see the real Contra without a cartridge. A Nintendo-made Bluetooth controller would also work for iOS games we’d like to visit away from Apple TV. Imagine it: a clumsy Bluetooth pairing process would be the new blowing into cartridges!
I think Nintendo is making a significant error by ignoring mobile, which blows off Apple TV by virtue as tvOS adopts much of the same framework as iOS has. I understand the risks involved with piracy — a major concern for Nintendo — but the upside is massive. An entire generation of people who grew up playing classic Nintendo games now has disposable income.
Charge me $40 for Mario Bros — I don’t want the unofficial bootleg version. I’ll happily pay $35 for Mega Man 2 (Wood Man and I have unfinished business).
I’ll pay whatever you want for Contra. There are probably a lot of modern gamers who’d like to know where Solid Snake got his start, too.
Nintendo could make a controller for Apple TV, but it would still have to support the native controller. Even if Apple were to let Nintendo bypass that requirement, it seems Nintendo’s structure prohibits mobile gaming outside of its own hardware environment.
The dream is dead. I guess it’s time to reinvest in a Nintendo console.