Feature: Why Nintendo Isn't Popular in Poland

Rob Burgess explains how a country with 40 million people has been missed

Earlier this year we posted an article based on a Nintendo fan's blog, which explained how difficult it was to buy a Wii U in Poland, a large European country. Rob Burgess, the author of that blog, has since written a follow up article in which he explains in a little more detail why Nintendo's fortunes in the country are as poor as they are at present. With reports of hugely expensive potential costs for Wii U consoles in Brazil and some experiences of others in the Nintendo Life community having problems acquiring Nintendo games and systems, we feel this provides a valuable perspective of gaming life away from so-called 'major' markets.

Rob Burgess has kindly agreed to us reproducing an edited version of his article below.


A couple of months ago, I posted an article about my attempts to track down a Wii U in Poland and the numerous barriers I came across while doing so. It was intended as a fun little story — a humorous anecdote to add a bit of flavour to the site.

To my surprise, Nintendo Life, one of the biggest Nintendo websites in the world, later got hold of the story and used it as the basis for one of their articles. To my even bigger surprise, a lot of people then read my article and commented on it, saying that I hadn’t painted the whole picture (I hadn’t been intending to) or that — more worryingly — I hadn’t done the research.

Today, I’m hoping to re-address these issues.

I’m going to assume at this stage that you’ve already read that first article. You already know that the shops here in Poland are empty of Nintendo products. You know that the TV is utterly devoid of adverts and that Nintendo brand recognition is borderline zero among all but the most well-informed members of the gaming community. You also know that Poland itself is a growing market in the EU with a huge number of potential customers who are currently going untapped by Nintendo and are therefore forced to choose between Sony and Microsoft to satisfy their gaming needs.

The question we’re going to ask today is, why? Here, in no particular order, are my top five reasons why Nintendo is so unpopular in Poland.

1. Localisation Issues

Translating anything, let alone something as huge and complex as a computer game, costs money. A lot of money. Any company wanting to do business in a new market has to weigh-up the costs of said translation against any potential profits gained by distributing in this region.

On paper, at least, you can certainly see that Polish is a somewhat niche language to be translating your game into. After all, when your choice is between Polish (spoken by around 40 million people worldwide) and French (spoken by around 300 million people worldwide in about 30 different countries) of course you’re going to prioritise the latter. It’s business and it’s logical, no matter how much it might annoy you.

Except… someone seems to have forgotten to give the likes of Sony, Microsoft and EA the memo…

Here are two facts to mull over for a moment:

Fact #1: Nintendo products are never translated into Polish.

Fact #2: Major releases on Sony and Microsoft’s systems are almost always translated into Polish (and yes, that includes games from EA, a company which is often lambasted for how lazy it is when porting software).

Now, let’s be honest here. When it comes to choosing between playing a game in your mother tongue or playing it in a foreign language, I’m pretty sure that 99% of us would opt for the ease of playing in their mother tongue to scrabbling around with a dictionary trying to figure out what they’re supposed to be doing. Games are meant to be fun, after all, and there are few things in life less fun than not having a clue what’s going on.

This is particularly important when you factor in games which are released on multiple platforms. After all, for a game like Pokémon, people might be willing to overlook the translation issues simply because it's only available on Nintendo systems. However, things become a little muddier when you turn your attention to multi-platform games…

Like Assassin’s Creed III, for example. Available on all major platforms in English, but if you want the Polish language version, it has to be on the PS3 or Xbox 360.

The Nintendo version instantly becomes the inferior one, simply because it’s the only one that isn’t in your mother tongue.

2. Cultural Issues

This one is a little harder to explain and it requires a brief history lesson.

You see, Poland spent a large part of the 20th Century firmly under Russia’s Iron Curtain. It only opened up to free trade with the rest of the world in 1991 and even then, the Polish economy was a wreck. Production was down, unemployment was a problem for the first time in its history, nothing was available in the shops, the currency was hit by rampant hyperinflation and there was martial law. The country was a mess!

It wasn’t until about the early 2000′s that the average Polish citizen could really afford a luxury commodity like a games console and, by the time this happened, Nintendo’s glory days were perhaps past (the Wii was yet to disrupt the market, Ed). Sony was the cool kid in town and Polish gamers everywhere flocked to the PlayStation brand.

That’s not to say that Nintendo products were unknown. Thanks to knock-off clone consoles like the Pegasus, the Polish public had a pretty good idea of characters like Mario and games like Tetris, but let’s not fool ourselves: these products were not Nintendo and there was little quality involved in their production.

But then something strange happened: in 2004, Poland joined the EU and pretty much overnight the country started to become rich. Not very rich, you understand, but rich enough that for the first time in over a century, Polish people had money in their pockets to burn.

And boy, did they burn it!

Now, I can’t give you any citations here, since this is purely my own observation of life in this country, but I have the impression that a lot of people in Poland are currently engaged in what can only be described as ‘a desperate race to catch up with the rest of the world’.

Everywhere you look, you see Polish people draping themselves in designer labels and driving the latest BMWs. They spend an absolute fortune (far more as a percentage of their income, in fact, than people in the UK do) on making sure they own the latest sound systems, widescreen TVs or iPhones. The really weird thing is that most people don’t seem to do this because they particularly like or need to own such things, but rather they feel they must own them. These items are expensive and thus, by owning them, they are declaring to the world that they are an important person who has made it big.

