Would Disney Buy Nintendo?

Shortly after posting my thoughts on the announcement of Nintendo attractions in Universal Parks & Resorts, Ben Thompson reached out and asked a simple question:

I’ve posted a couple of pieces about the cross-over between Disney and Nintendo, most relevant to the possibility of a Disney acquisition of Nintendo on 11/21/14:

Star Wars is Disney.

Marvel is Disney.

It was as if I had never really given weight to the thought. Nintendo has always been so evident and ripe to fit along classic Disney franchises. But Marvel and Star Wars? Put in the context of Disney buying Nintendo and Nintendo just seems like a no brainer put up against the other two.

On the flip-side, the majority have been spelling doom for Nintendo for years. And Nintendo has been putting up one hell of a fight. Let’s see how these Super Smash Bros. numbers do.

(Turns out those Super Smash Bros. numbers have done pretty well. Nintendo’s fiscal year 2015 report states 6.75 million units for 3DS, 3.65 million units for Wii U.)

Thinking a bit more about butting up Nintendo’s cast of characters next to Disney’s, there is an odd dissonance that begins to materialize.

Personality

Nintendo’s IP (Mario & Co.) compete directly with Disney’s foundational IP (Mickey & Co.). They serve a like purpose for both brands, only Nintendo’s are largely mute and and lack archetypes. It’s difficult to identify with Mario, Link, and Samus and I think that would be a problem for Disney. That’s not to say Mickey, Minnie, and Donald are easy to identify with, but what has grown from their foundation are characters like Ariel, Elsa, and Aladdin. Likewise, Marvel and Star Wars characters such as Spiderman and Han Solo exude heavy archetypes that fans, child or adult, latch on to.

It may seem like nonsense in the context of playful, lighthearted entertainment, but archetypes are hooks. I’m a big Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan, a team of four heavy archetypes. When playing as a child, I would pick which Turtle I wanted to be and act out their personality. Likewise, selecting a favorite Avenger (Captain America) adds a vast array of color to playtime or personal ethics. I’m not sure how kids go about acting out Mario vs. Luigi. (Other than a death-stare I suppose.)

Fight

Time and time again, Nintendo has shown that they can put up a fight. Most recently, with Wii U’s stagnant numbers, Nintendo tightened and polished mainstream hits like Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. to help move the console back to relevancy.

Nintendo President Satoru Iwata during the 2015 fiscal year financial results:

Specifically, I believe it was significant that “Mario Kart 8″ and “Super Smash Bros. for Wii U” were released in the same year and that we have been able to maintain users’ active use of these titles months after their respective releases.

Lately, Nintendo has also been oddly quick to diversify and even innovate, entering into a new product category with Amiibo (of which 10.5M have already shipped), speaking with TV & Film creative houses, and most recently partnering with Universal to enter into the theme park market.

All of this speaks to Nintendo’s steadfast attitude and the pride that builds after proving themselves to the nay-sayers. From weird controllers to the motion-control frenzy to off-screen play, they remain resolute in their foundation as innovators; trusting themselves when embarking on new endeavors. Given the choice of the guarantee of making a buck or flopping with a new creative product, I trust Nintendo to stand-by the flop until it makes a buck.

I believe Nintendo sees themselves as the Little Mac to Disney’s Mike Tyson; a worthy underdog in the entertainment ring.

Price, or return?

Back to Ben Thompson’s initial question. Ben made the comment of “too pricey.” Disney bought Marvel and Lucasfilm for $4B each. Nintendo is currently holds a market cap of $25.73B. Disney currently stands at a market cap of $185.96B. Note that I have very little knowledge of how the financial markets work or if the price to buy would be based off of market cap. That said, I don’t entirely believe Nintendo would be too pricey, rather a return on an investment of $25.73B would stand to be an extremely long-game.

