Nintendo, the kid that keeps swinging.

units sold in millions

Nintendo has taken some big swings. Often these swings backfired spectacularly. Sometimes, they would hit home runs. Among most game console brands, Nintendo has been by far one of the most adventurous, if not reckless.

It is especially interesting to compare Nintendo with its competitions, Sony and Microsoft.

Playstation and XBOX have been making better, faster, more powerful machines with better graphics. These two brands excelled in offering great games, online/social capabilities and multimedia features. But really, if you look at them, and their controllers, they have pretty much been … the same:

Then, there is Nintendo. They are almost … childish.

Even the console names reflect the clear different mentality of these brands … Playstation: practical, organised. XBOX: confused teenager. Nintendo: kid.

What’s even more interesting, was for a period of time, Nintendo might have gotten confused, and followed the competition, which ultimately led to period of stagnation and significant financial losses. This was the period between the Super Famicom and the GameCube.

Let’s take a quick view:

Sony joined the fun in 1994. Microsoft joined in 2001. Nintendo, between the Super Famicom and the Wii, was caught up in the specs race. If you look closer, the N64, The Playstation 1, 2, the XBOX and the GameCube were all pretty much the same machines: better, faster, CD/DVD based, same evolutionary changes in the controllers and game play.

And Nintendo just couldn’t keep up. They were battling Sony, Microsoft and even Sega during this period.

In fact, it was so bad that GameCube was completely useless to help Nintendo regain any marketshare they lost since the N64, and the lukewarm GameCube sales had yielded the company’s first reported operating loss in over 100 years! If it wasn’t Nintendo’s handheld devices (Nintendo DS), they could have disappeared like Sega …

Then, in 2006, Nintendo launched the Wii. It was so different, and it worked. It literally turned Nintendo around. It sold more than 100 million units. Casual games appealed to more people. Nintendo was back! Or so we thought.

units sold in millions

Between 2006 to 2016, Nintendo struggled again. They released the Wii U, which was a complete disaster. The company announced a 30% dive in profits for the April to December 2013 period.

But once again, Nintendo decided to go very different, and they announced this crazy machine that promised something quite unimaginable.


It’s a portal device that you could plug into a dock and turn it into a home console. It has these wireless controllers (Joy-Cons) that would magically connect and had loads of bells and whistles.

The promise was you could start a full blown console game at home, then take it out of the dock and continue the exact same home console level experience on the go. Everybody was somewhat cautious, including third party developers. In fact the launch had none of the third party big guns. But boy, did the Switch sell.

In 2017, the Nintendo Switch has become the fastest selling Nintendo Console yet. It also overtakes PS2’s first-year sales record in Japan.

I find the Nintendo story extremely intriguing. I wonder what it is like to work there. They really took swings, some small (Virtual Boy, 3DS), some life-threateningly big(Wii, Switch). The same would evident in their games: Super Mario Odyssey is really really whacky (and extremely delightful). Zelda Breath of the Wild decidedly detached itself from the past and has been voted Game of the Year by most critics. They also were confused for a long period of time. What made them so different? Which part of the Japanese (or even Kyoto) culture influenced them? What about their leadership? What was it like to go through those rides? What did they insist on? What forces were the toughest to fend off? What were the most difficult things that they should have said no to? What do they eat for lunch?!

Oh, are they hiring? 🙂





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