News Article

Former Nintendo Marketing Specialist Sheds Light on Smash Bros. as a "Dangerous" Brand at EVO

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

Also explains parallels between Wii U and GameCube challenges

Kyle Mercury was involved in major marketing and events decisions at Nintendo of America between 2001 and 2007, undertaking various key roles throughout that period. He was particularly active in the region's efforts to promote the GameCube in these years, a system that saw Nintendo struggle in the home console market — by its own high standards — and come third-best in that generation of hardware.

It's a system with its fans, of course, and as we look back now its possible to consider the design as iconic and memorable. At the time, however, it failed to keep up with Sony's PlayStation 2 in a spectacular way, with Nintendo falling under pressure as the system failed to take off — it sold over 20 million units, but still holds the dubious honour of being the company's worst performing major home console.

Many factors can be attributed to these issues, and Mercury was one member of the team that attempted to promote the system to as wide an audience as possible. The difficulties in convincing consumers to buy a GameCube are, some may argue, recurring with the Wii U. It's far too early to suggest that the Wii U will finish with GameCube-level sales — though some industry analysts have made predictions along those lines — but Mercury feels there are parallels in terms of the system's place in the market. Here's what he said in an interview with notenoughshaders.com.

There are certainly parallels. The Wii performed what was, at the time, a remarkable feat: It drastically lowered the barrier to entry to video games. Price, ease of use, novel and broadly appealing content, innovative technologies without the fear of complexity that usually comes from them, disregard for traditional demographics… It was a perfect recipe and something the video game industry sorely needed. The GameCube had elements of those things, but it’s not what the market was looking for in the time of the PS2. Nintendo’s mobile division (especially backed by the Pokémon money machine) saved the day and there was only gain to be had with the Wii.

The Wii U also has elements of that whole, but once again it’s not what the market is looking for. It has sacrificed the simplicity of the Wii, but hasn’t caught the sheer hardware or media power of Microsoft or Sony. Casual gamers have moved to phones and tablets which are unsurpassed in convenience of play and cost. Title offerings aren’t exactly bold and with more and more 3rd party developers, studios that defined the last generation of games, reducing or removing support for the Wii U and a sadly lacking indie development scene… what’s the value proposition? The Wii thrived because it changed gamers expectations. The GameCube and Wii U suffered because gamers expectations have changed.

The GameCube at least benefitted from 3rd party developers still looking to push boundaries and create a-typical experiences. Games that could take chances because we hadn’t quite reached the almost “AAA or Indie” only state we’re in now. The middle class of gaming has slowly been whittled away this past generation, though I would argue there is an exception to be made for the still Nintendo dominated handheld market.

Another interesting perspective that Mercury has given is around the recent controversy over the appearance of Smash Bros. at EVO. Nintendo's initial decision to halt a Melee event brought plenty of criticism online, with the company then back-tracking to allow the tournament to go ahead as planned. Although Mercury was a judge at EVO, he explained that not many had considered the issue from Nintendo's angle, stating that it can be a troublesome brand for Nintendo.

From a Promotional perspective the game is almost always a guaranteed victory, it’s easy mode. People love Smash, period. In this respect, it tends to swallow nearly all other titles it’s placed alongside. Even during the Wii launch, Smash Melee would still draw huge crowds at events if it was fired up, pulling eyes and critical impressions away from newer Wii and DS titles. As that relates to EVO, the decision doesn’t really seem to make much sense and from what I’ve heard it was more a miscommunication between the parties involved. On the other hand, highlighting a 12 year old game from a console two full generations ago isn’t exactly going to lead to improved sales numbers. People always say “It’s free promotion!”, but that’s like using a Gameboy Advance SP to promote the 3DS. It was great at the time, but it’s not doing you any favors in 2013.

From a Marketing perspective, Smash is dangerous because of the content/playstyle of the game. Iconic Nintendo mascots beating the hell out of each other is an awesome gameplay experience, no one will challenge that fact, but from an overall Marketing view it’s, well, dangerous. The popular image of Mario, the widely publicly recognized one, can never be of him beating the hell out of Princess Peach or, say, of Link tossing Zelda into the fires of Brinstar, Pikachu hitting Jigglypuff with a baseball bat, so on, so forth. Unlike most other fighting game characters, the Nintendo mascots have far-reaching brands and franchises unto themselves that have to be considered and protected in a bigger picture view. EVO would have taken the character representations out of the hands of Nintendo’s control, boiled them down to pure violence, and broadcast it directly to 125,000 people. It’s not hard to see why Nintendo would be a little gun-shy.