In a world where Disney owned Nintendo, I highly doubt any Nintendo property or product would see a rise comparable to that of the $2B in market cap the second teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens generated for Disney. Nintendo’s current video game business would holdfast while their toy and other consumer products division would certainly expand. But, again, I don’t see a singular product, movie, or experience (let alone the speculation of success!) that would net as quick and massive a return as $2B. For Disney to see a valuable return on a Nintendo acquisition, I see Disney utilizing not only Nintendo IP but Nintendo’s game design infrastructure to boost the Disney Interactive brand, giving the weight and timelessness Nintendo franchises have to Disney games.

Lack of voice

Speaking of timelessness, I believe video games can be too timeless. In regard of Disney; their vault; and founding ideology of past, present, and future; time is key.

Great video games are seemingly endlessly re-playable for generations. Not to mention that the lack of captivating story elements in most Nintendo games means that they are typically always relevant because, well, they are not relevant at all. There is a tiny bit of nostalgia involved when playing a game you grew up with, but it’s not the sort of remembrance we give to artists of film and TV. It wasn’t until I saw Wreck-It Ralph that I my nostalgia meter peeked. I accredit this not to my remembers of the games, but the fact that Disney payed homage to my own private memories.

Likewise, video game production value has reached not what I would call a plateau, but a current landscape that spans generations. New 8/16-bit games are just as relevant as photo-realistic AAA titles. In the world of film, throwback production like The Artist, while great, can be considered novelty. That same sense of great timely novelty is what gives weight, connection, and excitement when seeing Han Solo on screen again. Possibilities are endless in video games that lack great voice talent. Because of this, I’m afraid that sense of great novelty and nostalgia would never happen on a mass scale for video games the way Disney would need it to.

Would Disney buy Nintendo? I say no. Disney doesn’t need Nintendo. Nintendo doesn’t need Disney.

Nintendo Attractions Coming to Universal Parks

Ben Kuchera, Polygon:

Universal has theme parks in Orlando, Hollywood, Japan and Singapore, and it’s currently unknown which parks will be getting these attractions, or what the attractions with entail. The most recent large addition to Universal Orlando was the well-received Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and the addition of Nintendo characters and rides could be a potent weapon against the competing Disney resorts.
It sounds like we’re going to have to wait a bit more details. “The immersive experiences will include major attractions at Universal’s theme parks and will feature Nintendo’s most famous characters and games,” the press release said. “More details will be announced in the future, as the Nintendo and Universal creative teams work to create specific concepts.”

After the success of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, I trust Universal to do a respectable job with Nintendo’s IP. While I often daydream about a dedicated Nintendo theme park, I don’t belive their IP alone is enough to engross visitors for a full day.

My wife’s immediate reaction: “Legoland is screwed.” Interesting that Universal seems to be playing LEGOs own game: license out massive, mixed brand IP for a variety of experiences, personalities, and worlds under a single umbrella.

I’d comfortably say that since the early 2000s, Disney resorts felt like the only go-to theme park destinations. Today there is certainly more reason to divide time bewteen multiple resorts.

With Disney’s admission prices skyrocketing, the inclusion of Marvel and Star Wars, Tomorrowland and Jungle Cruise films launching, and Universal’s expansion of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter married with Nintendo attractions, the theme park industry is in for exciting times.

Also, very fun to watch Nintendo’s rapid expansion outside of the dedicated console video game market. For a company who’s traditionally been set on a singular market, they’ve certainly made some very quick moves outside of their comfort zone.

‘200CC Is So Fast It’s Starting To Break Mario Kart 8 Courses’

Yannick LeJacq writing for Kotaku:

Normally, busting outside of the normal confines of a level in Mario Kart 8 requires a) some sort of glitch or bug to be present and exploitable, or b) a hack of the game like the ones two modders famously performed last year. Kart racer and Reddit user dizzyzane wasn’t using any special hacking tricks, though. He was just driving really, really fast thanks to Mario Kart 8’s game-changing new 200CC speed class.

Love this. Like that moment when a toddler goofs, turning a harmless accident into a humorous event. Makes you appreciate the calculations behind great level design and game balance. (Though, it appears breaking Music Park’s ceiling was already possible in 150CC, just not to this extent, as per kingdomharms’s Reddit reply.)

