Nintendo UK's Big Boss Man, the beaming and bullish Aussie David Yarnton, opened his presentation at yesterday's ‘Keep Evolving' Event at London's Science Museum with the cover of Darwin’s Origin Of The Species projected onto the screen behind him. The guys from Nintendo, it seems, are evolutionists through and through, believing wholeheartedly in Darwin’s theory of the Survival of the Fittest.
Yarnton draws parallels between Darwinian Theory and the necessity of consumer IT companies also needing to continue to evolve to survive. He presents us with the classic example of the Walkman, noting Sony’s inability to evolve as Apple’s iPod cast the Walkman into the tech-bin of history in the MP3 era. SPOnG thinks it interesting that Nintendo wants to draw parallels between itself and the other ‘certain upstart’ that’s beaten Sony in the MP3 era.
He then goes on to note that the videogame industry over the past 25 years “...has been less about innovation and more about sequels”. Nintendo feels that the industry is missing a trick and alienating those who “...aren’t part of the gamers club”.
Discussing the various DS games which were on offer yesterday - more of those later - Yarnton notes that, “There’s no stereotypical teenage boys in darkened rooms, no gangsta rap style drive-bys, no role-playing games that require you to pretend to be an elf and sit in front of your PC for 60 hours a week.” Nintendo, he promises, is going to show us something entirely different. Sounds good so far!
Yarnton then goes on to say a little more about the various DS titles on show, which are as follows. Professor Kawashima’s Brain Training: How Old is Your Brain (out 24th March 2006 in Europe, ‘A New Way to Rejuvenate’); Big Brain Academy (out May 2006, ‘ A New Way to Learn’ for younger users); Electroplankton (out 21st April 2006, ‘A New Way to Relax’); Animal Crossing: Wild World (out 31st March 2006, ‘A New Way to Make Friends’); Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (out 31st March 2006, ‘A New Way to Argue’; and finally, Trauma Center: Under the Knife (out April 2006, ‘A New Way to Operate’).
All of the above, Yarnton notes, are “...experiences you can dip in and out of as little or as often as you like, when you like, on your own terms”. In all cases, the intuitive pick-up-and-play and non-genre nature of the games are highlighted. SPOnG had a very quick look at each of the six titles, and they are all DS gems. Full previews to follow on each of them next week.
Yarnton then moved on to pointing out that two years ago, Nintendo’s esteemed President Satoru Iwata identified that the global videogame market was in decline. Yarnton uses a variety of graphs and stats to push this point home and notes that “...many raised their eyebrows and questioned our thinking”. Nintendo claims to have three challenges ahead of itself: firstly, to bring those people back who have stopped playing videogames; secondly, to bring new people to the market; and finally, to bring new products that can appeal to traditional gamers and new gamers alike.
Whilst console sales have continued to increase, Yarnton notes with the aid of some more graphs and charts that household penetration of consoles in the UK has remained relatively static at around 30% for an extended period of time. This means “...people are buying multiple consoles… the market is not expanding, in fact it hasn’t expanded for the last 20 years”. At this point, there were some frowns and muttering to be heard amongst the (few) games journos in the audience.
“There are practically no industries ever that have survived by providing the same product under the same structure for nearly thirty years,” Yarnton goes on to argue. SPOnG feels this is mere hyperbole, setting up Nintendo as the saviour of the games industry, thus allowing it to be “The first to identify the issue, and the first to offer a solution to it… New Ways To Play”.
Nintendogs was then put forward as a shining example of this New Way to Play – 1.6m copies sold in Europe to date, with 55% of UK purchasers being females with an average age of 19, with 60% of purchasers also buying the hardware with the game, with 12% of them being totally new to gaming. And it’s this last figure that Yarnton is most excited about and cites as proof that Nintendo's strategy is taking effect. Well, SPOnG can’t really argue with that.
With over 13m DS users worldwide and over 3.5m of those in Europe, Yarnton bullishly notes that this is “...far and away more than a certain rival handheld console”. He then goes on to sing the praises of Nintendo’s Wi-Fi service. Well, you’re certainly preaching to the converted on that one, David. Not one to forget which side his bread is buttered on, Yarnton closes his opening presentation with a mention of Nintendo's existing successful franchises - the successes of Mario Kart and noting that, “Pokemon also remains a force to be reckoned with.”
UK Marketing Director Dawn Paine then took to the stage to say a few things about how Nintendo plans to take “all this groundbreaking new content” to new markets and traditional non-gaming consumers. There is much high-falutin’ talk about “degrees of homogeneity” (cue blank stares amongst the games journos) but the bottom line message which Paine wants to drive home is this: “At this moment in time the rest of the games industry outside of Nintendo seems obsessed with just targeting by age, obsessed with just targeting that core, stereotypical 16-24 year old demographic”.
Nintendo’s market research amongst non-gamers is focused more around the idea of recreation, making people laugh and emotionally engaging with people, looking more at consumer’s lifestyles and mood. Hardcore gamers, according to Nintendo, want an intense experience when they play videogames, they want the highest score and the fastest lap, they want competitiveness and they want to gain the respect and the self-esteem that winning provides. Gamers, Paine continues to outline, love fantasy and escapism and jumping into ‘pumped up worlds’ where they can do things that ordinarily they would not be allowed to do.
Our non-gaming friends however, according to Paine, want different things. “For them its not all about the intensity of experience, they see gaming as a waste of time” says Paine. “They want to gain their self-esteem through things that are actually much more ‘worthy’, through their career or through their family”. Finally, non-gamers are not interested in fantasy worlds, they are “...very much in the realm of real life”.
