Thank God It’s Thursday News Report 08.07.03

Hey all. Welcome to the Thank God It’s Thursday News Report for this week.

This one’s a little different from the other editions of TGIT. You see, I was writing about Nintendo, and I got a little carried away. I wondered, “What would I do if I were in their position?” As the thought crossed my mind, the 5-watt lightbulb inside my head went off. For this reason (and the complete lack of news aside from Madden being released on the 11th instead of the 14th), this column is dedicated solely to Nintendo, its problems, and one man’s answers to these problems. If you’re looking for the usual TGIT features, they’ll be back next week, as they simply didn’t fit in with the overall shape of this week’s column. Good reading!

The numbers are in… and Nintendo had a hell of a quarter. Sort of.

In the period between April 1 and June 30, Nintendo had a profit of 11.5 billion yen ($95.8 million US). The high number is due in major part to the Game Boy Advance SP, released just before the beginning of the quarter. 3.24 million GBA’s were moved in the time period, providing proof of the huge success that is the GBA SP.

However, news was not all good for Nintendo on this day. The slow-selling GameCube continued its trend, only selling 800,000 units worldwide in the three-month period. This, of course, is with Nintendo’s aggressive promotion of the system – free games and/or peripherals with the purchase of a Cube.

From this information, we can gather a great deal of information about Nintendo. First, it should be thanking its lucky stars for the Game Boy Advance, the system that’s saving Nintendo’s life. Secondly, it’s not doing enough to promote the GameCube. Third – despite the problems Nintendo is having with moving the GameCube, it’s still making a very healthy profit.

With this profit, Nintendo needs to invest heavily in the future of the Cube. Will it work? Who knows? Rumors of price cuts have again surfaced, and it sounds like we’ll be seeing GameCubes for under $100. But that’s not enough. Nintendo needs to make gamers believe that they NEED a GameCube or else they’ll be missing out, big-time.

And it’s not like Nintendo isn’t capable of doing it. When you think about it, they’ve done just about everything BUT make the GameCube a hot commodity. The Wavebird controller – on the surface, a wireless controller that happens to work really well. But in the minds of many Cube owners, it’s essential to their gaming experience. The Game Boy Player simply plays the GBA games that you already have on a bigger screen. Again, people are buying into the hype, and the Game Boy Player has people excited about Nintendo again. The only thing is, people aren’t terribly excited about the Cube itself.

And who could really blame them? Everyone’s heard of the myriad of companies that no longer offer GameCube titles of their games. So, aside from the first-party Nintendo titles and these neat accessories, what does the Cube really have going for it?

That’s what Nintendo needs to figure out, and figure out fast. Then, pump all of these profits into saving its system and making the GameCube as much of a must-have as the accessories that it utilizes.

So what would I do? Imagine, for a second, that I’m Nintendo’s CEO (scary thought, eh?). I’ve got $95 million in profits to work with, and my job is to get the GameCube going (and not interfere with GBA sales) by December 31. At the same time, I’d like to have a well-placed plan for 2004 that can be developed and built on. The surplus of money ensures that all promotional means are possible, and it is assumed that no drastic actions will be taken by Sony or Microsoft for the rest of the year.

Immediately, I reduce the price of the GameCube to $99 with no freebies – same as the GBA SP. Next, I give heavy promotional dollars to the Nintendo Fusion Tour, which has just been launched. Make sure the causal gamer knows it’s coming, make sure the music fan knows it’s coming, and make sure these people COME. Maybe even do a “your friend gets in free” promotion. Whatever it takes to get these people into the building and see what the Cube has to offer.

F-Zero is coming out August 25. What Nintendo SHOULD have done is exactly what they did with Zelda – put out a disc with the full N64 F-Zero game, as well as one race track from the upcoming GameCube title, on it, and give the disc for a $15 deposit on F-Zero for the Cube. Save the SNES F-Zero for a GBA port. Now, you’ve got a huge buzz for F-Zero, and people WILL buy it. F-Zero probably won’t sell anybody a new GameCube system, but it will definitely succeed in giving the Cube a must-have first-party title that will pique the interests of gamers everywhere.

In September, sales might be a bit slower because this is when students go back to school, which means they don’t work as much, which means they don’t buy as much. Still, Nintendo has some good titles coming out during the fall months that can work for them. Wrestlemania XIX should sell itself with heavy promotion from the WWE. In October, we have Harry Potter: Quidditch World Cup, which does sound interesting; Viewtiful Joe, and Tony Hawk. Two of these games will sell well (Viewtiful Joe and Wrestlemania XIX), and their status as GameCube-exclusive helps Nintendo out in a huge way. Unfortunately, the other big titles (Hockey/basketball titles, Tony Hawk, etc.) are all readily available for the other systems. Given the Cube’s sorry reputation for sports games, this puts Nintendo back at Square One in terms of offering an alternative to PS2 and X-Box. Releasing new colors of the SP won’t help Nintendo’s situation any – Nintendo needs to give gamers constant reasons to buy a Cube, or they will fail.

