Companies that create products for entertainment, and that control IP’s that people enjoy need to listen to their fans more. I know that the goal of any business is to make money, but I think that when your products are bought by a certain group of people, it would be in the company’s best interest to listen to that group.
Let me try and explain what I’m talking about…
Games Workshop are a miniatures company based in Nottingham, UK. They are the creative minds behind Warhammer, Warhammer 40,000, Blood Bowl, Mordheim, and Space Hulk to name a few. I’ve been playing these fantastical games since I was old enough to hold a paintbrush and I still play today.
Back in the day, Games Workshop struck a huge deal with New Line Cinema. They were to produce a Lord of the Rings miniature game based upon the films. This game ended up being an enormous success and saw GW’s profits sky rocket. When the films had finished their theater runs and passed into the annals of cinematic history, the game lost momentum. People seemed to give up on it in favor of the more popular Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000.
Games Workshop saw their profits plunge back down to a pre-lotr times and this worried them. They had been raking it in for years following the film releases and now the well had run dry. Instead of doubling down on its flagship game lines, the company instead went on a crusade of bad ideas.
They stopped supporting the gaming community. They stopped opening their shops late for people to game in on evenings. They cancelled their annual games day, which was basically a Games Workshop Convention. They seemed to retreat away from their fans; hiding in their plastic tower dreaming up ways to keep the company growing and profitable. Now one could argue that these measures were taken to weather the effects of the recession that was taking place at the time, but the effects were felt regardless of what the reasoning was.
After some dark years, players started to look at other miniature games. These games were better supported, and from companies that spoke to their fans and engaged their communities. At some point, Games Workshop finally realized that change was required.
Fast forward to 2016 and it’s like Games Workshop has turned into an entirely different company. They have brought back official tournaments and events, they have redesigned their fantasy game system to be more accessible and easier for new players to get started, they have started talking to their community and bringing in people to help play test future releases. They are doing everything a modern game company should do. They are talking with their fans, finding out what people want and then adjusting their own plans to accommodate what players want to see.
Games Workshop have turned things around and they are earning their players trust again. The future looks bright for them and I’m incredibly happy about it and excited to see what they will produce next.
Now… lets take a look at a company that is at a similar cross roads. There are plenty out there who have been in similar situations, and there are several ways they can react and restructure after its happened. Lets look at an example from the video games industry, which I think has many examples of this kind of situation.
Nintendo have a lot of beloved IP’s that people have connected and interacted with since they were children. At this point there are several generations that have grown up loving Nintendo’s IP’s. When I wasn’t painting tiny toy soldiers, I was sat hunched in front of my TV playing Mario, Zelda, Starfox, Mario Kart, or Metroid. Nintendo have been a successful company for decades. They have produced several profitable consoles, and have some of the most critically acclaimed games of all time in their portfolio. Then the Wii happened and everything changed.
The Wii was a mega hit. Even that’s too small a term for it; the Wii was huge. Everyone and their grans were playing the Wii. It was a gaming console that had such widespread appeal that for several holiday seasons they couldn’t keep up with the demand. I worked for a video game retailer at the height of the Wii craze and it was insane. We sold hundreds each day and were bombarded by an endless stream of people looking for that console where you could play bowling with your entire family using weird TV remote things.
It was clear from the success of the Wii that Nintendo were going to carry on down that particular path. They were no longer concerned with console power, or third party support. They had struck gold with their machine that had the widest market appeal in video game history.
But what about the core fans?
I owned a NES, a SNES, and an N64. I proudly bought a Gamecube over a PS2 and Xbox and I loved that little purple box. I speak to Nintendo kids like myself who used to love the games and consoles that Nintendo created, and it’s clear they have lost faith.
I could go on and on about this, but the fact of the matter is, Nintendo have lost touch with their core audience. They got a taste of something larger and have been chasing it all the way down the hill to the edge of the cliff. Now they are in danger of leaping off it to try and catch one more glimpse of that success they saw with the Wii.
This is where Nintendo can learn from Games Workshop. Like GW, Nintendo are a company that helped define the market for decades. They helped shape it and pioneered a lot of the mechanics and ideas that we now see as standard in the industry. Like GW, Nintendo struck gold with a new idea and it burnt bright for quite a long time. The company saw profits at levels they likely never thought were possible. But like anything that burns bright, it goes out fast. Now they are being cannibalised by competitors who entered the market after them. Competitors who have great third party relationships and who are giving gamers what they have always wanted; games.
The NX is coming out in the next twelve months, and with it we will see the future of Nintendo. The question is will they have seen reason and decided to focus on their core fan base? Or will they still be trying to replicate that lightning in a bottle they inadvertently created with the Wii, but failed to replicate with the WiiU?
Only time will tell I suppose, but I hope they see the light, like Games Workshop did, and return to their roots as game developers. Or perhaps, in a couple of years time we’ll be buying Zelda games on the PS4, or Mario games on the Xbox. Maybe that would be for the best? At this point, anything is possible.