North Wind And Sun

Amherst Bytes: On Super Smash Brothers Brawl

I can’t recall when exactly, but at some point in my youth I sold my soul to Nintendo. A lot of people have, actually, and Nintendo sold them things in return. Multiple iterations of Game Boys, Nintendos, Super Nintendos, countless nearly identical Pokémon games and an embarrassing number of spin-offs. But gamers never doubted that Nintendo created games for the love of the craft, rather in the pursuit of profit. Nintendo was, in the eyes of gamers, in it for the fans.

But there is a component of that equation that should give one pause. Is it a fallacy to assume that a company really cares about its customers? Companies, after all, exist solely for profit; when they don’t make money, they cease to exist. Why should Nintendo be any different?

For gaming companies, and Nintendo especially, their bread and butter customers have always been the hardcore fans, the dedicated followers that purchase out of loyalty. But in recent years, and especially since the release of the Nintendo DS and Wii, there has been a shift. Nintendo saw the largely untapped market of casual gamers, grandmothers and soccer moms as an incredible source of income. If they could create games for the majority of the population, rather than the minority, they would certainly see a huge rise in profits. The investors would be ecstatic and everyone would be eating caviar for a long time to come.

As a result, the hardcore followers, a small subsidiary of the new gaming population, became less important. Why should Nintendo care about a small minority of dedicated followers when they have legions of Wiimote-swinging grannies in their pocketbooks? Basic economics dictate that this broader base of consumers could create more profit. Someone would have to suffer.

Inexplicably, however, Nintendo has yet to give their fans the big proverbial finger that everyone was expecting them to. Instead of molding themselves into a company completely dedicated to creating games for casual players, Nintendo did something a bit unexpected�”they made Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

The Super Smash Bros. series is likely the largest collective form of fan service ever made. In each iteration of the series Nintendo one-ups themselves, assiduously applying the company’s rich history in surprising and beautiful ways. Super Smash Bros. Brawl, the newest Super Smash Bros. game, is undoubtedly a labor of love. Nintendo has crafted a game brimming with allusions and mythology. Lovingly created, Brawl is testament to Nintendo’s ability to create games for both their most dedicated cotumers and their most profitable ones.

Nothing has confirmed this more than my experiences at GameStop’s Brawl Launch Tournament. As I stood in line waiting for GameStop to open its doors, I realized that I was surrounded by the epitomizations of hardcore video game fandom. The greasy-haired, pale, socially awkward gamers that I, for some reason or another doubted the existence of, were in my midst. As we waited in line, and between tournament rounds, we dabbled in discussions on Brawl’s features – the new characters, the altered game play mechanics, the new stages – and I came to a few realizations.

For one, it became immediately obvious to me that Nintendo’s decision to provide daily updates on the game’s features was a brilliant business move. What better way to freely advertise a game than by having the gamers talk about it every single day? The people who I waited in line with knew more about this unreleased game than they probably should have, which obviously added to the anticipation and, in turn, hype for the game.

In addition, I realized that Nintendo deserves a fair bit of applause for their dubious ability to create fanbases that span ages and demographics. Though most of the line I was waiting in consisted of young men in their mid-to-late teens, the end of the line was a bit more varied. Middle-aged men lined up with their children, and there were many female gamers present. Some fortunate child’s mother sat quietly in a folding chair towards the middle of the line, exuding maternal love.

But the most significant realization I had that night emerged in response to my doubts as to whether Nintendo really cared about any of the people eager to buy their game. Does it really matter, I asked myself, what Nintendo’s reasons are for creating Brawl? Is it really important whether the game represents a prudent financial decision or Nintendo’s dedication to their most prized enthusiasts? Isn’t it more important that people enjoy what they play and are spending time with their friends and family?

Company or not, profit-seeking or otherwise, Nintendo must realize that, at the end of the day, fun is the most important part of every game they create. Everything is secondary after that.

(Originally published 12 March 2008 in The Amherst Student.)

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