Just a few years ago I was largely against Nintendo going overboard with licensing its IPs, hesitant to see treasured franchises on cinema or TV screens, worried about the idea of spin-offs that failed to match the quality associated with their brands. Nintendo was cautious too, though has gradually loosened the strings a little - amiibo has been a major and clever way to monetise beloved characters with gaming extras / collectibles, and there have been more random products, concerts and occasional film cameos; not to mention the apparent 'Nintendo Land' theme park attraction planned for Osaka in 2020.
Yet still, with the position Nintendo currently occupies in popular and current culture, I think it can and should do more. If recent trends have shown anything, bombarding the public with high profile content works, and as long as most releases are good then the occasional flop is forgiven. For Nintendo the battlefield is no longer just in games, but in merchandise, movies and more besides.
These thoughts were triggered by two things recently. First of all I went to see Captain America: Civil War at the cinema / theatre (excuse my UK vernacular), and spent most of the day talking about not just that movie, but the whole darn Marvel film series. I'd seen all but one related film prior to seeing Civil War, and noticed how hooked myself and my family all are. The lore, the diverse range of characters - it's classic escapism, and Marvel has successfully turned it into a hugely successful run of movies. One or two of the flicks have been rather mediocre, but most are (in my opinion) ranging from good to brilliant, and that means I'm happy to go back for more.
Then, on the public holiday, I watched Wreck-It Ralph for the first time on TV. Now, I'm miles behind on that one, but it took me back to a different era of Nintendo. Released in 2012 but no doubt in the works through 2010-2011, it famously (for Nintendo addicts) has a little cameo for Bowser, while Mario is name-dropped. Nintendo made a song and dance about that at the time, but other IPs had greater roles, like Pac-Man and Sonic the Hedgehog. It also struck me how much the fictional arcades and settings in the movie owe to Nintendo's influence and nostalgia. Yet Bowser is only there briefly, and naturally Nintendo made the film-makers jump through hoops just for that. With a sequel on the way and the creative team vocal in their hopes to include Mario, there have no doubt been conversations about just that.
Yet aside from Pixels - I haven't seen it but have been told it's atrocious - featuring Donkey Kong, Nintendo is still clinging quite tightly to its franchises when it comes to film and TV. It should be noted that, for all I know, Nintendo is in the process of developing huge, exciting projects in film and TV that are yet to be revealed. If so, great - if not, I want to consider why it should be doing just that.
Of course, rumours are always around. Leaked (and private) Sony Pictures emails last year did include hints and suggestions that conversations have taken place about Nintendo-based movies. Notable sources once referenced the fact that talks were underway for a Legend of Zelda Netflix series, which Nintendo denied. In various rumours, cryptic comments and more besides there are noises about Nintendo taking its IPs into TV and film entertainment.
An instinctive reaction is to recoil in horror, but as Nintendo comes to the end of a challenging hardware generation and plans for the next in 2017, it faces a dilemma. It has enormous brands capable of dominating the general public's mindshare, but it's failing to do so. The poor Wii U sales, and lowering momentum of the 3DS, mean Nintendo isn't particularly 'hot' right now, despite the underlying brand power that's quietly simmering away, waiting to explode.
Of course, the masterplan is for NX to take off, mobile apps to reach a wider audience, and the two combined will take Nintendo towards 2018 on a wave of optimism and positive momentum. Yet while moves into mobile, the continuation of amiibo and gaming will remain at the core of the company's efforts, Nintendo could do so much more.
Various rivals are going into movies. Sony has tied its PS4-exclusive Ratchet & Clank to an accompanying movie. Warcraft and Angry Birds have flicks on the way, while Tomb Raider is apparently being rebooted once again. Add to that planned but stalled movies for the likes of Uncharted, and the games industry is making various moves into broader popular culture.
It's not as if Nintendo hasn't been here before. Being based in the UK I'm less familiar with the Nintendo pop-culture phenomenon in past decades (it wasn't as all-encompassing here), but I've seen enough about the NES, Game Boy and SNES eras in the US to know that the big N was everywhere. TV shows, merchandise, magazines and the infamous Super Mario Bros. movie, with excessive product placement also seen in releases such as The Wizard. It was a level of influence and omnipotence that made Nintendo the leading gaming brand of the time.
For this current period the challenge is grabbing the attention and loyalties of fans of all ages. In this era of gamers owning multiple systems total dominance isn't required, but being a key part of the gaming culture conversation is vital. That's ground that's been lost in this generation, arguably, due to lesser hardware and game sales. With greater merchandising, movies and TV, Nintendo could be in the conversation and have a constant presence through related marketing - kids and adult kids alike (like me) would be talking about Nintendo even more.
Is it feasible? Well, Nintendo doesn't have the inherent resources of Sony, for example, which can simply put multiple divisions in a room to make the Ratchet & Clank game / movie bonanza happen. For Nintendo it would need to team up with major corporations familiar with the movie space, for example. Rumours, leaks and general chatter have mentioned Sony Pictures, as highlighted above, though surely Disney (and its subsidiaries) would be on the cards for potential partnerships. Nintendo and the house that Mickey built have shown a solid relationship in terms of game exclusives, for example.
Nintendo has very recent form in producing alternative media with partners, too. We had the Pikmin 3 animated shorts on the Wii U and 3DS eShop stores, and more memorably the recent Star Fox Zero: The Battle Begins animation that was a collaboration between Shigeru Miyamoto, Production IG and WIT Studios. I for one loved The Battle Begins, and spoke about how it showed the potential for Nintendo franchises in that kind of media.
In any case, my broad argument is simple. Even though it may seem far from ideal, perhaps distasteful, to contemplate spinning off TV shows and movies with that Nintendo magic, it could be a key move in establishing the company's place in 21st Century popular culture. The Wii / DS era solidified Nintendo as a brand with younger generations, but having spent a long weekend at the cinema and watching some light-hearted movies on TV, it came home to me how Nintendo's rivals are happily jumping into TV and film to further boost their brands. If Angry Birds, of all things, can do it, then Nintendo could certainly do so with multiple IPs.
Nintendo has significant brand power, even after a tough few years. It should do more to exploit this and become an essential part of popular culture in the here and now. When people go to see the movie or watch the TV show, they're more aware - by default - of what matters; that's the games and their systems.