With no strong first-party games in these two months, this would be a good time for Nintendo add to its Player’s Choice series. You could include Mario Sunshine, Metroid Prime, The Wind Waker, Mario Party 4, and even some third-party games that retail for cheap, such as Tony Hawk 3 and Outlaw Golf. Sell these games for around $25 (with the exception of the third-party titles, which are already under $25), starting about two weeks prior to the release of Mario Party 5. Currently, Mario Party 5 is scheduled for release on November 11, which is way too close to Mario Kart’s November 17 date. Mario Party 5 should be moved into October, and the announcement of the Player’s Choice selections coming two weeks before means that fans will have time to remember how much they appreciate Nintendo’s first-party games in time not only for Mario Party 5, but the entire holiday season. You’re not losing money giving these games out for half price – remember, we’ve got $95 million in profits. Besides, they’re being thrown in as freebies with the Cube right now, so it’s actually an improvement for Nintendo.

Late in October, an announcement should be made that a highly popular first-party game is in development – namely, another Mario game. I don’t mean Mario Tennis, either. I’m talking a REAL Mario game, like Super Mario Sunshine. Why wouldn’t Nintendo do this? It’s probably fair to say that Mario has moved more Nintendo units than any other character in video game history. And there’s no rule saying they can’t make two Mario games for one system. This announcement needs to come at this time to provide proper momentum for the end of the year. This will get people talking about the Cube and, in the course of this conversation, people might hear what Nintendo has in store for GameCube owners in November and be persuaded to buy one immediately.

November is a huge month for Nintendo. This is where Nintendo either gets it done, or crashes and burns. Mario Kart comes out on the 17th for GameCube, a game that warrants a lot of promotion. This game needs to be HUGE, and people need to know it’s available. Its anticipated release date (November 17) is close enough to the holiday season that it should garner sales not only from Mario Kart buffs, but also from parents buying holiday gifts for their children.

And here, my friends, is the culmination of the effort to get the GameCube going again. Beginning the day after Thanksgiving, resume giving the Game Boy Player away with the purchase of a new Cube. The GBA has tons of big titles coming out for the holidays, while the only GameCube exclusive going for Nintendo is Mario Kart. It only makes sense to tie the two together. People will be excited about this, because they haven’t had the chance to buy the Cube and get the Player for free since August. This will certainly spike sales and generate positive word-of-mouth about Nintendo. While the other two companies will be making price cuts, Nintendo is now giving you this device that lets you play the games of two systems! The fact that this was old hat four months prior is forgotten in the holiday rush. The SP’s sell no matter what, so giving away the GB Player for nothing isn’t of any consequence for GBA sales. So at the end of the year, you have people excited about Nintendo, believing in Nintendo, and buying Nintendo.

For 2004, here is what Nintendo must do. First and foremost, keep developing the first-party games, the backbone of the GameCube. Next, Nintendo should be working on a serious online strategy that can compete with X-Box live. An announcement of this should be ready by February 15. Lastly, Nintendo needs another buzz-worthy peripheral. My proposition – a Nintendo-licensed mini-screen for the Cube. The small size of the GameCube and its games lends the Cube to some sort of portable play. Nintendo should create a rechargeable mega-battery pack that can handle the GameCube’s power and make a portable screen, similar to what we’ve seen Sony do with PS One. Then, package the two and market the combination at a reasonable price. With the Nintendo touch, this could become the company’s third must-have accessory in three years (Wavebird and the Game Boy Player being the other two). There are other portable screens out there, but Nintendo could slay them all by doing it themselves, and doing it right, just like they did with the Wavebird.

If all goes according to plan, there may be hope for the GameCube yet. But Nintendo has to strike NOW. The new systems are two, maybe three, years away. Nintendo can still salvage this thing, and I hope they do.

I’ve criticized Nintendo a lot for what they’ve done with the Cube, namely giving away the Game Boy Player, among other things, for free. But I think that they can make it work if they time it right. The GB Player DOES rock, which is exactly why it shouldn’t be given away for nothing at this time. If you get rid of that now (or just never did it to begin with) and bring it back in November/December, that’s a huge plus for Nintendo when compared to Microsoft and Sony.

Folks, I’m convinced that this COULD work if Nintendo could go back to June, create the F-Zero pre-order disc, and go with the rest of the plan as it’s laid out here. Still, the situation isn’t totally black. Nintendo is giving new GC owners everything and current owners nothing. That has to change. No company can survive giving away the best they have to offer, and Nintendo is no different. By taking away the freebies and lowering the price, gamers will realize that they ARE getting a bargain. They could get a Cube for $99 and get NBA Street 1 for $19, and they’d be set. When the new titles are added to the Player’s Choice series, both new GameCube buyers and longtime system owners will revel in the opportunity to play Nintendo’s finest at half the cost. The combination of Mario Kart and a just-announced Mario title will serve to give Nintendo a huge buzz going into the holidays, while Mario Kart will make a great holiday gift and addition to most Cube owners’ collections. And, if all of this hasn’t convinced gamers that they NEED a Cube, giving them the Game Boy Player will not only be a sign of good faith from Nintendo, but a heck of an impressive offer for a system that people feel great about owning.

In one year’s time, we should be talking about the new Mario game that will knock our socks off. Instead, we could be giving the GameCube a Dreamcast-esque eulogy. Which of the two will happen? That’s up to Nintendo to decide. And I think we all hope they choose wisely and choose correctly.