As Reaxxion readers no doubt are aware by now, Nintendo recently announced a new game in the epic, best-selling Metroid series called Metroid Prime: Federation Force. Longtime fans initially reacted to the news by thinking that this new game was a follow-up to the outstanding Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, one of the finest first-person adventure/exploration/shooter games ever released, after five long years of waiting.
They were bitterly angered and disappointed to discover that, in fact, the game was a spin-off of the main Metroid series rather than a new game starring everyone’s favourite unrealistically proportioned female protagonist, Samus Aran. They were so annoyed, in fact, that a petition has been started to get the game cancelled and has, thus far, collected at least 20,000 signatures.
My colleague Chris Bechtloff looked into the fan backlash surrounding the new Metroid game. He didn’t see what all of the fuss was about.
I agree with him completely when he states that calling for a game to be cancelled just because you don’t like its graphics, gameplay, message, or whatever, well before it is actually released, is something that SJWs would do. We are objectively better than they are… not least because, unlike them, we don’t have gaping holes in our heads where the left hemisphere of our brain used to be, thanks to years of self-inflicted lobotomisation. Unlike social justice warriors, we understand the power of a competitive marketplace and its ability to act as the final source of judgement regarding the soundness of the business decisions that game and console manufacturers make.
It is for the very reason of market forces that I argue that Nintendo needs to stop diluting the value behind one of its key brands.
Unlike my esteemed colleague, I am a longtime Metroid fan. I have very fond memories of playing the original game, on the original NES console, well over 20 years ago. I never did get a GameCube, so I can’t comment on the first two installments of the Metroid Prime trilogy, but I consider Metroid Prime 3: Corruption to be one of the best games ever made.
As a result, I understand exactly why longtime fans of the series are so unhappy about the fact that this new game has the Metroid Prime label attached to it.
Nintendo Is Crazy Like A Fox…
That label, as any good marketer would recognise, has brand power. It denotes a trilogy of games that have, in many ways, set the standard for console-based exploration, adventure, and shooter experiences. I cannot think of another game in recent memory that balanced out vast environments with exhilarating combat, intriguing exploration, and near-endless replay value quite as well as MP3:C did. (As long as we’re not counting Halo: Combat Evolved, of course.)
By contrast, this new game is all about cooperative play with friends.
Now, let’s give credit where it is due: Nintendo is very good at making that work. One of the greatest selling points of the original Wii console was the fact that it was a great way for the entire family to get together to play games that were fun, silly, yet challenging. The motion-activated “Wiimote” controller was nothing less than revolutionary when it was released, and both Sony and Microsoft, after years of mocking it, eventually wised up and followed suit with motion-activated control schemes of their own.
The same applies for Nintendo’s handheld devices, which allow for a considerable degree of cooperative play with friends. Nintendo realised eons ago that they could never compete with the big boys in terms of graphics and hardware, so it wisely decided to concentrate on the single most important aspect of gaming that Sony and Microsoft, in their never-ending arms race, keep forgetting: having fun.
And for young kids especially, that means having fun with friends. Which is a big part of the reason why Nintendo’s core market is one that reliably keeps buying their products: the yoof segment.
Nintendo’s success in this respect is hard to put properly into words. So let’s just take a look at the pictures:
And take a look at global total console sales for the latest generation of hardware:
The story tells itself. Nintendo has been absolutely crushing the competition by making relatively fun games that anyone can play with his or her friends on modest hardware… which just so happens to provide much fatter profit margins than the competition’s emphasis on expensive, high-end hardware and software designed to make people go “OOOOOH!!! AHHH!!!”… and then walk away in disgust when their brand-new mega-budget blockbuster games ship with more bugs than a lice-infested mattress.
…But They Still Need To Innovate
Brand value is a concept that is difficult to explain—which, I suppose, is partly why B-schools get away with charging ridiculous amounts of money for degrees that have steadily been declining in real value for the last 30 years—but easy to understand intuitively. A brand is more than just the product sold under it. That brand is a readily identifiable image within the public mind. It has a cachet all of its own, a set of feelings, emotions, and ideas associated with it that, when managed properly, can yield tremendous monetary value.
And that management is something that Nintendo is generally extraordinarily good at doing.
The downside to Nintendo’s strategy of focusing on brands rather than genres and hardware is that those brands have to retain their value. The Mario “brand” is iconic, and rightly so. There have been God only knows how many titles released with the “Mario” label attached to them, and people have bought them in their millions for precisely that reason. Similarly, Nintendo’s other highly reliable cash cow, the Legend of Zelda series, is a major brand in its own right, but lends itself far less easily to diversification than Mario does.
Nintendo has long recognised these facts and has tried very hard to manage its brands carefully without diluting the tremendous market value that they contain. And for the most part, they have succeeded.
With one exception: the Metroid franchise.
This is often regarded as the “neglected” franchise in Nintendo’s stable of brands. While the Mario and Zelda franchises get a lot of love and focused attention, with new games being released regularly for each and every console that Nintendo has ever made, the same cannot be said of the Metroid series.
What Nintendo’s marketing types apparently didn’t anticipate was the fact that Metroid Prime is now a brand with its own identity, thanks to the superb quality of the original trilogy of games that spawned it. Nintendo got away with diluting the power of that brand once with Metroid Prime Pinball (seriously), which managed to win over critics and players despite sounding like the most spectacularly stupid mistake since John Romero’s Daikatana.
But this new game is not a Metroid Prime game, at all. It’s barely related to the Metroid franchise in the first place, emphasising as it does cooperative play and team-based missions rather than solo exploration and combat. And that is partly why fans are angry about it: they feel, with some justification, that Nintendo is whoring out the IP that created some of the best games in history.
The Game That Must Not Be Named
And then we come to the really big pile of crap in the middle of the room: the godawful horripilation that was Metroid: Other M.
Nintendo may or may not know this, but that game did serious damage to the legacy of the Metroid series. This was a game that was supposed to marry the classic side-scrolling action of the old (S)NES games with a three-dimensional environment and a sort of sideways-down point of view, along with the first-person combat characteristics of MP3:C. And in some ways, it succeeded.
But overall, it was a terrible game.
And that is precisely the problem. Nintendo has already damaged its own brand by releasing a substandard game that should have been, needed to be, great. They have now doubled down on that mistake by releasing a Metroid Prime game that is actually nothing of the sort, and sounds more like Evolve smashed headfirst into a blender with Legend of Zelda: Four Swords with a thin coating of Samus Aran’s body armour spray-painted on top.
This dilution of the value of the Metroid franchise is bad news for everyone—for Nintendo, for investors, and for the fans. This new game could very well be a massive financial success—I would not bet against Nintendo pulling it off. They’ve done it before, repeatedly. But it will further damage the brand power of one of the company’s most important and highly marketable characters—after all, we don’t play Metroid to become some faceless Federation space marine battling Space Pirates, we play Metroid to become Samus freakin’ Aran.
Because of Nintendo’s rather odd decision to create essentially a new four-player cooperative game and market it under the Metroid brand, longtime fans of the series may walk away from it well before the company ever releases its next-gen console, the NX. And casual fans will never get a chance to experience the pure awesomesauce that is a Metroid game done right.
With Metroid: Other M and now Metroid Prime: Federation Force, Nintendo is on two strikes. Its fans have given the company a stark warning. Let me just add to that warning as bluntly as I can: stop cocking about with one of your most valuable brands and release a new proper Metroid game already.