Nintendo Fires Its First Shot

by Rick Powers - June 11, 2001, 10:36 am PDT

Today, Nintendo’s first shot in the next-generation of video game wars was fired. Rick Powers attempts to illuminate why the battle may be over before it’s even started …

It’s tempting to say something clichéd, like “they never knew what hit them,” or “it was over before it began.” It’s tempting, but needs to be avoided because it just isn’t true. Sony and Microsoft have known this has been coming for a long time now. Nintendo’s plan to use Game Boy Advance as a wedge into gamer’s homes has been well documented. It’s one of those rare occasions where Nintendo lays all of its cards out on the table, and the competition is still powerless to stop the impending onslaught.

Nintendo spent over a decade marketing its handheld machine, slowly generating a userbase totaling over 100 million units. While critics have complained that the new GBA is nothing more than technology from yesteryear cleverly marketed into that existing userbase, it is in fact, a brilliant business plan that simply can’t be matched by the competition.

When Nintendo announced that the new Game Boy unit would also function as a controller for the new GameCube console launching in November, it was a calculated attempt to pre-sell GameCube consoles to everyone already convinced to get a Game Boy Advance. In effect, Nintendo is telling those consumers, “You’ve already got a controller for our next console; you might as well get the machine too.” And while the GBA is nothing more than an incremental upgrade, its ability to interact with a console that is considered by many to be nothing short of revolutionary will also sell the handheld to those that otherwise aren’t interested in portable gaming. It’s like a whirlwind kick in some regard; no matter which foot hits you first, you certainly aren’t expecting the second blow … even when you see it coming. Game Boy Advance and GameCube are perfectly positioned to feed off of each other.

For a handheld that is not all that special in terms of technology, Nintendo will have no problem selling it with the stranglehold they have on the market. While the Game Boy Color was released not all that long ago, it was really the same old machine with a color screen. The internals of the Game Boy have been updated with the GBA, and although it’s really just a Super NES in handheld form, it’s the first time that the Game Boy has undergone such a drastic overhaul. It’s all the Game Boy needed though; Nintendo is trying to position the Game Boy as a pick-up-and-play machine, and if you want something more engrossing, get a GameCube. It’s the right move from a business perspective, and the only way Nintendo can keep from cannibalizing one market for another. Coming to market with a handheld with the power of an N64, even if technologically possible, would risk cutting into GameCube sales.

More importantly than anything else, gamers now have several months to get used to new Nintendo games, and Nintendo’s style of games, before the next-generation war starts in earnest. Several months to remind gamers that Nintendo is solely a gaming company, while their competitors are diversified into other markets as well. Several months to convince gamers that they’ll be missing something without a GameCube in their home. Several months to stockpile cash from GBA sales to be used in a massive launch push for GameCube. Several months where Sony and Microsoft have to sit in near silence and simply accept that they lost this battle before it began, and that they never knew what hit them.

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