What are, or were, Nintendo good at?

Marco Arment:

At the high end, there’s room for a small number of huge-budget blockbuster titles that usually involve realistic sports simulations or killing people, none of which Nintendo does well. They compete by pushing the boundaries of cutting-edge graphics hardware, which Nintendo doesn’t produce anymore, and licensing real-life sports teams, which Nintendo doesn’t do. Or, more often on the PC side, they operate massively multiplayer online social fantasy worlds, which Nintendo also doesn’t do well.

While I can’t disagree with much in this article, it’s a bit sad that so much of it is a litany of things Nintendo doesn’t do well. It’s as if their success during the past decade was more-or-less accidental, resting on a passing fad rather than any very distinctive quality.

I don’t think this is true.

Nintendo have, or had, one area of great strength: they made consoles that were fun to play with more than one person, in the same room, together. The enormous success of the DS and Wii came about because of games that were wildly fun to play socially, with friends or family who were actually physically present.

Nintendo have often been criticised for not “getting” multiplayer, because their online multiplayer support has never been as slick or effective as that from Microsoft in particular. But for millions of players, Nintendo have long had the best multiplayer support of all.

(In light of this, the Wii U looks a bit alarming because of the way its controller layout—with one big controller and multiple smaller ones—privileges a single player. The sense of equal competition is at risk.)

Whether there’s anything Nintendo can do to halt their present decline, I don’t know. If there is, it surely must have something to do with live, local social gaming.

This could be bad news for games consoles

Rumours abounding (nice example here from John Gruber) that Apple may be about to announce an updated Apple TV operating system with apps support, possibly integrated into an Apple-branded TV set rather than being available only as a separate box as at present.

(How would you control it? Through a separate iOS device like an iPad?)

This sounds potentially very bad for the traditional games console, a market that seems to be already waning.

If I could only have one secretive, obsessively proprietary company making integrated hardware and software products, with a history of approaching product design a bit differently from its competition, of favouring customer pleasure over technical advantage, and of treating third-party developers in unpredictable and capricious ways… I’d choose Nintendo rather than Apple.

But Nintendo don’t really seem to know what to do at the moment. A pity.