EDIT: Thinking on it, I’m a bit mixed about 200CC. On one hand, if 200CC is truly a new feature, the fact that more levels were not broken open with the increased speed is a testament to Nintendo as a quality game maker. That is, unless, 200CC was planned from the get go; to which  200CC would have been a business strategy for increased play time / player investment. If that is the case, I’m always miffed at the holding back of content. (See also: Mario Party 10 under Nintendo Direct Play-by-Play from 1/16/15)

All Killer, No Filler

The Just Cause 3 trailer is here. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is upon us. Dragon Age: Inquistion surprised with “Game of the Year” at DICE. And I’m tired of open-world.

More specifically, I’m tired of side-quests.

The first post to relaunch my personal blogging, Finding The Rails, attempted to capture an idea that like RPGs, there is a tricky balance to life between rails and side-quests. After a year out of college, I found difficulty in finding focus in my professional growth. School always provided a rail; you stay on track and graduate. What was often heard but never comprehended was the idea that after school, life changes. Priorities change. Responsibility kicks in. Time flies by. Emotions are juggled.

Somewhat recently, I purchased a PS4 — in large part to play Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. I had completed the main quest, but throughout my playthrough, I continually felt compelled to seek out side-quests and collectibles. Like commanding an unruly Graug, I felt I had to continually redirect my attention to the main goal. Thankfully, I had completed enough side-quests and gathered enough collectibles to level Talion up enough progress through to the (lackluster) end.

This should not have been the case. Side-quests and collectibles should not be necessary to complete a game. Arguably, the greatest games of all time were played in a roughly linear manner. Super Mario Bros. (and most of its iterations) is (are) extremely linear and hold up today. Mega Man games provide boss patterns that streamline the game’s experience. Hell, even Final Fantasy games feel largely liner amongst the Skyrims and Dragon Age: Inquisitions of today. (Yes, I am giving FFXIII a pass — nay, credit — for it’s extreme use of linear gameplay, especially when FFVII and FFX feel like average adventure games amongst the throng of open-world, 100+ hour games of today.)

It goes without saying that hours upon hours of gameplay lure consumers to the idea that value is based on dollars spent per hour played. (Sales strategy? Definitely. Blocking mechanism against rival product? Possibly.) But when three hours of an 80+ hour game feel like a slog, how can one be expected to reap the entire value?

Today, Polygon published a piece from Tristan Ettleman on the trends of low-income gamers:

I expected to find a robust multiplayer game at the core of every low-income gamer’s library. Industry trends, the “content galore” allure of multiplayer gameplay and my own experience led me to believe that sticking to a popular online game was the most cost-efficient way to maintain a passion for video games.

That’s not the case. Time is another resource that’s in short supply when you’re struggling to pay the bills, so shorter, story-based games become a big draw.

This is an interesting observation, and one that does not stop at the low-income gamer.

I recently purchased Dragon Age: Inquisition and Far Cry 4, both of which topped countless “Best of 2014″ lists. I’ll be damned if I didn’t feel tricked into playing side-quest after side-quest before fully comprehending the story and stakes. Even the controls and mechanics still felt foreign after hours and hours of play. I’ve given my two-cents about exploitative gameplay, and even though these lengthy AAA titles aren’t picking at my wallet every few minutes, they’ve certainly got me pissing away $60 for upwards of five hours of playtime before I’m tapped out. All for the allure of spectacular visuals, the promise of storytelling, and conversation amongst the gaming community.

Books are focused. Movies are focused. Music is focused. Most pre-GTAIII video games are focused. My job, my relationships, my life is/are not. Call it another “get off my lawn” moment, but I need some focus in my games.

All killer, no filler.

Mario Kart 8 DLC Pack 2: Here We Go!

Mario Kart 8 DLC Pack 2 was released on April 23, 2015. The addition of Animal Crossing’s Villager and Isabelle as well as Dry Bowser don’t do much for me. Likewise, new karts have never been something I glamour for, often selecting the standard kart for every race. (I dig classic!) However, the new Crossing and Bell cups include some of the most gorgeous video game visuals I have come across, Nintendo game or otherwise.

