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GotGame Truth Machine: Does Nintendo Really Milk Their Franchises?

by on May 9, 2013
 

mario milk

Recently, we had a rumor that Nintendo would be releasing a new 3D Mario game in October.  Many logical people are rejoicing that the team who has made the best and third best rated games ever (Galaxy and Galaxy 2 according to gamerankings.com) are making another entry in the franchise.  Of course, this being the internet and all, there is a large amount of complaining about even the best of news.  No sooner was this rumor announced than people began with the usual complaints.  Blah blah Nintendo never makes new IPs.  Blah blah Nintendo has no originality.  Blah blah all Nintendo does is milk their franchise.  Hmmmm… milk their franchises?  Well, let’s just see about that.

If you want to read the full article, go for it.  I spent a lot of time writing it and I’d love it if you read it :).  Those of you who’d rather watch a video that read an article, there’s a condensed Youtube version below.

But Nintendo ALWAYS Milks Their Franchises

Is that right?  Let’s take a look at some of Nintendo’s biggest franchises from this generation (looking at consoles only).  The biggest among these is Wii Sports which has seen two different entries.  Wii Fit has seen a full entry and a bargain priced expansion.  The Mario Kart series has seen one entry.  The Mario Galaxy franchise has seen 2 entries(more on Mario later).  Smash Bros has seen 1 entry.  Metroid has seen two entries (each of which vary greatly in gameplay) and one compilation.  The Kirby franchise has seen two entries with differing gameplay.  Donkey Kong Country has seen one entry (2-3 if you want to count Barrel Blast the Wiimake of Jungle Beat).  New Super Mario Bros has seen one entry. Zelda has seen two entries entries, (three if you include Link’s Crossbow training).  All in all, no franchise has seen more than two entries on the Wii (not counting remakes or compilations).  Huh… that doesn’t seem like a lot of milking…  How does that compare to Nintendo’s rivals?

Let’s look at Sony first.  Sony’s most popular franchise, Gran Turismo, has seen two entries.  Uncharted has seen 3 entries.  Little Big Planet has seen two (not counting Little Big Planet Karting).  God of War has seen two full entries, and a 3 rereleases (Collection, origins, saga).  Ratchet and Clank has seen 6 entries on the PS3, Infamous has seen two, Resistance has seen 3, and Motorstorm has seen 3.  On average, Sony seems to make more sequels than Nintendo does although not by a large margin.

Microsoft really has not produced many very successful franchises, but when they do, they’re not shy about the milking.  Halo has seen 5 games this generation (3, ODST, Reach, CE Anniversary, 4) not including Halo Wars, Gears of War has seen 4 entries, and Forza has seen 4 entries.  Dance Central has seen three entries in three years, and Fable has seen 2 entries plus a Kinect spin off.
Looking at third parties, this generation has seen 3 Bioshock games, 3 Mass Effect games, 5 Assassin’s Creed games, 8 Call of Duty Games, and 8 Madden games.

So, Nintendo doesn’t seem to be milking their franchises very much.  Their big franchises generally receive one game per generation, and sometimes one sequel.  Doesn’t seem like much milking to me.  To put things in perspective, Smash Bros. Brawl sold about 10 million copies.  Can you imagine Sony, Microsoft, EA, Activision, or Ubisoft having a game sell 10 million copies and NOT releasing a sequel for five years?

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But All Of The Games Are The Same!

So, Nintendo doesn’t make all that many sequels.  That’s not the problem.  The problem is that all of their games are exactly the same!  There is no innovation between entries.  Yup, that’s the problem.

Let’s look at how some of Nintendo’s franchises have evolved between entries.  Zelda is an example of a franchise that was criticized for not evolving very much.  From Twilight Princess to Skyward sword, the Zelda franchise completely changed its art style, control style, and over world style, all new game world, and added features such as upgradeable items.  Across the two entries of the franchise, it seems the game has evolved as much or more than Uncharted, Infamous, or Halo has between multiple entries.

In other franchises, change has been equal or greater.  Kirby’s Epic Yarn and Kirby’s Return to Dreamland share little but a few characters and some music.  As any Metroid fan will tell you, Other M is a huge departure from other entries of the series.  Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the only sequel on the Wii which is very similar to its predecessor, but few people complained considering the quality of the game.

