Commentary

Can Nintendo Survive Without Geeks?

Nintendo suffered a brief PR fiasco last weekend when the director of marketing for its European division, Laurent Fischer, dismissed concerns that the Wii's memory space was too small, saying that only "geeks and otaku" would want more storage space on their Wii. For those who don't routinely use Japanese slang in their day-to-day conversation, Wikipedia describes "otaku" as often having "significantly greater negative connotation than geek does in the West, especially as the term geek has become less derogatory. The term otaku in Japanese occasionally suggests a creepy, obsessive loner who rarely leaves the house."

The outrage was swift and predictable, and Fischer recently made an apology (which means in modern parlance that he described the whole thing as a "misunderstanding"): "I have huge respect for those who, like me, share a common passion for Nintendo and want to make it clear that I would never use and I didn't use this terminology in such a context or way to cause offense," he said. "I regret that this misunderstanding has created such offense and disappointment within the community."

Fischer's statements definitely give an interesting window into Nintendo's position in the market, however. Despite Nintendo's status as the oldest player in the current console wars, it's increasingly clear that the Wii is not for the hardcore audience. There is a chorus saying that the Wii's hardware hasn't been fully utilized yet, that its capabilities are barely better than the previous generation of consoles. And the purchasing habits of Wii owners don't seem to match those of hard-core gamers. In the first quarter of 2008, despite the Wii's extremely respectable sales figures, only three Wii titles broke into the top 10 list of best-selling games. Many Wii owners seem to be sticking with a small title library consisting mostly of Wii Sports.

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Although Fischer quickly apologized for his remarks, it seems more and more as if Nintendo is aiming to do without the "geeks and otaku" that make up the fandoms of the other two consoles. It will be an interesting experiment to see if the casual market can sustain its own console.

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