As I was racing through the new and original Wild Woods track, I was itching for Dry Bowser to hop out of his kart and explore. (I’ve experienced similar feelings racing through Shy Guy Falls, Dolphin Shoals, and Toad Harbor.) Likewise, the Animal Crossing track turns the traditionally isometric town into a truly inhabitable world.

A racing game feeling inhabitable speaks volumes.

A breathtaking “open-world” Legend of Zelda is a reality. Likewise, Nintendo has shown stellar execution of HD visuals in Mario Kart 8. This adds up to trigger a craving for the next iteration of 3D Mario games to be set in a seamless HD universe; freeing itself from stage selection and selective star quests and instead opting in for a connected Mushroom Kingdom.

This does not mean an “open-world” Mario game. I am no champion for open-world games. In fact, I often loathe them. I become distracted by side-quests and/or feel forced spend hours completing unnecessary tasks to progress the story or grow the game only to be forced to backtrack or fast-travel to previously completed areas. More and more I feel “open-world” means “lock-in”, encouraging players to invest obscene amounts of time in a single game to the point where they are afraid or ashamed to give it up.

I would love to see the next iteration of 3D Mario games open up into semi-open, adventure style platformers à la Jak and Daxter. No overworld. No stage select. No “painting portals”. Missions are discovered throughout the Mushroom Kingdom in lands akin to Thwomp Ruins, Cheep Cheep Beach, and Moo Moo Meadows, each gated by the traditional “star-requirement”.

I previously posted some thoughts on Iterative vs. Redesigned Experiences:

Super Mario 64 could have just as easily been another side-scroller, albeit with better visuals. The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time could have been another top-down adventure. Donkey Kong 64 could have gone a number of pre-existing directions. Sure the Metroid series skipped the Nintendo 64 generation but Metroid Prime could have been another 2D platformer. The fact of the matter is that these titles reinvented their respective franchises. The worlds and characters we loved were shown in a new light and perspective. Sure, they are great games but they reinvented the way we thought about the franchises. This is what makes them so special.

More than just a great racing game, I believe Mario Kart 8 provides a glimpse at the future of the Mushroom Kingdom. Like Super Mario 64 dropped the “3D game design” mic, a fully connected Mushroom Kingdom could bring the 3D adventure-platformer back into the limelight and showcase exactly how it should have been done 15+ years ago.

Video

Thoughts on Star Wars Teaser #2

  1. I could have sworn they were pulling audio from Return of the Jedi. (Mark Hamill still sounds youthful.) Until Luke’s line: “You have that power, too.”
  2. And if this is truly new dialogue, Luke state’s that his ‘father has it.” Has. Not had.
  3. It’s fun to imagine Vader is still around, but whether it’s clever audio splicing or Luke referring to the omnipresent (Force ghost*) Anakin, I say Vader is dead and gone.
  4. Finn is a trepidatious Stormtrooper recruit. The chaotic stormtrooper battle scene affirms his worries and he chooses to leave the Empire (or equivalent faction). This is the first time we witness the weight of war and death on soldiers in the post-prequel films.**
  5. I need to figure out a way to be a part of this upcoming series of Disney Star Wars films.
  6. I hate zoom. (1:28)

—– 

* Thanks for the heads up to @AlexandreSitbon. The term was slipping my mind.

** Correction: Sad Ewok.

Campaign Season

Over the weekend, I had an interesting conversation with a relative. The conversation was not interesting so much as my reaction was interesting.

This relative asked what school I had gone to and I replied with the addition that I had majored in political science. Without hesitation, he responded, “let’s talk about politics.” My reply, “let’s not,” went in one ear and out the other.

To backtrack, I had become extremely passionate about politics during my senior year of high school. Over the course of my college career, I shied away from pursuing my innate passion to debate ethics, policy, and humanitarian issues. However, after many twists-and-turns, majors and minors, I found myself holding a BA in political science.