You can argue that many series are similar across generations, but there are few sequels that truly add nothing to a franchise.  Twilight Princess is fairly similar to Wind Waker, but they each have their share of unique mechanics (sailing, naval combat, horseback combat, wolf link, scents etc) as well as a completely different art style.  Mario Kart Wii ditched the team mechanic from Double Dash and added bikes, motion controls, and an online mode.  New Super Mario Bros added four player co-op play and had some very creative level design.  Super Mario Galaxy got rid of (to the dismay of some gamers) the sandbox style gameplay of Mario 64 and Sunshine to offer more linear platforming, along with an entirely unique physics system and some of the best level design ever seen.  Nintendo’s franchises have changed about as much over their lifespan and between individual entries as other franchises.

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But Nintendo Never Makes New IPs!

What’s so great about new IPs again?  I imagine most people would say that new IPs are good because they involve new ideas, original characters, and original stories.  However, this is not necessarily the case.

There is no rule that states new IPs need to be original or novel.  We could take for instance Bodycount,Shadow Complex,  Injustice, Darksiders, or Dantes Inferno.   Darksiders sticks pretty closely to the Zelda formula (but somehow gets a pass on following Zelda’s dungeon based formula while Skyward Sword does not), Dante’s Inferno is similar to God Of War, Injustice is quite clearly built on the back of Mortal Kombat, Shadow Complex is essentially a Super Metroid remake, and so on.  All of these games are new IPs, and some of them are pretty fun, but they don’t offer much in the way of originality or novelty.

On the other hand, you could take a look at games like Kid Icarus: Uprising, Spyro’s Adventure: Skylanders, Final Fantasy VII Crisis Core, Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts, Metroid Prime, Kirby’s Canvas Curse, or, looking back in time, even games like Mega Man Legends or Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island.  These games came from established IPs and utilized familiar characters, but also featured novel and creative gameplay which either added a new spin to its franchise (Metroid Prime, Yoshi’s Island, Epic Yarn), or offered an entirely new style of gameplay (Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts, Kid Icarus Uprising).

None of the games mentioned above are new IPs, but who really cares?  Suppose Kirby’s Epic Yarn was released as Prince Fluff’s Epic Yarn, or Kid Icarus: Uprising had starred an angel not named Pit, and a goddess not named Palutena.  Would these games somehow be more enjoyable?  Probably not.  Would these games sell a lot less?  Probably.  Would it be a lot harder for companies making these games to take risks on new ideas?  Definitely.

Honestly, I could care less about whether a game is a new IP or not.  If you could tell an original and compelling story with Zack and Cloud, go for it.  If you could produce some original gameplay with Pit, that’s a-ok.  If you have a really creative idea for a Banjo game, there’s no need to create some new anthropomorphic mascot for the sake of making a new IP.  In other words, I like new ideas, new stories, and great gameplay.  If they feature new characters and a new world, awesome.  If they take place in an old world with old characters, still awesome.  New IPs are not inherently better just because they’re new.  Bottom line is there are some really great and original sequels, and some really derivative new IPs.

Mario timeline

But All They Do Is Make Mario Games!

Nintendo does indeed make a lot of Mario games.  For the Wii alone, Nintendo  produced 10 original Mario games, and 2 Mario remakes and compilations.  Sega chipped in with three Mario games of their own.  Altogether, that’s 15 Mario games for the console (16 if you want to throw Square Enix’s Fortune Street in).  That sure is a lot of Mario.

How many of these Mario games are in the least bit similar?  Well, Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2 are very similar.  Sega’s Mario and Sonic games are all cut from the same cloth.  There are two Mario Party games.  I suppose you could lump the 4 Mario Sports games together, although that is a bit iffy considering Mario Power Tennis and Mario Strikers Charged share little similarity aside from the fact that they involve sports and Mario.

The rest of the games in the franchise are pretty unique from one another.  I can’t imagine someone buying Super Paper Mario in 2007, buying Mario Kart in 2008, buying New Super Mario Bros in 2009, buying Super Mario Galaxy 2 in 2010, and thinking “oh my god, I’m playing the same game over and over!”  Each of these games offer something unique, and I don’t see how the presence of Mario detracts from the experiences.  If New Super Mario Bros Wii was given an un-Mario makeover, what would be accomplished aside from killing the game’s sales?  Should we reject incredibly creative RPGs like Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, and Mario and Luigi, Bowser’s Inside Story because they feature an Italian plumber?  Should we avoid two of the most highly acclaimed games of all time, Galaxy and Galaxy 2, because of an arbitrary preference for new IPs?  What I said before still applies, if you give me awesome games and novel ideas, I could care less whether they’re new IPs or not.

