Pondering a North American Release for The Last Story Part 4

Monday, February 20th, 2012

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Before Xenoblade Chronicles was announced for North America as a GameStop exclusive, I had completed the first draft of an article.   An article, that upon said announcement, I had believed to become obsolete. The article in question detailed the various alternative means of distribution that Nintendo of America could take to release Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story, and Pandora’s Tower stateside.  My intention was to not only show how the games could be released, but to show means of release that would benefit Nintendo in ways outside of just profitable game sales.  With Operation Rainfall’s sponsorship of “The Last Story month”, I have decided to revisit the themes of the article as a 4 part series focused entirely on The Last Story.  In order to bring about discussion of the points I raise, I have also organized a short roundtable with other members of Operation Rainfall to close out each article.  These 4 articles will be released as a series over the course of “The Last Story month”. 

            What do Lexus and Adult Swim have in common?  They are both alt brandings of larger parent companies that act as if they are independent companies.  Lexus was introduced in the late 80s as a way for Toyota, who at that time was known only for making affordable cars, to sell their higher end Japanese cars in America.  Adult Swim is a programming block on Cartoon Network that has since taken on a life of its own, being run like its own network.  It even has its own broadcast watermark, website, and staff.
Currently Nintendo of America is having trouble reconciling the differences between their blockbuster moneymakers and their smaller niche titles.  The problem seems to be image more than anything else.  Nintendo of America wants to be seen as a blockbuster company, and anything that doesn’t sell at high rates hurts that image in their mind.  This has seemingly made Nintendo of America wary of niche, but profitable, titles that could sell as few as 100,000 copies in a single territory.
 Count Arganan: living in poverty and squalor
            The solution to this conundrum is an alt branding.  We know that small publishers like X-Seed can prosper on sales of 100,000 or so units without large titles to fall back on.  So if image is the only real concern, then why not consider a bold move?  Create an alt branding; a separate division that is run as if it wasn’t Nintendo at all.  Allow them a budget, and let them make their own choices about which ignored Nintendo games they might localize or what independent titles they might finance as an exclusive.  Consider it an experiment.  If it works, Nintendo can diversify and expand without tarnishing the image they wish to cultivate, if it does not work, absorb the division and write it off as a failed attempt at pursuing a different market. 
Ryan, current Co-leader of Operation Rainfall
I love this idea and I wonder why Nintendo hasn’t thought of something like this themselves. They are always purchasing 3rd party software companies that make niche titles and making them a part of Nintendo. They did it with the makers of Xenoblade; Monolith Soft. What I am saying is that it is obvious Nintendo can see the value of niche titles and when they purchase these companies, they are essentially purchasing niche title makers. So why is it that they haven’t considered a way to market these games? Seems like an alt branding is the perfect solution. Operation Rainfall Studios anyone? Ha.
Mike D., Editor for The Nintendo Enthusiast, former Operation Rainfall PR Staff
This is an intriguing idea. As Ryan said, Nintendo tends to buy studios that make games that Nintendo themselves don’t seem to have the market cornered on (Monolith Soft for their RPG expertise, Retro Studios for their more Western sensibilities). It makes little sense for them to buy a large development studio and then limit their prospective audience.
On the other hand, they seem to be a conservative lot in Kyoto, so I’m not sure if they would ever consider such a risky move. But I never thought I’d see Nintendo collaborate with Team Ninja on a game, either…
Alex B., Editor for The Nintendo Enthusiast
This is the idea that has bugged me the most since I first saw it floating around the IGN Wii Lobby. If Nintendo keeps making games with limited audiences (Captain Rainbow, Another Code:R, Zangeki no Reginleiv, the OP Rainfall trifecta), then why the hell haven’t they established a small publishing house that takes care of marketing and distributing these games? If Nintendo is simply unable to give their trust to publishing houses like XSEED or Atlus, then why don’t they make their own already?
If they would only do this, then there wouldn’t have been a need for Operation Rainfall to begin with, and all of us fans of strange things would be ever happier. Frankly, Nintendo aren’t the only ones with this problem; just look at Namco over there, refusing to localize the vast majority of the wildly loved “Tales of” franchise. It’s truly maddening, and I hope it’s something Nintendo is looking to address with the WiiU, even if only by digital distribution methods.
The Nissan Skyline 350GT… known in America as the Infiniti G35
Richard, current Co-leader at Operation Rainfall