Back to the conversation.

Naturally, the it veered into Hillary Clinton’s announcement for the 2016 presidential bid. My relative’s qualm against her was that electing her as president “would put Bill back in the White House,” but “Bill was a good president.” My confusion began here.

Then my blood began to boil. I hadn’t felt this way in a long time. But I wouldn’t let it get the better of me. I was wiser than I was in high school and college. I had learned not to speak up when I didn’t know 110% of what I was talking about.

But I snapped.

After a few unproven assumptions about how things would pan out if she were president, I interrupted:

“If Hillary is elected, there are going to be folks that never let go of the email scandal. If Ted Cruz is elected, there are going to be folks that never let go of the fact that he was born in Canada. Just like the folks that wasted four years plus another four years questioning Obama’s birth certificate.

“Too much time is wasted. This shit doesn’t matter.”

It was quick, tame, and uneducated in the context of all things political. But even without all the answers and a well crafted strategy (of which I only ever had in school), I fought back; something I hadn’t done in years.

To be clear, I do believe that Hillary’s email scandal is a big deal. But under the context of my argument, it helped… maybe. I’m rusty. Cut me some slack.

In any case, the campaign season is upon us. Every four years, many “sports ball” tech nerds like myself get fired up during this time. It is a spectator sport we get interested in. And unlike fantasy sports, selecting your candidates and propositions actually affect real-life.

In the next week or so, my passion around campaign season will likely cool down. Like the baseball season, I’ll stay focused during opening week, putter out during mid-season, and ramp back up during the final third. But for once in quite some time, I feel fired up. And I like it.

He Would Not Work in Oils

Seth Godin on The Moment with Brian Koppelman:

If you think that you were born to paint in oils, or you were born to speak the truth about income inequality, or you were born— it’s just not true. If Vincent Van Gogh were born today, he would not work in oils. If Steve Jobs had been born 500 years ago, he would have done something else.

So what is the authentic version of Vincent Van Gogh? There isn’t one. What there is is someone who sought out a series of emotions that he could create for himself and gifts he could give other people through his work. And what I’m getting at is yes, we need to be consistent in honoring the truth of what we came to say.

But I also know that if I’d been born one block away from where I was born to different parents, or if I had been born in Yugoslavia, the fact that I’m here talking to you about these things would not have occurred. This is not the authentic expression of my DNA.

Excellent reminder.

José James on Discovering Miles Davis, Jazz

American jazz and hip-hop vocalist José James during a ‘Meet the Musician’ event at the Apple Store, Kurfürstendamm:

I couldn’t believe one artist had made 50 albums. I pull one out and I look at the back and it has four tracks on it and each track is 18-minutes long. I’m thinking, “I can’t listen to this. I want value.” I was looking for the one with twelve tracks on it.

So incredibly peculiar how we subscribe value. I too ran into the same quandary when experiencing Miles Davis for the first time. Then I thought back to listening to “The Decline” on repeat. And “2113” after that. And “Goodbye Sky Harbor” after that. And “Cicatriz E.S.P.” after that. And “Drop” after that. And “Chimera Obscurant” after that. And “Dauðalagið” after that.

Cumulative time does not equate to value. I’ll be damned if I couldn’t listen to “So What” on loop for the rest of my life.

David Benioff on Writing Fiction v. Screenplays

Game of Thrones co-creator David Benioff on Aisha Tyler’s Girl On Guy podcast:

Writing dialogue. I love it. That’s the fun part for me. The hard part for me is writing the descriptions. There’s just something great about writing ‘INT. RESTAURANT. DAY/NIGHT’. A production designer’s going to figure that shit out. I don’t have to worry about it. I’m just going to write what the characters are saying.

I still love writing novels. Writing fiction to me… I still think of it as the highest form of writing, but it’s so fucking hard and it’s torture for me. I don’t have fun doing it. I have fun writing screenplays.

An extremely honest and reassuring quote. What aspiring writer doesn’t want to hear a quote like this from one of the co-creators of the most ambitious show on television?