To preemptively address the subseries of Mario games that takes the most flack, the New Super Mario Bros. series, I’d like to point out that since 2006 we’ve had 4 New Super Mario Bros. games.  That’s 4 in about 7 years, spread across four different consoles. Judging on Nintendo’s MO it’s unlikely that we’ll see another 2D Mario game until their next system is released.  For comparison’s sake, we’ve had 4 Uncharted games in that time across two consoles.  There have been 4 God of War games across two consoles, not including remakes or collections.  Four Gears of War games across one console.  Four Littlebigplanet games across 3 consoles.  Five Resistance games across 3 consoles.  Five Halo games across one console.  You can argue that the New Super Mario Bros. franchise has evolved little since 2006, but then again, these other franchises haven’t show much growth either (with the possible exception of LBP).  So, even the most milked of Nintendo’s franchises is being milked at a perfectly normal rate.

The Mario situation is similar to what I said about new IPs earlier.  An awesome game is an awesome game, and new ideas are new ideas.  Whether these games and ideas are part of a new franchise or an old one matters little.  Super Paper Mario’s dimension flipping hook isn’t any less fun because other Mario games exist, and Bowser’s Inside Story isn’t any less of a hilarious RPG parody because Mario Kart happened.  As long as the various games stand on their own two feet, they can feature Mario.

Haters_gonna_hate_mario_by_NonoKraken

But But But… I Don’t Like Nintendo, and Therefore What They Do Is Bad.

So if Nintendo doesn’t milk their franchises any more than average, and doesn’t produce less gameplay innovation than their competitors, and there’s no logical reason why new IPs are better or more creative than existing IPs, then why are people complaining about Mario having another 3D adventure?  Confirmation bias.

These people don’t like Nintendo, or don’t like Mario, so another Mario game is inherently a bad thing.  However, you can bet your bottom dollar that these same people are craving sequels to games their favorite franchise.  Either that, or they’ve been beaten over the head with the phrase “new IP” that they’ve come to assume that innovation can only come in the form of new IPs.  To make a long story short; haters gonna hate.  As for me, I’m going to be looking forward to seeing what the next sequel in one of gaming’s best franchise will have to offer.

All of this is just one man’s opinion.  As always, I appreciate well thought out feedback whether you agree or disagree with me, as long as you back up what you’re saying with some logic or facts.  You can let me know how awesome I am or how much I suck on Twitter @GotGameJustin. Later.

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  • Anon
    May 9, 2013 at 1:01 PM

    Good job. If you want to be more analytical you can compare release densities (games/year) and actually show in numbers how Nintendo is the company that provides quality over quantity.

    Reply

    • Profile photo of Justin Weinblatt
      May 9, 2013 at 1:28 PM

      I’m not sure if the numbers would bear that out. In terms of quality, Nintendo may be at the top, but I don’t think Sony would be too far behind if we take averages of games based on critic scores. I think the critic scores are a bit slanted in some cases. For instance, I think Concentration Training is a fantastic title, but when you judge it by the same criteria as you judge BioShock Infinite, it’s going to suffer. I have a feeling Microsoft would provide the least quantity. Microsoft does heavily milk their franchises, but they don’t have that many. Might be interesting to do an analysis though.

      Glad you enjoyed the article.

      ReplyReport user

      • Anon
        May 9, 2013 at 6:49 PM

        The numbers work. I’ve done it many times over the years. And if you want to make a sound argument, everyone knows you provide hard evidence, and hard evidence is actual data. This “milking” idea is not new. I’ve written pieces about this and did lots of research, and not armchair “internet” research, actual scientific research. All I’m trying to do is help out the author to make a better argument.

        Reply

  • May 16, 2013 at 4:57 PM

    I’m a long time Nintendo fan and have been since I was 3 years old in 1989. I grew up with Nintendo, Sega, and SONY in the 90’s. Well after the 90’s it was apparent that Nintendo was a former shell of themselves. Regardless though i bought a Gamecube Super Smash Bros. Melee, Tales of Symphonia, Skies of Arcadia Legends, Zelda Windwaker and more. However I later got a PS2 and bought way more games my PS2 Collection is 97 disc based games from the Namco Tales titles including the Japan only ones, FFX, Kingdom Hearts 1,2, Re:COM, and KH2 Final Mix+. It just became harder to stick with Gamecube much after getting a PS2 cause It had a larger library of games overall.

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