This could work in theory.  Nintendo would be able to keep their image of being a blockbuster company while having “Mini-Nintendo” do all the obscure titles.  The only thing I see keeping them from doing this is it would cost lots of money to start up a company to do that, so why not just save the money and release the games themselves for less money?  Also Nintendo isn’t above releasing titles that aren’t going to sell lots of copies (Wii Music, the Wii Zapper with Link’s Crossbow Training).  In fact they’re just about to release Rhythm Heaven Fever which is probably not going to do as well as Xenoblade Chronicles, though I would love to see them both do really good since they both catch my eye.  So really nothing is stopping them from releasing other titles other than…laziness? Who knows! That’s what makes this whole thing frustrating.
Chris, former Operation Rainfall PR guy
I do not like this idea.  Maybe at the end of last generation where Nintendo was floundering after the Gamecube.  Back then Nintendo had a big time brand recognition problem.  I still think back to two obviously non game-savvy people in best buy knowing that Xbox was Microsoft, Sony was Playstation, but had no idea what Nintendo was before they settled on Panasonic.  Gamers knew what Nintendo was – or at least what Nintendo used to be.  But between the N64 and the Gamecube the broader market was really only aware of what the Game Boy was.
But now that we’re in 2012 Nintendo has reestablished itself in the market in a huge way.  It cannot be overstated how far they have come.  Are there still people who believe that Nintendo is “teh kiddeh”? Sure, but Nintendo does not need to hide itself behind a shadow brand in order to fight off that image.  Not when they just worked so hard to get back into the market.  That’s just letting the forum trolls win.
What Nintendo needs to do is release a variety of games, including niche games, and convince their shareholders that not all games are created equal.  This is a far more crowded gaming market than last decade.  Not every game is going to be a blockbuster – but fortunately for Nintendo they have a stable of franchises to pay the bills.  That gives the Big N flexibility to create new IPs, to release or publish more niche titles.
You don’t reach back out to the “hardcore” audience by saying, “we have HD graphics so you can play your favorite shooters.”  You reach back out to the “hardcore” audience by creating a wide variety of gaming experiences for them to experience.  Give them something to sink their teeth into, rebuild credibility with them, and given time the perception of the Nintendo brand will change.  Look at the reception to Eternal Darkness, and to a lesser extent the deal bringing RE4 to the Gamecube.  The reception was largely “I want to see more of this from Nintendo.” But they never followed through, and they lost the momentum.  This next generation is a perfect opportunity to follow through.
Marko, current Co-leader at Operation Rainfall
What I think a lot of people don’t understand is that Nintendo already does this to a certain extent, yet all remaining under the “Nintendo” label. Nintendo owns several development studios, has several localization houses based around the world, and even has several marketing offices. They all have their own name and branding, yet once all is said and done, all the consumer sees on the box is the word “Nintendo”.
Chris hit the nail on the head. Nintendo does not need an “alt-brand”. Nintendo needs to realize that this isn’t the same market condition that existed with the NES, SNES, N64, or even GameCube era. Video games are considered a legitimate form of entertainment, and to some, even an art-form. Nintendo needs to embrace that idea and continue creating the same quality titles they have always made. Hire a larger localization staff? Maybe. Outsource localization and publishing to third parties? Maybe. Split into an alternate brand? Did it work for Qwikster?
“If they would only do this, then there wouldn’t have been a need for Operation Rainfall to begin with, and all of us fans of strange things would be ever happier.” – Alex B., Editor for The Nintendo Enthusiast
Tyson, Co-founder of Operation Rainfall
Did it work for Qwikster? No. But it did in fact work for Lexus, Infiniti, and Acura.  Success I would feel depends on execution and purpose.  Qwikster overcomplicated the lives of it’s consumers by dividing a service in half.  The purpose behind the move was perceived as, and most likely indeed was, born from greed and opportunism.  To me, an Alt Branding isn’t about changing your image, it is about retaining your image while expanding beyond it.  This last idea has, however, turned out to be the most controversial.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Make your voices heard during “The Last Story” month; Is this the best way to release “The Last Story” in North America?
I would like to thank Ryan, Mike, Alex, Richard, Chris, and Marko for contributing to this roundtable discussion.  We at Operation Rainfall would also like to thank Nintendo, Monolith Soft, Mistwalker, AQ Interactive, and Ganbarion for making the games we are so passionate about.  Last, but certainly not least, we would like to thank everyone who has contributed to, supported, and covered Operation Rainfall since it’s inception last year.  Keep fighting!

Pondering a North American release for “The Last Story” – Part 1
Pondering a North American release for “The Last Story” – Part 2
Pondering a North American release for “The Last Story” – Part 3