I think we can all join hands and agree that we root for Nintendo to succeed. Every gamer I know (from my 7-year old niece to my 50-year old co-worker) has deep nostalgic feelings about the NES and the SNES, where their gaming careers began. However, with the latest leaked rumors of Nintendo’s plans for the NX, I can’t help but hang my head in exacerbated disappointment. Have we learned nothing from the Playstation Vita? This is such a Nintendo move – after several steps forward, the company couldn’t help but stumble and fall flat on their face. I couldn’t help but feel like I belonged to one of the most tortured sports fan bases out there. Nintendo has become the Cleveland Browns of Video Games.
The Cleveland Browns have a deep history in professional football, dating back to their inception in 1944. Over the next 22 years, they would win 8 titles, an astounding rate for any professional team, mainly on the backs of Otto Graham (an outstanding quarterback) and Jim Brown, one of the best players to ever play the running back position*. This is very similar to Nintendo’s domination of video games in the late 80’s and early 90’s (the beginning of modern home consoles) on the back of everyone’s favorite Italian plummer. Nintendo had a somewhat worthy rival in Sega, but the hedgehog was quite easily toppled, much like the Browns over most teams in those early years. Both of these organizations were at the top of their industries in the early days, however, they would both suffer from less than stellar front offices as time moved on.
Two years after the Browns won their last title (62 years running now!), the AFL (American Football League) and NFL (National Football League) merged into what we now view as the NFL, complete with the Super Bowl. In 1964, Art Modell bought the team (shaking up how things were run), and at the end of the 1965 campaign, Jim Brown retired. From here on out, the Browns would have pings of success, but this would mark the beginning of a long downhill slide. While they had a few seasons where they fielded solid defenses, and playoff appearances here and there (including AFC title game losses against the Denver Broncos in back-to-back years), the Browns would never regain the title of Champion. This despite having Bernie Kosar, a very successful quarterback, leading the team. During their descent, The Pittsburgh Steelers would win the AFC Central Division (the same division with the Browns) 12 times, including 4 Super Bowl championships, relegating them to the limelight (meet Cleveland’s Playstation). The Dallas Cowboys found continued success, winning 5 Super Bowl titles during the Browns fall (the Brown’s Xbox). In 1995, the Browns would cease to exist when Modell moved them to Baltimore.
Nintendo followed a similar trend, experiencing what most people consider failures in the Nintendo 64 and Gamecube. Neither console caught on with the mainstream despite many games garnering critical acclaim. The Nintendo 64 had one of the most incredible developers backing it in Rare (their Bernie Kosar), churning out hits like Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, Donkey Kong 64, and Banjo-Kazooie. So many great games, but still, the N-64 never really caught on (possibly due to its daunting and uninviting controller). After the N64, we were introduced to the Gamecube (with another controller resembling the result of a designer throwing a bunch of shapes at a sticky board). The ‘Cube brought us many hits, similar to the 64, including Super Smash Brothers: Melee, Metroid Prime (and its sequel), Legend of Zelda: Windwaker, and Viewtiful Joe. While many of the diehards dumped tons of money into the console to try and keep it afloat, the Gamecube would wind up being another failure at the end of the day. In each case, there were several good ideas that Nintendo failed to realize after stumbling. Both of these consoles had their share of hits, but both had their competition as well. During the 64 era, we saw the emergence of the Playstation, which could be found in homes all around the world (the Pittsburgh Steelers). The Playstation was more accessible to all ages, and had many edgier and darker games for an aging audience. During the Gamecube’s era, we saw the PS2, which would go on to sell the most units of any console in history, and also included a DVD player – a genius move in an era when these were still hundreds of dollar per unit, as well as the introduction of the Microsoft Xbox (which introduced us to online gaming in our living room via Xbox Live). The PS2 absolutely dominated the scene, and while it would marginally outsell the Gamecube over its lifetime, the Xbox was the defacto #2 console on people’s minds.
