If you have ever spent as much time on internet message boards as I have you have encountered the infamous fanboy argument. The age-old arguments raging between fans of one gaming console over another.
My message board days go all the way back to usenet, a precursor to the world wide web in many respects. History lesson aside it basically means I’ve engaged in more than my fair share of conversations with empassioned fans.
The most common topics of discussion is the console wars. A term applied to describe the competition between one or more gaming platforms. This discussion usually takes on three forms: The pre-launch predictions; analyzing the day-to-day during; and the look back.
Today I want to focus on all three of these with a strong emphasis on Nintendo and Xbox. Specifically I want to discuss the way gamers treat each one different, generally speaking.
Nintendo wasn’t around at the birth of video games but they were there during the toddler years. As such they’ve spent the most time in the industry of the three players today. Sony is it’s own case study so I will set that aside.
What I want to focus on is simple, why is it when a Nintendo console fails the discussion is what went wrong, when a Nintendo console is struggling the discussion is on what they should do to improve, and when a Nintendo console is announced it is always what they should do to be successful. Now the reason Sony gets a pass is basically they’ve yet to have a true failure on the same level as Nintendo. The closes they’ve came is the PS Vita which still sold better than at least two Nintendo systems. In other words, it’s just assumed they will do well and any discussion to the contrary is moot.
The tables are turned for Xbox. The original console barely sold more than Gamecube yet it is heradled by gamers as a champion of gaming moving forward whereas the Gamecube, who’s sales were nearly neck-and-neck, is largely deemed a colossal failure for some reason.
The Nintendo Wii sold 20 percent more units than the Xbox 360 yet nobody ever says what did Microsoft do wrong to come in third place in the race. In fact they’ve never technically won a console war yet they are always in the discussion like gamers assume they have the best chance of beating Sony when the facts show Nintendo has a much better track record of being a strong contender. Obviously you have to take into consideration Nintendo’s gaming division as a whole is divided between handheld and console traditionally speaking. However, therein lies the fallacy.
You see everyone hears Microsoft and immediately think Xbox so if the Xbox sells worse than Nintendo the Nintendo fanboy is quick to say Nintendo “won” that generation. I won’t define what it means to win quite yet. But nobody ever brings up Microsoft actually gets most of its gaming revenue, yes video games, from Windows, not Xbox. In fact this very reason is why Microsoft ports all of its first party titles to Windows yet does offer a few truly exclusive to the PC and not bringing them to Xbox. Because if you compare PC gaming sales to Nintendo it’s no long a war its a whale swatting a fly with its tail. The analogy works because the whale is swimming around in the giant big blue ocean Nintendo tried to claim as its own in the Wii era.
Let’s focus in on this for a second.
When you think Nintendo you immediately thing hand helds and console gaming. When you compare Nintendo’s home console sales directly to Microsoft’s you see things are skewered, albeit slightly, in the Big N’s favor. However, when you throw PC into the mix suddenly Nintendo isn’t even a blip.
The money PC gaming generates is leaps and bounds above what consoles generate. This is the reason why so many keep pushing for a unified PC “master race” as they call it and replace consoles with gaming as a service. It would basically unite all gamers under a single platform. This is a pipe dream at best, a fairy tale at worst and completely unrealistic no matter what.
So on the one hand it makes sense to look at Nintendo under a microscope and wonder why the Wii U failed to match the sales of the aging 360 or the new but struggling Xbox One. It makes sense why despite having sales that lag far behind Sony and often slightly below Nintendo even that gamers automatically assume Xbox will succeed and Nintendo will struggle or hit it big depending on factors.
The console generations are arbitrary and hard to define but let’s go with the traditional conventions for now.
Nintendo sold roughly 60 million NES systems, about 50 million SNES systems, nearly 30 million N64 consoles, barely over 20 million GameCubes, a whopping 100 million Wii’s and a paltry 13 or so million Wii U consoles. Why do these numbers mislead?
