A company's narrative is equal parts public back story and manufactured idea created by the company's image. By creating a theater in which consumers can interact with and learn about their purchases, as well as new products that have yet to hit the market, a company can control its own destiny.
Nowhere is this concept more important than in the world of videogames. As a medium, videogames are a form of communication unlike any other, allowing consumers to interact and participate in their entertainment in a way unlike any seen before. This interaction and participation opens a window through which any company able to tell a good story can climb in and form a relationship. Perhaps no company has done this with more style and enthusiasm than Nintendo.
Since it first hit news stands in July of 1988, Nintendo Power, the official magazine of Nintendo, has had a special role in bringing exclusive coverage of all things Nintendo to the hoards of Kong, Link and Pikachu fans. By speaking directly to consumers, Nintendo Power has had a unique part to play throughout videogame history. As the magazine's managing editor, Scott Pelland, wrote in an email, "Telling the story of Nintendo is really at the heart of what we do. Every page is telling part of the [company's] evolving story."
Nintendo Power's lineage can be traced back to its ideological predecessor, The Nintendo Fan Club Newsletter. Beyond acting as a forum for fans to sound off about games and receive information about upcoming titles, the Newsletter also provided gameplay tips and secrets. Pelland described how, with assistance from Japanese publishing company Tokuma Shoten, the concept behind the Newsletter was fleshed out into a full-fledged magazine.
"At the time, the concept of creating a corporate magazine was quite novel, and there were no other North American publications that were dedicated entirely to videogames." Pelland wrote. "The early content reflected the look of Japanese gaming magazines since the designers at Workhouse USA were trained in that business."
Less than two years after its inception, Nintendo Power became a monthly publication. By this point, tried-and-true departments such as Game Watch, Classified Information and Now Playing had developed their role and could be counted on by frequent readers to provide the coverage that they had come to expect. With gamers reading Nintendo Power, Nintendo, through its new venture, had expanded its influence beyond the time consumers spent in front of their television.
Today, Nintendo of America stands at the precipice of what they hope will be a quantum leap forward not only for their company, but also for videogames as a cultural medium. A look at the videogame best-seller charts reveals little in the way of variety. Instead, it's the Grand Theft Autos, the Final Fantasys, the FPSes and the EA franchises that dominate. And why not? Like most Hollywood studios, game design houses have learned that to minimize risk and maximize profit, their best bet is to stick with what works. They pump out sequels and brush ups of older, successful titles.
As the next generation consoles move closer to market, there has been a great deal of discussion and speculation about what Nintendo's role would be. For its part, the company has fueled this debate by largely remaining tight-lipped. When they have spoken, however, their words have carried great weight. In January of 2005, a Kyoto newspaper interviewed Nintendo's president, Satoru Iwata, and he offered few details, but said only that the company's newest system, the Revolution, would represent a "paradigm shift" in the world of gaming.
In a March 8th editorial for IGN.com, veteran Nintendo critic Matt Casamassina, armed with the latest information released about Nintendo's new console, discussed Iwata's proclamation. He explains that at the crux of Nintendo's planning is a fundamental disagreement with Sony and Microsoft over the future of videogaming. "Nintendo bigwigs believe that graphics have reached a 'saturation point,' and that gameplay, not more detailed game worlds, is in need of a renaissance."
Casamassina continued by underscoring this philosophy, "One thing I've learned about some of my Xbox 360 games is that while the graphics are initially impressive, you eventually take them for granted, at which point gameplay returns to its rightful place as the most important factor."