State Of Play is Brendan's occasional editorial, which every now and then actually has a serious point to make. This time, Nintendo in Australia...
Before I say my piece here, I think it's worth pointing out that I've been a fan of Nintendo ever since I first started playing games.
My first gaming experiences were with the trusty NES. The unspectacular two-tone grey box had a plethora of games - some great, some good, some bad, and some absolutely vile. Indeed, it was this very console that got me addicted to video games. Be it finding every little itty bitty secret in level 1-1 of Super Mario Bros, or squeezing off some rounds at poor, innocent creatures in Duck Hunt, I could not put that little rectangular pad (or the red/orange gun in the case of Duck Hunt) - despite it's lack of ergonomics - down. My devotion to Nintendo continued through to the Super Nintendo days, and even slightly into the N64's reign. However, I soon realised that other the consoles - such as the Sony PlayStation - provided quality entertainment. Since then, I've been a fan of all consoles - but I cannot deny Nintendo has always been the sentimental favourite.
Nor can I deny that Nintendo are as good as dead in Australia.
The GCN is in dire straights, and Nintendo may be close to pulling the pin. But, how did they end up in this predicament?
It all goes back to the last generation of consoles. Despite being throughly beaten in the marketplace by Sony's PlayStation, the Nintendo 64 was hardly disgraced. Many games saw decent advertising campaigns that, whilst not usually a patch on Sony's, were still more than acceptable. The second generation of N64 games also saw the dreaded NTSC - PAL delay down to mere weeks, and even the quality of PAL conversions were up. As things began to wind down in preperation for the GameCube, things were looking quite promising. Nintendo had convinced many important third party developers, such as Capcom, to develop games for their flagship machine. Nintendo launched an aggressive media campaign down under which saw many advertisements screaming to the people that Nintendo's new machine was right around the corner, and that they should buy one. Even Nintendo Australia's famously garbage website was redesigned - in preperation for the event, and was kept up to date for quite a while. Things were looking good indeed.
The initial launch of the machine in Australia saw a rather varied software line up, and with it was one of the best launch line ups ever in terms of quantity and diversity. However, the one killer title was lacking. Luigi's Mansion, Rogue Leader and Wave Race: Blue Storm were all good games, but they weren't in the same league as Super Mario 64, Super Mario World and Super Mario Bros before them. However, this can hardly be the cause of the GameCube's fade into oblivion - the machine sold well at launch, and even despite lacking that killer title, the line up still slaughtered the PlayStation 2's effort. Another tick for Nintendo.
So Nintendo seemed to have covered most of the bases for the GameCube's launch. A solid advertising campaign to ensure as many people as possible would know the machine is coming. A decent selection of initial software, even if it was lacking the one supreme title. Demo units in stores throughout the country. The website was totally restructed to feature information about most upcoming titles, promote the latest deals and even provide some extra bonus content.
As time went by, things changed. Things slowly began to drop off. The river of games turned into a trickle soon after launch, stemming console sales. Advertising ceased to exist, also far too soon after launch. Nintendo's website updates began to get more and more infrequent. And so on.
Fast forward a little over two years to the present. It's quite a different picture, isn't it?
The GameCube is lucky to sell over a couple of hundred units a week - despite a bargain bin price of under $150 at many retailers. GameCube games rarely break into the sales top 10, unless it's the first week or so of a big title, such as Pokemon: Colosseum, or Mario Kart: Double Dash!! In fact, typically the GameCube's weekly top 10 is made up entirely of the past top 10 big games (Nintendo's own games, movie tie-ins, etc.).
There isn't a single drop of advertising, either. Well, ok - no advertising outside the occasional corner given to the console itself and the same old games (Super Smash Bros: Melee, Metroid Prime, The Wind Waker, etc) in the occasional department store junk mail catalogue, anyway. GCN games don't even make the cut in EB catalogues - why Nintendo won't fork out the cash to be in these catalogues makes no sense to me, as it makes them look decidedly third rate.
The machine gets a few lonely shelves in dedicated game stores like Electronics Boutique, compared to the walls sprawled with PS2 and Xbox titles. The games on these tiny shelves never seem to change either, usually made up of Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, The Wind Waker, Super Mario Sunshine and, for some ungodly reason, that Olsen twins driving game. Seeing a new title on the shelve is certainly a rare experience. Of course, many department stores such as Big W and Kmart don't even have any GameCube items on display - if you're lucky, you might get about half as many shelves as you get at EB, with even less games available to choose from. Games seem to be distributed into Australia in such low numbers that you have to pre order in order to have any hope of getting a copy come release day. However, this is a circular argument: why should the games come into the country in the first place when they don't sell? And how can they sell if they don't make it to store shelves? Ugh.
Of course, that's assuming there even is a release day. After a strong year of games meeting release dates not too long after arriving in the United States (with the glaring exception of Metroid Prime - I'll still never understand that delay), Nintendo seem to have totally forgotten what business they are in. Games have suffered lengthy NTSC to PAL delays - such as Donkey Konga - some games have even just appeared on shelves (well, be 'technically' released, anyway), and, most criminally, some don't even have release dates yet. Key titles, such as Pikmin 2, The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords and Resident Evil 4 seem to be totally forgotten. It's crap like this that has encouraged dedicated Nintendo fans to look to importing for their Nintendo fix - definitely not good for Nintendo, who need every sale down under they can muster.
But, on top of these image problems are currently Nintendo's biggest problem. The dreaded 'kiddy' reputation that has dogged Nintendo for years still hasn't gone away, and probably never will. On top of this, the GCN has been labelled a worthless piece of plastic by many the casual gaming fan. This kind of reputation is something a company can easily shake off, and it may prove fatal to Nintendo in the long run. Ask anybody that isn't overly knowledgable in the games department, and I will guarantee you will get a response along the lines of:
"The GameCube?! That thing is a piece of ****!"
How can Nintendo Australia rectify this - if at all? The GCN is definitely a lost cause, so it comes down to the next generation. Nintendo's head office would have to come up with a sleek design for the next console, and label it with a nice, snappy name. The machine would have to launch with either the PS3/Xbox 2, and come with a large variety of quality titles. From there, Nintendo Australia would have to unleash the biggest marketing campaign known to man - and sustain it over a good period of time. As well as that, they would have to convince those developing the big name Australian licenses - V8 Supercars, Cricket, Rugby and AFL - that Nintendo's machine is just as capable as the competition. If Nintendo can do these two things and sustain them for the life of the console, Nintendo might just have a chance.
But the fact is, Nintendo Australia just doesn't have the money for that sort of expenditure. They also seem to not even remotely care, and look like they've given up on the console. And, even if they did care and had the money, the Australian market is so small in the big scheme of things that it just would not be financially viable to do it.
Even the biggest third party company in the world, Electronic Arts, are questioning future GameCube releases in this country. And, with the PlayStation Portable looking to be the first real competitor for Nintendo in the handheld arena since the Game Gear, Nintendo's hopes of surviving in Australia for much longer are incredibly low. Sony have had Nintendo Australia in a headlock for years - often with Nintendo squirming to put more pressure on themselves - but it seems that Microsoft jumping into the fight with some stiff kicks to the gut of Nintendo may have proven to be more than Nintendo can take.
Despite growing up with Nintendo, even I can see how close things are to ending for Nintendo down under. With serious sales, marketing and image problems for the company - as well as rugged competition and Nintendo's seemingly total ignorance to the desperate situation they are in - we may be in the final years of Nintendo's presence in Australia.
Huzzah for importing, then.