Don’t get me wrong, I was thrilled to see Super Smash Bros Melee at EVO2013 (full disclosure, I was a Judge at EVO this year), but the outcry against Nintendo at the initial decision was so one-sided, so inconsiderate of what the company has to deal with to protect their brands, and just generally uninformed. Gamers want what they want, but there is always more at stake than we know.

Let us know what you think of these perspectives, but if you want plenty of detail on marketing and management pressures at Nintendo of America during the GameCube era, check out the full original article.

[via notenoughshaders.com]

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User Comments (47)

shad0w-7

#3

shad0w-7 said:

People in the industry tend to hide behind corporate walls.
They don't explain their situation, and then the speculation begins.
For instance, I still would like to know how much of a saving WB is making by not including multiplayer in Arkham Origins, as this is the only reason I can see them making the cut in the first place. But is that saving worth the damage to the WiiU version?

Tysamu

#4

Tysamu said:

That was... pretty clear, never thought of it that way with both the U/GC and smash bros. It's good to hear from an ex-big wig's perspective when it's not biased.

His perspectives on Smash bros can go doubly for LoZ or Pkmn titles and even Metroid as I've heard a number of people state that they aren't gonna buy a Ninten system unless those specific titles are crafted for the system.

Bulbousaur

#5

Bulbousaur said:

But no one except core gamers who knew the concept of Smash would of watched EVO, or most of the time even heard of it. Those 125000 people knew exactly what they were watching. If Nintendo is that worried about the series's image, they have a serious problem advertising Smash 4.

Kaze_Memaryu

#6

Kaze_Memaryu said:

Mercury really has some strong points I definitely didn't see.
But he's also missing out on a specific point: EVO is largely attended by fans of fighting games, so there wouldn't be much of a problem to the characters' images. The audience of EVO isn't just a bunch of misinformed teens - most of them are hardcore fighting game fans and know very well who those characters are and what they normally do.
But his words still ring as really well-thought in my head. Thanks a lot for this bit of valuable insight, Mr. Mercury!

VolcanoFlames

#7

VolcanoFlames said:

Wow. Some things I didn't know or think about... But Smash is a unique beatemup where you can see Peach slap Mario with her frying pans into oblivion.

Grubdog

#8

Grubdog said:

The whole thing is baseless anyway because Nintendo never really cared, it was poor communication on both parties that dragged it out. Everything else is speculation, but interesting points raised nonetheless.

ThreadShadow

#9

ThreadShadow said:

I'm sorry that's just silly. Brand protection? It's their own series of games!! If they are that scared of it, why continue making the series? Silly!

The violence in Smash isn't MK level, it's not even Street Fighter level. When the first came out they had that great TV ad with the mascots fighting it was great! Why weren't they scared of "brand protection" then?

Oh well.

ajcismo

#10

ajcismo said:

Good stuff there. Oddly enough my own personal favorite console is the Gamecube. The Wii U is right up there for me too, especially as the VC grows, yet neither has caught on with the mass public.
His point about a brand from 2 gens ago somehow promoting the brand today is really interesting. It speaks more to the lack of intelligence of the mass public than gamers who pay attention. Sort of like the "confusion" between the Wii and Wii U (seriously, read the friggin' box). Analysts can speculate all they want, but I fear the current "failures" of the Wii U will be happening to MS/Sony as well. It'll be spun differently, and the western media treats, especially MS, with kid gloves, but I wouldn't expect their systems to fly off the shelves in 2014 either.

WiiULoveSquid

#11

WiiULoveSquid said:

He's right about gamers expectations. Look at the broad dissapointed reaction among fans to nintendos own first party games at E3 - let alone the lack of support for next gen third party content.

haniwa

#12

haniwa said:

Sad matter with the whole AAA or Indie-only approach we have with consoles these days. Back in the days of PS2/Xbox/Gamecube you'd have lots of gems here and there since companies were less pressured to make minor stand alone games and the development costs were lower. That atmosphere's gone to the handheld side now since DS' generation so not all is lost fortunately.

