We've argued the case before that Nintendo needs to modernise and drastically improve its attitudes to modern media, in terms of YouTube and social media platforms. It's easy to be defensive of its efforts, too, but we feel some recent statistics truly highlight the folly of Nintendo's current approach to YouTube, in particular. Nintendo is a strange beast in the world of online content right now - in some ways it's setting standards and exciting its audience in ways its rivals don't, yet its policies towards user-generated content are largely flawed and counter-productive.
We think it's a vital area for the company to address.
The Ever-Present YouTube Trends
A monthly ranking for the video platform - produced by Newzoo and Octoly - shows that 'Super Mario' broke into the top 10 of gaming franchises viewed on YouTube for the first time. Even if anyone wants to quibble or challenge the numbers, it's not hard to conclude that the trends reflected here match the content that dominates YouTube - brands like Minecraft, Five Nights at Freddy's, GTA, Call of Duty and FIFA are everywhere, and due to the lacking releases or minor relevance of Nintendo versions for these, that's a massive audience not being exposed to the big N month after month. They're watching these games and the platforms on which they're played - mainly PC, PS4 and Xbox One.
Of course, not all of that is within Nintendo's hands, and this article isn't a debate - on this occasion - about third-party support. It's about Nintendo's damaging attitudes to controlling its brands, which prove out of sync with modern media platforms like YouTube.
The presence of 'Super Mario' in the March top 20, below, can be largely attributed - naturally - to the Unity-created Super Mario 64 HD, a single-level creation that served as a tech-demo and homage to the classic Nintendo 64 release. It certainly went viral, so it's the scale of content it generated that is the only real surprise.
Nintendo Always Seeks Control
Super Mario 64 HD provided evidence of two key things - Nintendo brands and games, including retro content, still have the power to attract massive interest and excitement. Unfortunately it also showed that Nintendo's policies on unofficial content of any kind are still woefully out-of-touch. Despite the Unity project being a learning exercise, just one stage that was not monetised - or planned to be monetised - in any way, Nintendo still jumped in heavy-handed and forced the download and multiple mirrors offline. Was Nintendo on the right side of the law? Yes. Was this the right approach? In this writer's view it's an emphatic no to that second question.
Nintendo likes control. It wants consumers to see the best of its games, and also wants to share what it feels is the right message. Those are policies that were right as recently as the Wii and DS era, yet it's simply failed to modernise and see how modern media works. It's not a small problem, either - if Nintendo continues to be borderline irrelevant, on a broad scale, on services like YouTube, younger audiences will simply have less interest now or in the future. Nintendo trades on nostalgia with plenty of gamers that are the wrong side of 30, for example, but what about 20 years from now? Will today's average 15-year-old still be raving about Nintendo when they're 35?
This writer certainly classes himself as a 30-year-old slightly baffled by YouTube and what 'works', still using it - like a typical 'old' person - to watch some trailers and little else. Yet for millions it's a key source of entertainment, effectively replacing TV and also as an alternative to written articles like this. The sheer numbers of views in that table above are mind-boggling, and represent vital 'mind-share', to borrow the terminology of highly paid social marketing specialists.
We've previously been scathing of Nintendo's Beta YouTube Creators Program, which applies about as much control as is feasible in return for allowing video creators a share of ad revenue. Videos go through an approval process that can take up to three days, and only approved games can be included - nope, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U still isn't on the list. Content's held up for approval, the scope of coverage is limited and so on.
The argument's been made that this will encourage a wave of new Nintendo-centric video creators; the company said it was inundated with applicants for the program. Perhaps it will, but we'd question how much impact these users will have on a broad scale, and in the YouTube market these terms in the program's Beta are way behind what the medium expects. At the top-end, where the trends are set, Nintendo is barely visible, and whatever your views on copyright enforcement the facts are simple - many of the biggest players on YouTube aren't interested in participating.
Gamers Need to be Encouraged, Not Restrained
On YouTube, and in modern media as a whole, the content creators and trend-setters have the power - well over 90% of videos for trending games are user created - and big companies have various options in trying to use it. It can involve grubby deals, which are far from ideal, or corporations can simply be hands-off. Minecraft has made billions of dollars partly due to YouTube, so it's mutually beneficial to let creators do what they want. It's free advertising and exposure - which Nintendo apparently doesn't want.
It seems to be part of Nintendo's management culture, particularly in its Kyoto HQ, to prioritise its principals above the clamour of the wider world. In some cases this is admirable and serves the company well, but with YouTube - and the lack of direct engagement on platforms like Twitter and Facebook - it's borderline infuriating. One of the hottest and most disruptive forms of media is approached by Nintendo like it's still the 1990s.
In fact, the company is so frustrating as it does some things rather well, almost brilliantly, in tapping into modern media. Nintendo has stolen a march and shown rivals how its done in using official videos to communicate with gamers through Nintendo Direct broadcasts and its excellent efforts at E3 2014. Another positive was Mario Kart TV in Mario Kart 8, which at least made sharing the racer online as easy as a few button presses. Those are positives, which make the baffling policies and approaches elsewhere such head-scratchers; at least there's hope that the company is slowly understanding the issues.
Nintendo does need someone in its board room, or one of its existing executives, to fully appreciate how times have changed in online media. There's a place for controlled content and broadcasts, yet this is a period in which younger consumers - in particular - are accustomed to being able to share their opinions and content on anything they please with the world at the click of a button. You can't close the door, impose rules and hand out royalties like pocket money, not when so many avenues are free to share. If you're encouraged to post a video for something like Minecraft or the latest FPS, or presented with walls and rules by Nintendo to post a video about Super Smash Bros., which option wins over? Why wouldn't Nintendo want a lot of gamers posting footage of online shoot-outs in Splatoon, for example?
Time to Catch Up
If Nintendo is learning these lessons - the Luigi Death stare should have helped tip it off in 2014, if nothing else - then it needs to hurry up and change its ways. YouTube won't wait while strategy meetings are held and unpopular Beta programs are tested, it'll move on. A potential audience of hundreds of millions slips away every month, and Nintendo largely comes off as the old-fashioned buzzkill. A fan celebrates a classic game? Nintendo shuts it down. Someone tries to make a living while showing off a Nintendo game? Nintendo applies copyright rules and distributes the ad money. It's out of touch and maddening, especially so when we see glimpses of Nintendo getting some areas absolutely right, even ahead of the curve in some respects.
Nintendo doesn't have to like the copyright-free Wild West that YouTube can be. But it's wrong to fight it - rather than make scraps of money from ad revenue it can watch its games go viral and count the system and game sales that can happen as a result of all that free exposure. It can watch its brand trending alongside the most successful names in the industry.
Nintendo makes - we'd argue - the most fun and high quality games in the world. It should have enough faith to set them free.