In 1999, after several years of inactivity, the Browns were returned to Cleveland (in the form of an expansion team). This was cause for much celebration. The Browns were relevant again. Fans were stoked, the new owner was inspired, and and players had a dream in their minds. Much like the Wii’s massive success, sparking a resurgence of the Nintendo brand, people were talking about the Browns again. Fan’s jubilant attitude would be short lived, as their front office bounced from one idea to another. Every time it seemed like the Browns were doing something right, it tended to blow up in their faces, due to either impatience, or ill advised decisions. The Browns would field more starting quarterbacks than any other team since 1999 when they rejoined the league. They would also hire 7 different general managers in that same span of time, only making the playoffs once. Lately, they’ve focused on building a solid defense and win games on their back. However, they haven’t been able to string together any comprehensible offense regardless of having one of the most explosive receivers in the game (Josh Gordon). Each time things are looking up, Browns fans seem to be subjected to another losing season. Their latest decision was to give RGIII (Robert Griffin III, a scrambling quarterback who never fully recovered from a blown-out knee) a contract worth up to 22 million dollars, trying to make him their franchise quarterback. From all the exuberance around the team in 1999, it didn’t take long for their stadium to become referred to as “The Factory of Sadness“. Two steps forward, then a stumble.
The Nintendo Wii sold gangbusters, finally adapting to the mainstream. You could find a Wii in nursing homes, living rooms of people who had never gamed before, and die hard’s entertainment centers alike. Nintendo had finally landed a hit in the populace, however, these weren’t mainly people who would buy tons of software for the WiiU, instead finding themselves content with the packaged-in Wii Sports games. After this reawakening of the Nintendo Brand, it was only a matter of time before the grandfather of consoles fell back into obscurity. Nintendo wanted to be the first to the next generation of consoles, beating the PS4 and the Xbox One to market, but in doing so, they created a half-baked console that was less powerful than either of its new counterparts. A great idea, but a failure to execute. Further, they failed to successfully advertise and convey what exactly the WiiU was. They also tried to take another alternate approach to controls that worked so well with the Wii. However, the touch screen tablet would wind up turning more people off as opposed to inviting them to try out the newest way to play games. The WiiU ended up a colossal failure, with rumors spreading that manufacturing would end in 2016, just 4 years after it was released (extremely early in the video game world, much like the Browns, and all their personnel decisions).
In 2014, the Cleveland Browns were primed to make a splash in that years NFL draft, where they would hope to find the best young talent to revitalize their franchise. They had a high draft pick, with tons of young talent on the board. Much like how Pokemon Go’s rapid success drove Nintendo’s stock price, Browns fans were excited that THIS WAS THE YEAR! However, the Browns front office would wind up passing over Jeremy Hill (a successful starting running back for the Bengals), Teddy Bridgewater (one of the most accurate and reliable young quarterbacks), and Derek Carr (potentially the most successful out of that year’s draft class) to take Johnny Manziel, a guy with known party-boy tendencies, who would enter and leave rehab not once, but twice over the next two years, and at the time of this writing is out of football entirely. Now take a look at Pokemon Go. When people think of Pokemon, they think of Nintendo, but the simple truth is that Nintendo had virtually nothing to do with Pokemon Go, and besides their partial ownership of The Pokemon Company, they’re barely making anything off the current craze. That didn’t stop the general public from pushing Nintendo’s stock price up by 112% over two weeks. Nintendo’s front office played the situation terribly, not nipping this in the bud and preventing their stock from surging, and winding up with poor fiscal earnings (which reminds me of….).
Over the past couple years, we’ve seen Nintendo make vast strides in the right direction; mainly the announcement into mobile games, and the decision to abandon the WiiU. However in each stride forward, we’ve seen Nintendo falter. The only thing we’ve seen in terms of their mobile partnership with DeNA has been Mittomo (an app that has to remind you it exists), and the latest leaked rumor that the NX will be a handheld that will plug into TV’s and is less powerful than the current PS4. What we’re staring at is another PS Vita situation, which was one of Sony’s biggest failures in the gaming industry. While its extremely hard to watch, its not at all surprising. I couldn’t help but sigh with disappointment when I heard the news, thinking “classic Nintendo”. Much like Browns fans are resigned to each and every decision made by their front office. It’s hard to watch, and while I root for Nintendo to become relevant and release classic after classic again, I fail to be surprised when they just can’t make that happen.
*As someone born in 1990, I can only base this off what I have read and learned as a sports fan.