Volmun

#14

Volmun said:

talking of SSB thers a new character revieled soon looking at the site

Araknie

#17

Araknie said:

Yes, even though i recognize EVO is a specific event, not every watcher was a Nintendo fan, i think the majority was other consoles fans, so since you get a characters in Smash only if it's from a series there a whole legacy to protect.

Maybe who comments on this side can't see that because he know almost every franchise.

I admit that before Melee i didn't know Game & Watch and before Brawl i didn't know Pikmin, and that could lead to many misleading self-given answers that can do damage.

Also, looking at what kind of, for example, Pikmin theme and songs and all you got in Brawl i though was a child's dream or something silly.

Only when they demonstrated Pikmin 3 at E3 2012 i finally realized that it was some serious shat. Only thanks to that i now own and play Pikmin 3 right now.

Nintenjoe64

#18

Nintenjoe64 said:

I think he'll be proven wrong about the GC era having devs push boundaries on GC more. I accept that major publishers have all become so 'low-risk' that we get next to no imagination in most of our games, compared to 10 years ago, but once the Wii U has settled it could get far more interesting exclusives than its rivals. The wii u can do a lot more interesting stuff than GC and, of course, we'll get loads of unwanted ports and even some shovelware but publishers are seeing that they can't get away with the stuff they did on Wii (late PS2 ports, shovelware, expensive versions of game that's cheaper on other systems) so they'll have to come up with something different. They won't ignore the Wii U completely if it gets an install base.

Nintendo need a sequel to "The Wizard" right now. They want to get the kids hyped for Wii U. They need a game as amazing as Mario Bros 3 and Fred Savage will need to be on board.....

element187

#19

element187 said:

"but the outcry against Nintendo at the initial decision was so one-sided, so inconsiderate of what the company has to deal with to protect their brands, and just generally uninformed. Gamers want what they want, but there is always more at stake than we know."

Amen. Gamers can't see 6 inches past their nose. They have no idea how the business end of this industry works, at all. Just look at all the meltdowns because of SM3DW and DKCRTF. Or look at how unreasonable people are and unwillingness to even educate themselves why Nintendo must do region locking.

Gamers don't care about Nintendo's dedication to get their games rated as E for Everyone. It's Nintendo's livelyhood to sell games to children, and its hard to do that when your game isn't rated E for Everyone (In the North America region anyways) so region locking matters to Nintendo.

Gamers are flipped out because Nintendo isn't remaking _______ franchise. Never mind the last game in the series sold like poop, and Nintendo needs a hit badly to sell their latest console..... Alot of gamers have this attitude of "I like it, so that means it will sell gangbusters, Nintendo is a stupid company because they won't follow my brilliant advice of making ________ sequel"..... Never mind the last one sold less than 200,000 copies.

Rant mode over ;)

element187

#20

element187 said:

@ThreadShadow because Nintendo is in 100% control when they release a title. When their game is being broadcasted a massive event like that, they dont have much say in the content and what is said about their game.

That last quote in the interview is a great explanation of the typical gamer, they want what they want, but do not care what it does to the company behind it.

Adam

#21

Adam said:

That is kind of ridiculous. The people who watch Evo know what Mario's supposed to be like. And it isn't like he is extra violent here. He punches, kicks, shoots fireballs, etc. in his own games. The content isn't being hacked, they are broadcasting the same content that Nintendo themselves developed. Of course commentators may say things Nintendo doesn't like, but so might reviewers or anyone else.

GeminiSaint

#23

GeminiSaint said:

It means you can't play a Japanese game on an American console, or an American game on an European console, etc.

jsty3105

#24

jsty3105 said:

@Adam The things you say are true - but that doesn't detract from the fact that this is a very thorny area for Nintendo when it comes to protecting the brand of their key franchises. Once people understand that then it's very easy to see why certain decisions are made by Nintendo.

If you work in branding, you will understand.

Adam

#25

Adam said:

I am perfectly capable of understanding as is. It is just a silly explanation. If the content of their own game misrepresents their own franchises, then the stream and tournament are not the problem. People watching Evo already know who Mario is and what he is about. These are people who live for games. They have seen Smash before.

