On a recent road trip to visit my brother, my son and I had a lot of time together in the car. My son is a huge Nintendo fan. He adores all the Mario he can get and awaits every new release with anticipation and excitement. He sleeps on a Mario pillow case and walks in Mario and Luigi slides. I too was like this when I was his age. Having grown up in the 80's, the Nintendo Entertainment System we got for Christmas 1986 was something I will never forget. We decided to listen to a book about the history of Nintendo in the US on our long drive. Here are 5 business lessons I gleamed.
1. Be Patient With Your Strategy
If I had to choose one word to describe Nintendo's market approach since the 80s, it would be control. Like Apple, Nintendo has chosen to control both hardware and software sides of their products. They also forced developers to sign exclusivity deals with them to reduce watering down of game titles to other platforms. They installed lock-out chips to their game systems to prevent others from producing games they didn't approve of. Many times in the last four decades they have had pressure to change their ways beginning with immense pressure from Sega in 1998 and later when Microsoft and Sony were kicking their tails. in the 2000s. With slight adjustments, Nintendo stuck to their strategy. They were still holding on to their aging technology platforms. More on this in a moment. Decades later, control is still something Nintendo chooses. Mario on Xbox or PlayStation? No way! Nintendo has deviated from this slightly, with Mario titles now available for play on iPhones and Android devices since 2016. That is one change to an otherwise solid strategy that has worked for decades.
2. You Can Beat The Competition Without Having Bleeding Edge Tech
Nintendo has had fierce competition throughout their existence. Most of their competitors focused on building better hardware, higher powered graphics, faster processors, cutting edge everything. Nintendo has chosen a different path. Their first hit game, Donkey Kong was an attempt to re-use many arcade cabinets taking up space in a New Jersey warehouse. Fast forward decades with even bigger players with hugely deep pockets. While Microsoft and Sony were building faster and powerful gaming devices, Nintendo crept in and released the Wii. The Technology specs were laughable compared to the others. But it had something the others did not. A revolutionary way of game play using a new type of controller that tracked motion. The result? It sold out every month for three years straight.
3. Not Everything Has to Make Sense
Nintendo's big break came from the arcade game Donkey Kong arcade game released in 1981. The name Kong came after King Kong - a synonym for ape in Japan. But donkey? The game designer Shigeru Miyamoto (also creator of Mario) attempted to translate from Japanese to English and wanted to convey the adjective of the gorilla being stubborn. What animal is known as being stubborn? A donkey of course. The name Donkey Kong was picked. It stuck. Even if it didn't make complete sense.
Donkey Kong original arcade game from 1981
4. You Will Bomb Sometimes
The follow-up to the smash hit Super Mario Bros. was called Super Mario Bros. The Lost levels. It was regarded by many as being too hard and lost many of the fun elements that made its predecessor so successful. It wasn't even released into the US until years later do to the poor reviews in Japan. It turned out okay. Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto was busy on a new game that would become The Legend of Zelda. I think that pretty much made up for any failures of his Mario sequel.
5. Don't Forget About Your Star
Nintendo will likely always be known best by its beloved character Mario. As much as they will expand and try to be known for other things, Mario will always be their go-to-guy. There have been periods in Nintendo's history where Mario wasn't as featured. But Nintendo has been smart to not totally forget about the Italian plumber that helped them get to where they are.