Here is Nintendo’s marketing conundrum. How can it devise a marketing strategy to target both? The clue, as you may well have guessed already, and as Paine goes on to inform us, is with our old friend the Nintendo DS. “Consumers are resonating with the sheer physicality and human aspect of the console,” said Paine. SPOnG kind of knows what she means, but wishes she wouldn’t use those words to express it. We do not ‘resonate’ when we play DS games, and nor do any of our friends.
As well as a conundrum, Paine also identifies a paradox. Well, we never! Its not often we get both in one day. The DS enables non-gamers to use their human skills to “validate the gaming experience”, making gaming more real and more accessible (using the example of Nintendogs again, people like having pets in real life, therefore also like having virtual pets).
The interesting situation for Paine is the fact that the opposite is apparently true for gamers. “For our gamers, it’s the reverse of this which makes the human skills aspect so interesting… the fact that through enabling the use of touch control and voice recognition they are being more drawn into the game than any other previous game experience has enabled them to be…enabling them to have their fantasy, ‘not real-life’ experience to be much enhanced, with a much greater sense of immersion and richness.”
“To put it bluntly, Nintendo is all about human skills, its our core differentiator in the marketplace and as we go forward we will look to evangelise this even more, building on the successful work from last year,” Paine states. She goes on to discuss the six new DS titles on offer, noting that the DS offers ‘new ways to do anything’. New ways to think with Brain Training, new ways to argue with lawyer-sim Phoenix Wright, new ways to operate with Trauma Centre. “The opportunities and the possibilities really are without limits”.
Now, whilst this is all well and good, SPOnG does feel that the marketing spiel and the backslapping has possibly gone too far. The DS is the best handheld videogame console yet invented, of this we are in agreement. It does not, however, offer ‘new ways to do anything’!
Paine continues to outline the marketing strategy, which Nintendo feels will engage non-gamers and gamers alike, how they plan to move away from the “...bland, me-too marketing that is so rife within the games industry.” Nintendo is going to “...shake it all up and do everything differently – new media, new in-store propositions, new promotions, new partnerships, new ways to plan and new PR… the very reason why we are here today,” Paine confidently states.
Paine goes on to give a few hints as to how Nintendo plans to start engaging with these different types of consumers with Brain Training. Targeted media includes Classic FM, Channel 4 News, Countdown and Broadsheet Activity. Eyebrows amongst the games journos raise in unison at this point. She puts forward an in-store proposition that is different to the 'classic hit-driven mode' in which all the marketing activity happens in the first two weeks of sales. New promotional partners include MENSA and SAGA, targeting older audiences.
Paine stresses that Nintendo wants to think long-term, with a four-month TV campaign planned for Brain Training. She also wants to maximise ‘tactical opportunities’ such as Father's Day, suggesting that kids might be persuaded to buy a DS for their dad. Well, SPOnG doesn’t know many of these kinds of kids, and thinks that the pocket money that they get is outrageous!
Yarnton then returned to the stage, stressing that ‘New Ways To Play’ is just “...one part of our business…we have a lot of real traditional franchises that are still there and still going to be developed for, but this [New Ways To Play] is looking to expand the business and the market.”
The assembled hacks were then treated to a demo of Professor Kawashima’s Brain Training, Nintendo’s flagship title in its campaign to wow new consumers. Brain Training has been a huge hit amongst senior citizens in Japan, largely through word of mouth, and Nintendo hopes to replicate that success in Europe.
Two poor saps from the audience are invited up onto the stage to do some elementary arithmetic tests – competing against each other and the clock. SPOnG is VERY glad we chose to not sit in the front row at this stage! Both young journos seem to have have the brain age of 80 year-olds, something which raises a chuckle amongst their colleagues who remain seated, relieved it wasn’t them up there being shamed for the thickos they actually are.
The game, as Yarnton points out, “...is competitive within your own self… it’s looking to improve yourself.” And while it does look incredibly simple, it also seems to be very addictive, with the audience remaining silent and engrossed throughout the demo. It also proves to be the most popular game of the six on show, with most of the assembled crowd rushing over to give it a go as soon as the presentation is over.
To wrap up the proceedings, Yarnton invites the head of the Science Museum, Mr John Tucker, up on stage. Tucker thoroughly looks the part, bounding on stage in a tweed jacket with a mad professorial grin across his face. And we soon find out why he’s grinning. Nintendo has just given him a million quid!
Well, not him personally, but Nintendo is sponsoring various exhibitions and talks at the Science Museum – including the popular hands-on [URL=http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/on-line/launchpad/index.asp] launchpad gallery [/URL], the forthcoming Game On videogaming exhibition, and the public debates at the adult-focused [URL=http://www.danacentre.org.uk/] DANA Centre [/URL].
Yarnton’s closing comments refer to the not-yet-mentioned Codename Revolution home console. “Our mission for console is the same as our mission for handheld, we will do the same with the Nintendo Revolution as we are doing with the Nintendo DS. The interface will be key in making Revolution accessible and fun for everyone, not just hardcore gamers. In an industry obsessed with megahertz, teraflops and pixels that ultimately churns out the same old content, Nintendo stands apart, proud to be different, and as a result we are already reaping the rewards on a global scale. Nintendo is the human face of gaming, bringing physical interactivity, unparalleled accessibility and immersion to all. Nintendo DS is just the start. Get ready for the Revolution.”
Well, there you go. There are the bare-boned facts of what happened yesterday. Do we think this heralds a revolution in marketing? A revolutionary and seismic shift in our gaming paradigms, as Nintendo might say? Only time will tell, but let us know your thoughts in the forums below.
On a final note, SPOnG would like to take this opportunity to wish David Yarnton a happy Australia Day for tomorrow, the 26th. More news on yesterday’s panel discussion on celebs, dumbing down and what this all means for videogaming to follow.