AlexSora89

#26

AlexSora89 said:

@element187
I agree with all of your points, but not with your stance on region locking. It's just anachronistic. For example, due to region locking I haven't been able to play Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain Of Memories because Square-Enix didn't release the game in Europe. And if a fan wants a game that doesn't make it to his or her region for whatever reason, said fan should have the right to import it. I'm perfectly fine with having to wait for a title to make it to my region, but if the game doesn't get released here, I should be able to play it anyway by importing it. Remember, people pay for the games they import. And given we give our money, we're supposed to be able to play the game we just bought in turn. Now, considering I've brought up the Kingdom Hearts series, I should mention (forgive the PS-related talk, but I just needed an example) the upcoming HD remaster (1,5 HD Remix) for the PS3. True, with that game the original Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix will make it out of Japan and Re:Chain Of Memories will make it to Europe; but making a game available for another system after having denied it to one region in the past (hello, Super Mario RPG and EarthBound) should not be a selling point. Period.

rjejr

#27

rjejr said:

The Smash Bros. branding has always been an issue with Nintendo. Nobody mentioned it but that game is played w/ "trophies" or toy versions of the characters, not the characters themselves. I think this was completely removed w/ Brawl but that was Nintendo's idea - Mario isn't fighting Peach, it's a kid playing with his toys. This was carried over more obviously w/ the Pokemon Rumble games. So yes, Nintendo was always aware of the branding issue.

I honestly think the Gamecube sold poorly in the US b/c of the lunchbox design and color. i know that's the obvious answer but it's how I feel. I bought it 2 days after it hit $99 so it must've been on my radar - so long ago. The N64 had the worst controller design I could have ever imagined so it was never an option for me. I owned a PS for Parasite Eves graphics and just continued from there. The Wii U looks ok and I don't even mind the name, so while sales may be comparable I think their stories are very different.

LUIGITORNADO

#28

LUIGITORNADO said:

I get it, but I don't get it.

I think the whole of the gaming community on the internet, the only ones watching EVO, understand the premise of Smash Bros., and therefore wouldn't not be affected by misinterpretation. It's a fighting game that's been around for three generations. People expect Mario to slap Peach around, for Link to pierce Zelda with arrows, for Kirby to swallow Samus. This is stupid.

Rafie

#29

Rafie said:

I actually understands what he means. At the same time, I agree with others here when they said that the people on the streams and fans in attendance know exactly what they were watching. It didn't pull record breaking numbers for nothing. Although Super Street Fighter 4 had more views, Smash Bros. Melee was more "hype". Nothing wrong with Nintendo wanting to monitor how their brand is utilized. When you got people like Sony (who as of late have been copying Nintendo check out Playstation Vita dogs) borrowing ideas that represent the brand Nintendo established. That genre can be misconstrued in another fashion. So yes I can get where he's coming from.

element187

#30

element187 said:

@AlexSora89 What is Nintendo to do about it? If they take off region locking, all of their games would have to be designed with all the different countries' rating systems in mind. So every game would be made to the lowest common denominator.... talk about a game so censorshipped up it wont even look like the original intent.

You may not like it, but it gives Nintendo a way to release a different build of each piece of software that is inline with the sensabilities of that particular region... That way Europe doesn't wind up with language or sexuality being modified to match the sensibilities of us prudish Americans, and we don't have to put up with Europe's distaste of inuendo (Tharja's fluffy pillows comes to mind)

You might not see value in it, but Nintendo sure as heck sees value in being able to meet the rating system of each of their major regions. This goes back to what the guy being interviewed said, that gamers can't think past of what they want, they really do not care about Nintendo's ability to maximize their profits... region locking allows them to do that without watering down the content in all of their games to the lowest common denominator.

DarkKirby

#31

DarkKirby said:

"Judge" at EVO? EVO's winners were all decided by who won the games via the game's own winning conditions, there is no need for judges... does he mean he was a Tournament Organizer?

Also, I completely understand Nintendo not having any direct benefit from allowing Melee to be promoted, as it's a game that will no longer generate any sales, as well as Smash being promoted as a serious competitive fighting game is the opposite of what went on with Brawl which had intentional anti competitive mechanics built in, and what Sakurai continues to preach, that Smash isn't a fighting game, and people who play the game optimally and competitively are "playing the game wrong".

