At the end of this year, the lights will turn off at Nintendo Power. Future US, which has produced the long-running magazine for the last five years, is pulling out, and Nintendo says it won’t seek a new publisher according to Ars Technica.
It’s tempting to view the end of Nintendo Power as merely another example of hard times for print magazines. But this case is about more than the decline of print. It’s about a change in how video game companies reach their fans, and how the fans themselves have changed.
Most people, I suspect, best remember Nintendo Power not for its last five years under Future, but for its first 19 years run by Nintendo itself. Although the articles were, as Kyle Orland of Ars Technica put it, “often just thinly veiled marketing copy,” the sheer enthusiasm of Nintendo Power‘s early years are what I recall most fondly.
Strange as it is to say this, my nostalgia is for Nintendo’s advertorial nature.
I was five years old when the first issue of Nintendo Power landed on my doorstep in 1988. To read the magazine in its early years was to be young and naive. As kids, we were not discerning consumers, but fans eager to know what magic Nintendo had in store. With a little imagination, every cover was a glimpse at what was possible beyond the pixels–a Mario animated from clay, for instance, or a lifelike Link. To amp our excitement further, every issue had a two-sided poster, further celebrating whatever game graced the cover.
And then there were the tips, tricks and cheat codes. They came buried within Howard & Nester comics, bundled as inserts or, in the case of Super Mario Bros. 3, printed as standalone strategy guides that outweighed the magazine itself. At a time when you couldn’t just search the Internet for gaming tips, Nintendo Power created its own culture of obsession. We pored over the magazine’s secrets, both for the games we owned and the ones we hoped to eventually play.
Don’t simply blame the Internet for the change in culture. In Nintendo Power‘s heyday, the NES was the only console that mattered. But over time, its competitors grew. First came Sega, then Sony, then Microsoft. Technology evolved and budgets soared. Video games became serious business, with more competition at increasingly higher stakes.
Being a gamer is no longer as simple as waiting for Nintendo’s next magic trick. There are more games to choose from now than there ever were in the NES era, and on more platforms, not to mention new ways of gaming on phones and tablets. And the games are much longer now, making for bigger time commitments. Perhaps that’s why a negative review of a popular game is bound to start a flame war; no one likes to think their time or money was wasted.
Oddly enough, the Internet allows the spirit of Nintendo Power to stay alive. Anyone can publish a blog, post a YouTube video, or make an announcement on Twitter–even the companies that make our games. Sites like the Official PlayStation Blog and Major Nelson’s Xbox Live Blog offer the same wide-eyed enthusiasm that Nintendo’s magazine once did.
And yet, when it comes to self-promotion on blogs and social media, Nintendo is the quietest of the three major console makers. It has Facebook and Twitter profiles, but no regular blog, and even its social media updates are rarely more than bland links to new products or promotions.
Maybe the company is just slow to embrace the Internet, but I prefer to think that Nintendo knows it can never get back what it once had with Nintendo Power. Perhaps it sees the online communities that Microsoft and Sony have cultivated, and realizes that while the fans are loyal, they also seem older and more cynical.
Or maybe that’s just me projecting nostalgia at its purest. Yes, the tools for game companies to enthusiastically self-promote have only grown in the Internet age. It’s just that everything else has changed.