Thinking about Operation Rainfall
If you’re into gaming then no doubt you’ve heard about Operation Rainfall, a grassroots effort to get Nintento to release three JRPGs in America.
Now, it’s no secret that “hardcore” games don’t sell on the Wii. That’s not some made up belief, it’s a fact. Nintendo even tried to actively combat this by commissioning Sin & Punishment: Star Successor from Treasure based purely on the amazing sales figures of the original on Virtual Console. Unfortunately, despite being one of the greatest games this console generation, it did not sell very well.
So, at first glance, it seems to make sense that Nintendo wouldn’t release Xenoblade in America. It’s a sad but true fact. That is, until I saw this episode of The Jimquisition.
Now, I’ve made fun of Jim Sterling before. However, while he’s a questionable reviewer, he is great at calling everyone an idiot and actually brings up some good points!
Now, first of all, Xenoblade is already translated and released in Europe. This I was already aware of. However, the interesting part is the sales chart. Despite the fact that “hardcore” games don’t sell on the Wii, they do sell better in America than in Europe or Japan based purely on population alone. Considering the game is already translated, releasing it in America just because seems to just plain make sense.
Mentioning Demon’s Souls is especially interesting. That game was actually published by Sony in Japan and was indeed already in English. However, Sony didn’t think it would sell in America so they weren’t going to release it here. Atlus took the initiative, got Sony to give them US release rights, and produced it in highly limited quantities as they normally do. Couple the difficulty of finding a copy with internet buzz and pretty soon it became one of the top selling games on PS3. Sony would later admit that not releasing the game in America themselves was a mistake and they shouldn’t make those kind of assumptions.
Nintendo, however, is a different beast and I have not yet heard of a third party publisher getting the rights to any of the games they publish. This is unfortunate because, in retrospect, nearly all of the good games on Wii that don’t come to America are the ones published by Nintendo themselves: Fatal Frame 4, Zangeki no Reginlev, Captain Rainbow, and now Xenoblade, The Last Story, and Pandora’s Tower. Rest assured, if Nintendo didn’t have a firm grip on the publishing rights to these games then Atlus, XSEED, NIS America, Ignition Entertainment, or D3 Publishing would have released these games here. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind about that.
What makes this whole debacle even more idiotic though is that there is literally nothing coming out on the Wii this year. We’re getting The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and the new Kirby and that’s it. I know there are people who insist they’ll boycott Nintendo products if they don’t release these games but what is there to boycott?! Not to mention gamers often forget that boycotting doesn’t work with Japanese companies as the message a boycot sends is very vague. If Kirby didn’t sell, Nintendo wouldn’t think “This is because we didn’t release Xenoblade!” they would think “America doesn’t like Kirby!” and stop selling Kirby games in the U.S. Keep that in mind.
Now, of course, Europeans are laughing it up over this and in a way I can’t blame them. Europe has traditionally been screwed over when it comes to videogames. This generation though, Nintendo seems to have been making an active effort to court European gamers, with them getting nearly every Nintendo published game months before America. If they want to see this as an odd sort of “payback” against American gamers (who have absolutely no control over what games get released in Europe and which ones don’t) then that’s fine.
However, this is just an embarrassment. Every E3, Nintendo has tooted it’s horn about how they’re catering to experienced hardcore gamers too. But now they just turn around and snub them in this way? Nintendo is already on nearly every hardcore gamer’s shit list for a plethora of reasons and to many this is fast becoming the last straw. At this point it’s not even about the games themselves but about the principal of the whole thing! This is a massive “fuck you” that Nintendo is giving to every single dedicated gamer.
That could actually become a problem for them too. Nintendo has become one of the more vocal companies about the fear that things like iPhone apps will ruin gaming. The reality is that for most of us, they won’t. An iPhone app will never compare to a big meaty full fledged game played on your big screen high definition TV. However, it’s a problem for Nintendo. The iPhone caters to casuals and non-gamers far better than Nintendo ever could! People don’t buy the iPhone to play games, they buy it to have an iPhone and then get cheap games for it because they’re bored. Nintendo, on the other hand, is a game company and they make dedicated game systems. In fact, the Wii can’t even play music CDs! The fact that Nintendo has been able to sell the Wii to non-gamers at all is a testament to their marketing department. They have literally been selling ice to Eskimos. However, once someone starts selling fire to Eskimos it puts the iceman out of business no matter how good their marketing is. My point is that people have claimed that non-gamers aren’t a good source of income to Nintendo and that they would eventually move on to the next big fad and that appears to have been proven true.
Also, let us not forget that a large part of what caused the Wii to sell was the buzz it generated amongst hardcore gamers for being something new and different. Once the casuals had been assured by their more game savvy friends and acquaintances that the Wii was a good system, then they bought it. The hardcore gamers had to get the ball rolling. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that this will be true of the WiiU. If the WiiU doesn’t garner hardcore interest, it will never get the mainstream recognition it needs to succeed.
I could keep going for hours about the potential cascade effects of the intense bad PR that this situation is generating, but you get the point. I can only hope that this is an intentional marketing move. It’s true that if Nintendo had released these games normally and without a struggle, no one would have taken notice of them. There’s a huge backlash against both the Wii and JRPGs in America so had these come out they wouldn’t have been noticed by anyone. Now that they’re being denied to us, however, it’s starting to raise eyebrows and get the games more publicity than they would normally recieve. If Nintendo were to publicly state that they have “listened to the fans” and release the games, it would bolster both their profits and reputation.
However, they’ve snubbed bigger and more dedicated fan demands in the past (i.e. Mother 3) so I make no guarantees.