Ten years ago today Nintendo released Nintendogs in North America, marking a company shift in target audience. Before we get into the wild success of the game as well as what followed, let’s look back at what caused this change in direction.
With technology far behind the current generation, Nintendo released the GameCube, at that point a “next generation” system with very few release titles. The GameCube dropped with mediocre sales and continued to sell poorly, which was no surprise, as Nintendo reached out to a competitive market which was already flooded with the success of the PlayStation 2 and Xbox.
Following the financially unsuccessful run of the GameCube, Nintendo realized that it was going to have to change its business model in order to stay afloat. It needed a new target audience, a new business model and new hardware. In May 2002, Satoru Iwata filled in the role of Nintendo’s President. Iwata was not only a developer at heart, but also a fierce businessman. With Iwata’s arrival also came a new business philosophy, a focus on games that appeal to everyone, not only those who consider themselves casual or hardcore gamers. Games for girls, games for adults, games for gamers. This would be Nintendo’s new direction.
What platform did they have for these new games, though? The GameCube was just short of a disaster and the aged Gameboy Advance was starting to truly show its age. Nintendo quickly started development on Project Iris, or what we would later know as the Nintendo DS. Knowing they already had dominated the handheld console market, they had some room for innovation.
The Nintendo DS was not only the first console to utilize two screens, but also the first to implement a stylus-style touch screen and built in microphone. Back in 2004, this sounded absolutely whack. This was much different than its predecessor, the Game Boy Advance. It was a gamble Nintendo was willing to take in its current state. Instead of trying to push it as their new head runner handheld console, it was marketed to be a supplement system for your GBA and GameCube. Despite these risks the Nintendo DS sold like hotcakes, likely due to its backwards compatibility, a feature Nintendo is now renowned for. It very quickly dethroned the Game Boy Advance.
At this point, Nintendo’s new handheld, while ambitious in design, was still playing it safe with its game collection. It shipped with two major flagship titles, Super Mario 64 DS and a demo for Metroid Prime Hunters: First Hunt. It wouldn’t be until a year later that Nintendo’s second gamble, dipping into a whole new market, would truly begin.
On August 22nd 2005, Nintendogs was released on the Nintendo DS in North America. This game took advantage of every unique function the system offered. You could use the microphone to give your dog commands, and the touch screen to pet and play with the dog. The dual screens could be used to manage your pet through a user interface on one screen and a clear image of your dog on the other. Even the system’s internal clock was used to simulate the dog’s hunger and cleanliness. This wasn’t an accident. This was a game that was planned from the release of the system. As a matter of fact, Nintendogs is really the fleshed out version of a game that was previously slated for the Nintendo 64, a game that would have been called Cabbage had it not been cancelled.
Nintendogs didn’t really have an objective to the game nor was there a way to win. What should stick out to you now is that this isn’t really much of a game at all. Nintendogs was essentially Tamagotchi on steroids. Now, look way back to your childhood. Who had Tamagotchis? The answer is every damn person you knew. This was a tried and true toy that was simply shifted to a more advanced device. Nintendogs sold phenomenally. Selling 250,000 copies in North America the first week, it was an instant hit. From there, it went on to sell 24 million copies worldwide, as of today.
However, this was just the beginning for Nintendo. This new market of games for non-gamers was a goldmine. They went on to develop and successfully publish many games that had a similar target audience, such Brain Age, Wii Fit, etc., all of which were highly successful.
I think it’s safe to say that this confidence found in the Nintendo DS and Nintendogs’ market is what ultimately led Nintendo into successfully marketing their most successful console of all time, the Nintendo Wii.
To conclude, I think it would be naïve to believe that Nintendo always knew what they were doing. Especially with the release of the Nintendo WiiU, which I believe ultimately failed due to terrible marketing and Nintendo forgetting what led the Nintendo DS and Wii to such success. It wasn’t the gimmicky dual screen with touch screen, nor the motion-control controllers that really sold the Nintendo DS and Wii, it was the market which they tapped into.