Let’s start with the overlap. NES was sold between the years 1986 and 1993 more or less but had existence outside that in Japan. But it was NOT Nintendo’s only device nor a true representation of the “Nintendo” fanbase at the time. Pre-NX days when it was just a rumored console I maintained the combined Nintendo fanbase was much closer to around 80 million total and that anomolies, up or down, could be attributed to fluctuations in the market, specifically the entry of newcomers to challenge their spot.
What this means is simple. If you only look at the number of NES gamers on the planet at a given time you only see a piece of the puzzle. You are neglecting all the Gameboy gamers that count. You see most and I do mean MOST buy one or the other the handheld or the console. A few buy both but that is rare. This is why Nintendo makes devices such as the Super GameBoy or the Game Boy Player among others to play handheld games on the console. It offers the Nintendo faithful a way to get all of their games in a single place on a single console. Basically doing exactly what Switch does now.
How is this different than what Microsoft does?
Nobody ever says why was the Xbox a failure. It sold 24 million unites in 4 years on the market. Compared to Nintendo’s 22 million Gamecubes in 5 years and Sony’s 155 Million units in 13 years. The lopsided victory clearly shows Sony is in a league of their own.
So why then do people look back and reminisce what Nintendo could have done to make the Gamecube more successful but they say the Xbox was a true contender despite hardly selling more units?
Let’s hone in a little deeper. Again at first glance it looks like Microsoft barely beat Nintendo in total numbers. If you combine the GameBoy Advance units sold, roughly 85 or so million over the same 5 years, you can show there were, in fact, more total Nintendo gamers than total Xbox gamers thus proving Nintendo actually was more successful, if not at least as much, as Xbox. Not so fast. You see you are forgetting Windows.
Now counting the total number of Windows gamers is difficult. You can easily obtain total number of users of a given Windows OS in a time span. You can also look at metrics like number of units sold of popular franchises and compare that to things like total number of subscribers to various gaming services such as Steam, GOG and Origin. Or you could cheat and look at the number of GPU’s NVidia or ATI sold in a given time. All of these numbers typically dwarf even the highest Playstation sales thus proving that the TOTAL number of gamers on Microsoft platforms does, in fact, overshadow the total number of gamers on a Nintendo platform. Doesn’t this prove, then, that it is fair to assert Nintendo needs to do XX to succeed while Microsoft merely needs to just exist?
Well not so fast. Let’s back it up one more time.
This time let’s talk about nostalgia factor. You see the claim is Nintendo, during the NES days, held 90 percent market share of video games. Thus proving they in fact once dominated the video game world. This factoid is often thrown in the face of gamers in the form of the reminder that “back in those days we just said Nintendo to mean video games” or something similar. This sounds like a gaming giant fell from grace, or if you look at combined units between portable and living room, have fluctuated in percentage of the pie but stayed steady in total size.
But wait you are actually WRONG. That 90 percent of the video game market is misleading. You see at no point in the HISTORY of video games has Nintendo EVER had 90 percent of the entire market. They have, during a three year span, had 90 percent of the home console market. This is key because dollar for dollar, unit sold, and total number of users, puts the arcade at easily 1000 times greater than that puny 62 million units sold the NES faithful tout as gospel. This means out of the total gaming population Nintendo was barely a fraction of a fraction of a percent, nowhere near dominating.
But wait you will say, wasn’t that casual market? Arcades are akin to modern day cell phones that doesn’t count.
Okay yes you see I intentionally left out mobile because once factored in the percentage of total gamers Nintendo holds shrinks again to a statistically insignificant blip. But that is where the analogy ends. Today’s mobile devices, while having replaced the casual nature arcades did in fact enjoy with the vast majority, it fails to take into consideration that the NES itself was designed specifically to play 1 Nintendo arcade game at home, in other words the whole reason it even existed in the first place was to let home console players experience an arcade game in the home. It was more akin to arcades being where blockbusters were released in theaters and the home console market is akin to the home video market, VHS in those days, Blu Ray, DVD and Streaming these days.