That said, I completely disagree with all of that, and Nintendo is full of crap when it tries to stop an event that was made possible by and supported by the people who are the most devoted to their games, even if they (as well as from what I can tell, most people who play Smash for past 1 month) dislike the most recent incarnation of it for blatantly trying to remove the ability to be competitive with it as well as making it slow and unbalanced. The online being Nintendo's 1st test of online play being a catastrophic failure, and zero support from Nintendo after all these problems were clear, did not help.

@element187
That's not how the rating systems work at all. It's up to the game publishers to comply with the region's ratings, and even then, that only applies to the selling of the game in the region. It's not illegal to play a game from another region on your console. Region locking exists to control where things are sold to, because more often then not, the way localizing works is the original rights holder sells the rights to sell a game to a company in another region (even a company that they are the parent company of), and region locking is a "guarantee" that they didn't "lose" sales from people importing it.

I't more likely region locking is more of Nintendo's attempt to control sales and hinder piracy.

http://tinyurl.com/km44fkr

djepic209

#32

djepic209 said:

Why would Nintendo create Smash Bros in the first place if it wanted to protect it's brand? Showing Smash bros isn't to promote the Wii U.. its to promote smash bros in which will get people excited for the new one and can lead to more Wii U sales. This guy is a joke. Smash Bros to me at Evo was the highlight of the tourney. It was the most exciting game on the floor to me. And this is a fantastic thing, because it reminds people of how brilliant nintendo and Hal Labs is. How is this a bad thing or could be a bad thing in their commercial, promoting eyes... crazy.

mastersworddude

#34

mastersworddude said:

Maybe, but wasn't the original ad campaign for Smash 64 the characters frolicking in a field and then beating the crap out of each other? I don't really get it.

Onett

#35

Onett said:

@haniwa A lot of it has to do with the market. Everybody is piss scared to step outside of the proverbial box to develop anything with a hint of originality because it is too much of a risk.

@mastersworddude Exactly. I found it a bit odd that Kyle thought the violence aspect of Smash would hurt Nintendo. However, I agree with his point that showcasing a decade old GameCube game like Melee doesn't benefit Nintendo. Melee outshining Brawl on the competitive scene may also be perceived negatively.

TromboneGamer

#36

TromboneGamer said:

EVO is still a generally niche audience. It's not like the most die-hard of Nintendo Franchise fans that have never seen or heard a whimper of Smash bros. would come across the event anyways.

rdrunner1178

#37

rdrunner1178 said:

Two major things Playstation 2 had was that it was fully backwards compatible and that it was almost as cheap as a standard DVD player at that time.

Rect_Pola

#38

Rect_Pola said:

I'm not totally sold on the image of your characters thing. I have however heard about the need for a gaming middle class.

Zombie_Barioth

#39

Zombie_Barioth said:

Could branding be a problem with Smash Bros. for Nintendo? Yea, I can see that playing a part, but not brand-image aside from Nintendo not wanting people to see Smash Bros. as a competitive series. The series is too wacky and over-the-top to be taken seriously, right up there with Loony Toons.

I agree on everything else though, especially console gaming no longer having a middle-ground. If its not from a company like Atlus or XSEED its gotta be either indie or AAA these days. I miss games like Custom Robo, Lost Kingdoms, or Viewtiful Joe.

mamp

#40

mamp said:

Mario hitting Peach in a videogame about fighting, OMG someone has to do something about this!!! Seriously though it's a fighting game and unlike most fighting games out there this game's type of violence is pretty cartoonish(like Tom & Jerry) compared to other types of games that take violence to another level(like the MK series). If this really was an issue something would have been done a long time ago, like about the time that Chun-li was taking punches to the face in SF back in the old days. We all know what Smash Bros is and it's not like we're gonna say the Mario in Mario games is a domestic abuser because he can fight Peach in Smash Bros while you're gaming audience may be stupid we're not that stupid, and EVO is watched by fans of the fighting game community not grandma or the parents. If anything people would complain that females aren't in fighting games you know cuz of diversity and women aren't stereotypical weaklings and bla bla bla (also people have complained that there's not enough female characters on Smash).