It’s like a form of cultural one-upmanship and it’s just one of those cultural quirks I’ve had to get used to while living here.

How does this effect Nintendo? Well, unfortunately, Nintendo’s business strategy for the last few years has been almost the exact opposite of what most Polish people are looking for. Nintendo tend to release deliberately underpowered consoles at a low price point. In the UK and the US — where spiralling debt means that budgeting is a big concern for most people — this is a policy that has, for the most part, worked.

In Poland, however, where people have more money than ever before and almost no debt to go along with it, the average gamer may simply look at this:

And then this:

And they will likely opt to buy the former simply because it’s looks better and must, therefore, be better.

It’s a cultural thing and, sadly, it leads directly to another issue...

3. Lack of Sentiment

I’m not going to lie: Nintendo means a lot to me. The SNES was my first console as a kid and Nintendo characters such as Mario and Link have been with me all throughout my life, decorating cakes at my birthdays and printed on T-shirts I wore to school.

Nintendo, in short, is my childhood and there are few things I love more than indulging in that nostalgia, revisiting the games I grew up with and remembering the good old times from my past. Whenever a new Mario or Zelda game comes out, it’s like seeing an old friend. Sure, that friend might have changed a little over the years. He’s changed his clothes and put on a bit of weight. He’s no longer the coolest kid on the block like he used to be, but so what? He’s my friend and seeing him never fails to make me smile.

As explained above, Polish people didn’t grow up with Nintendo like I did, and so they have no such sentimentality. These days, whenever they see a new Mario or Pokemon game, they see only a game aimed at children. An expensive game aimed at children too, especially when compared with the likes of Angry Birds. Who in their right mind, they ask, would want to buy such a thing?

And while we’re on the subject of price…

4. Higher Prices

Nintendo currently has no official distributor in Poland. Until about a year ago, it distributed its games through an Austrian company called Stadlbauer but this is no longer the case due to that company’s utter failure to make a profit while doing so.

As a result of this, Nintendo games come with a hefty price tag attached to them these days. Don’t believe me? Here’s a screenshot from Eurogamer.pl showing the prices of Rayman Legends on all major platforms. As you can see, the Wii U version is 31% more expensive than the PS3 / 360 versions and a shocking three times more expensive than the PC version.

Knowing this, why would anyone choose to buy the Wii U version? Before you say it, I am well aware that the Wii U version is the so-called ‘definitive’ one, but good luck finding anyone in Poland who knows it. As already said, there is no advertising for Nintendo in this country — none — meaning that most consumers have only the final price to go on when making their decision. Yes, Polish people like to own the newest and best things, but that doesn’t mean they are suckers.

5. Lack of Market Penetration

At this stage, the writing is sadly on the wall for Nintendo regarding them making an impact in the Polish market. It’s like a vicious cycle: it can’t penetrate the market because it hasn't already penetrated it. As shown in the examples above, the hearts and minds of the Polish consumer simply haven’t been won over by Nintendo’s IP or its business strategy and, as such, it will be all the more hard for Nintendo to capture it in the future.

As Mikael Bourget of Polish developer QubicGames said in a recent interview with Nintendo Life:

From our personal experiences we can say that it is difficult to buy Nintendo hardware and software from big retailers. The availability is indeed very limited. However for true Nintendo fans it is perfectly possible to get the console and the games from Internet and from smaller games dedicated shops. Of course this isn’t helping to bring Nintendo to people not so familiar with the brand. And this makes a vicious circle as the consequences become the cause and vice versa. The market for Nintendo was always small in Poland.

‘Small’ is an understatement. At the time of writing, fewer than 400 Wii U’s have reportedly been sold in Poland. There is no Club Nintendo for Poland, you don’t receive Nintendo points for buying games in Poland and you can’t so much as register your Wii U as being in this country. As far as Nintendo is concerned, Poland might as well not exist.

Visit Nintendo’s site for Poland and you will see the following message:

Nintendo of Europe will restructure its operations in Poland with immediate effect. We wish to assure our consumers in Poland that we are taking all necessary steps to ensure that they will continue to have access to our usual consumer support services and meanwhile we will be urgently exploring new ways of bringing our products and experiences to the Polish market. A further announcement about this will follow in due course.

These words should be taken with a bucket of salt, however, since the website has been saying exactly this for the last six months now.

All of the above factors combine together to create a perfect storm of conditions which seem almost tailor-made to ensure that Nintendo fails in this country. You might argue (correctly) that Nintendo is focusing its attention right now on targeting markets in which it has a bigger chance of success. However, it doesn’t take a shrewd market analyst to tell you that simply abandoning a market to your competitors only means that your competitors will have more freedom within that market to capitalise on your absence.

And really, is that the Nintendo way: to give up? When the great Hiroshi Yamauchi first decided that Nintendo would stop producing cards and start producing consoles instead — in the middle of the biggest electronics crash America has ever seen, no less — was this a small idea or a safe business decision?

Yamauchi-san dreamt big and it was precisely by dreaming big that Nintendo became the household name it is today. It is only by tackling the cultural and business issues laid out above that Nintendo can ever hope of capturing this market, or any other emerging market for that matter. The world is much bigger than America and Japan these days and Europe is much bigger than the UK. I just wish Nintendo realised that fact.


We'd like to thank Rob Burgess for allowing us to reproduce this article from rjburgess.net. What do you think of the issues highlighted? Let us know in the comments below.