So again you see a video game playing market that doesn’t even register Nintendo as a contender. Nintendo proved this when they themselves recognized they could NOT compete in the dominant gaming market at the time, arcades, and thus killed their arcade division to focus on home consoles while simultaneously investing in growing their mobile market to stay afloat and relevant. They were a small company trying to stay a contender in a big market that left them behind. Their solution was to create their own market and swim there. In this sense they did, kind of, push their competition out of the way. Steamrolling over Sega Master System, Turbo Grafx 16 and blowing past the Atari 7800 like Sonic the Hedgehog going through loops.
Okay so that’s just the arcade market they were beaten out of. Doesn’t prove anything the arcade market died and they lived on.
Again, not quite. You see Sega dominated the arcade market for the longest time and continued to proved there was massive profits to be had in that arena. Although arcades as a business model has shrunk down nearly to a number so much lower than during the arcade heyday. But you see, that’s not the truth either. Arcades have, like movie theaters, grown in total revenue and presence in the market yet they make that money on larger venues specialized to events not just popping in for casual fare. Now this again is a number hard to measure but the reality is Konami and Sega have all but abandoned their video game business focused exclusively on arcade machines. Why? Well in one word, casinos.
Okay but arcades don’t count la la la not listening. Alright but you are also forgetting the big fish, the home computer market. Even back then the Commodore 64 sold more total units than the NES during the same time, itself the single best selling come computer according to its own fanboys. But you are also forgetting DOS, Apple and Amiga among many others.
The point is simple. At no point in history has Nintendo EVER had 90 percent of the market. At no point in history has Nintendo EVER been the “market leader” and at NO point in history have there been more Nintendo gamers than non-Nintendo gamers. The numbers are skewered by fanboys who isolate single incidents and make up rules that make no sense outside of their twisted reality.
The truth is gamers just assume Microsoft is going to succeed, even if their console doesn’t hit the sales mark, because Microsoft has always succeeded and Nintendo has ALWAYS struggled.
Hey here is a familiar picture. Nintendo was losing ground in the arcade market and had to kill their arcade division to consolidate their resources on home consoles and handhelds. They also dabbled in PC gaming but backed out of that once they realized they had no shot at being a power player.
After years of declining console sales market share they killed their console business and consolidated their efforts on a single market, the handheld arena. Oh sure the current gen handheld does plug into a TV and resemble a home console unit, but that’s deceitful as they’ve had products in the past that did this too. Somehow, again, fanboys conveniently forgot those instances and herald the Switch as if it is the greatest idea ever when nothing about it is new, nor new to Nintendo themselves. Just as the GBA_GC connectivity, the e-reader or even Wii U how original the Switch was, going back further you could ask about the Turbo Express or Sega Nomad but then you’d look like a jackass for not drinking the Nintendo can do no wrong kool aid.
I will say this. Microsoft is exponentially larger than Sony, which is itself massively larger than Nintendo. The reason gamers are constantly asking what Nintendo needs to do to stay relevant is because they’ve always been the underdog even during all the times, when you ignore other factors, they’ve appeared to not be so.
Even when you talk about the Wii era when they supposedly dominated that number is false. The reality is PS2, which launched in 2000 and was discontinued in 2013 not only was on sale longer than GameCube, Wii and Wii U, outlasting THREE entire Nintendo console generations, it also single handedly sold more units than all three of those Nintendo systems COMBINED. So again whenever a Nintendo fanboy beats their chest and says Nintendo Wii OWNED that generation. Smugly roll your eyes and repeat after me, PS2 destroyed Wii in sales and it was LAST GEN hardware and was on sale AFTER Wii’s successor came on the scene. Wii did NOT win the generation, it got its ass kicked by a last gen, outdated glorified DVD player
The point is console wars don’t matter. It’s all a ruse fanboys use to make themselves feel better about their game purchase. It means nothing in the grand scheme of things.