Henmii

#41

Henmii said:

"and a sadly lacking indie development scene"

The WHAT now?! Everything you hear about third-party support for the Wii u is about DOWNLOAD titles!! So the Wii u indie scene is pretty developed!!!

Hamguar

#42

Hamguar said:

Trainer_DJ said:

I don't see the problem of imaging. Everyone knows Smash, and its not even that violent.

You genuinely would be surprised what people know, or rather don't know. The biggest and most ignorant mistake most people make is the assumption that other people know what they are talking about.

And in terms of violence, how violent wasn't the issue at all the fact that it was violent is the issue. To see Mario in one game go to great and quirky lengths to rescue Peach and in another whoop her worse than an abusive boyfriend does show issues on what Mario is all about. Just because you and most people you know can tell the difference and know the history doesn't mean much. Of course all of you would know, you all are gamers. But know that is not the case for much of the world. Gamers are still very much a minority so logic dictates that gamer knowledge is not as obvious as one thinks. So Nintendo then wants to be careful about it.

I figured that is why they reversed the EVO decision, part due to outcry yes, but also it was determined that as others stated the viewers all knew what the mascots were all about so there was no real danger.

StarDust4Ever

#43

StarDust4Ever said:

Advice for Nintendo: If you just release the games, they will come and buy your hardware...

Incessant delays in the software department have only caused stagnant hardware sales, which in turn have decreased 3rd party support. Pikmin 3 is the first retail title I've gotten excited about since Lego City in April, and many "launch window" titles missed it by a mile. There is still time to reverse this trend, much like 3DS, but times-a-wastin'... :P

Luffymcduck

#44

Luffymcduck said:

Lol.
They even said they´re just trophy versions of Nintendo characters whose only purpose in life is beat the crap out of each other.

AlexSora89

#45

AlexSora89 said:

@element187
You're right about that, and I'd be even okay with it, if only publishers granted us we'd be sure to get their games, but guess what, many times games don't get released in this or that region (mostly Europe). But hey, the whole thing with EarthBound makes me wonder if the same will happen with the 3DS' successor - if that handheld happens to have a rough start, I'm already betting they'll use friggin' Drill Dozer (unreleased in Europe) as a selling point. Calling it now.

thisismynamelol

#47

thisismynamelol said:

I find this perspective a little ridiculous. I see its merit, but I also see that this is the attitude that's driving Nintendo into the ground in today's market. It's embarrassing enough to be 22 years old and buying consoles that Miyoto describes as failing because "we aren't releasing games that make kids ask their parents to buy them". But now the argument is violence distorting the characters' home franchises? Seriously?

First of all, there's no blood. This is the most family-friendly "fighting" game I've ever encountered, even the sound effects contribute to this. It's fantastical enough to not be replicated by young, impressionable children, unlike more realistic 2D fighters.

And in response to 12 year old IP not helping Nintendo's current image... Well, firstly I'd outright disagree. Anything that puts Nintendo characters and franchises in a positive light today is a good thing. Their modern games are becoming a total joke (every Mario except 3D World and Luigi U, Metroid: Other M) or they just DON'T EVEN EXIST ANYMORE DESPITE A PREVIOUS GAME HAVING BEEN THE #1 TREND ON TWITTER IN JANUARY (F-Zero anyone?). The thing is, had Brawl been a decent competitive game (as in, not totally ****ing boring to watch), this wouldn't be an issue for Nintendo. You want us to regard your current games well? Then release current games that we want. Halfassed compromises don't count either (which is what I'm expecting from Smash 4, but hey I'm preordering and picking it up on launch day still, solely because of Melee's legacy). Nintendo seems to have this attitude that if they release any piece of trash with their classic IPs faces all over it that it'll sell.

All we want good gameplay: we want the depth that went into Melee's physics engine, not more fluffy, kiddy BS. It's just as saddening for us as players as it is for Nintendo that we haven't had a game as engaging as Melee in over 12 years.

I'm really angry with Nintendo right now, not for protecting their IP and being cautious from a business perspective, but for having such alienating stances on just about everything. There's a good lot of us that grew up with Nintendo games in the 80s and 90s that feel completely betrayed right now.

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