Hold onto your butts


The year gaming died.

I don't think I need to remind anyone old enough to remember the Atari 2600 how horrifying that year was. A glut of unchecked shovel ware led to massive consumer confusion. Eventually, people just stopped playing. Arcades went dark, stores were slashing prices on their remaining video games, and a large number of companies died a horrible death. Before 1983, an investor could get filthy rich off Atari Games stock. Those riches went away, along with any vestige of the company we remember (the company calling itself Atari now is actually a subsidiary of French publisher Infogrames). The industry only returned to relevance in 1985, when the NES started gaining popularity.

Unfortunately, history has a horrible way of repeating itself.


The Nintendo Wii is undeniably the hottest selling console today. Nintendo has proven unable to stop rubbing it in everyone's faces. Iwata must be sore from beating his chest so damned much. Their arrogance is frighteningly like that of Atari leading up to the fateful year. However, the hardware success has not translated into broad industry growth. 3 parties like Electronic Arts have found the Wii a tough nut to crack, with thoughtfully designed games like Boom Blox, Medal of Honor Heroes 2 and the All Play sports series failing to register with Wii owners. Indeed, a game isn't going to get anywhere on the Wii unless it stars Nintendo's mascots, is pitched as a self-improvement tool Most Wii Fit users have NO interest in video games at all) or comes with an accessory (let's be honest here, the only reason people buy Wii Play is because it's only $10 more than a remote by itself). As a result, the quality of games on the platform has taken a precipitous nosedive as more and more 3 parties realize that there's no real way to make Nintendo level money on the Wii and content themselves with a 60k or so sales of shovelware to get that last cash push before the company's main titles come out on the 360 and PS3. The only upcoming 3 party games that really have a shot in hell of being good are No More Heroes 2, The Conduit and Madworld, and considering how poorly NMH1 sold (especially in Japan and the US), I doubt these games will be rewarded for the effort with retail success.

I can't help but keep thinking about what happened in 1983 when I think about present-day Nintendo. They're so isolated from the rest of the gaming industry, unable or unwilling to address the ever-growing pile of shovel ware that would put the E.T. Landfill to shame, and providing no evidence that their success is anything other than a boom, like the industry was experiencing in 1982. It's the same reckless irresponsibility that destroyed many .com businesses at 2000 and the housing market just two years ago. Rather than focus on making a sustainable growth, Nintendo seems content to ride the boom, unaware of the bust that is on the horizon.

Not that I'm rooting. Not even close. The 1983 video game industry crash, the 2000 .com bust and the recent housing bust – chiefly responsible for the current economic crisis,but that's another blog post – were all preceded by runaway growth. If trends continue, and the complete lack of foresight at the big N suggests that it will, we're in for a massive bust sooner than later, one that, like Atari's, will take huge swaths of the gaming industry with it. Go back to that Kotaku article I linked toward the beginning of this post. Look at the chart. It's no secret that most of Nintendo's money is coming from hardware. At any moment, the boom they're experiencing can end, and that 1% suddenly becomes the 99%. That's when we see layoffs and collapsing companies that make the recent loss of Free Radical seem minor.

I could go on all night, but I think I've made my point. Nintendo isn't growing anything – They're in a boom, and the bust that comes after this boom could be tragic.

Of course, I could be over exaggerating. Perhaps Nintendo's eventual implosion will be more like 3dfx, a company who's failure only affected itself and left plenty of room for more competent companies to fill the void. However, I just can't help but feel we're staring down the edge of the Grand Canyon, just waiting to fall.

As Samual L. Jackson said in Jurassic Park: hold onto your butts.