Poor Abraham Lincoln can’t rest in peace. With the striking failure of its new IP CodeName STEAM, Intelligent Systems embarrassed the late President along with damaging its own reputation. CodeName STEAM is an international flop : 2000 units sold in Japan (90% of the stock taking dust on shelves), 31000 in the US and the game never showed up in European charts. It’s been the first time in nearly 20 years that a Nintendo-published game hadn’t failed that hard and become the flop of the year.
Let’s not blame it too much, because it is less the game in itself than the circumstances surrounding it that lead into such disaster. Intelligent Systems (or Nintendo, we don’t who made the decision) reckoned it would be beneficial to develop a tactical-RPG with a design closer to American rather than Japanese comics. Surely they wanted to appeal more to western consumers, but that was actually a huge marketing mistake. Even in the West, Intelligent Systems’s fans admire the developer for its Japanese design : if you’ve liked that for years, when they show you that all of a sudden, naturally you take a step back. Gamespot didn’t help either in awarding a harsh 4/10 at release. Nintendo games tend to receive high scores, so when they don’t, costumers are likely to be greatly defiant.
Beyond the catastrophe CodeName STEAM, the start of the year in a whole was bad news for the Kyoto-based firm. Games for Nintendo platforms become increasingly scarce and recently have a hard time charting in NPD or GfK reports. In France, it’s been weeks with the SELL charts featuring only PS4 (and sometimes XboxOne) games. Even the latest big mainstream 3DS game, Puzzle & Dragons Mario, is MIA despite the fame of Nintendo’s mascot character. Those past two years, Nintendo has always had a long seller for the summer. Puzzle & Dragons Mario doesn’t look like this kind of game for now, even though you can’t discard a rally when parents will have to pick something to keep the kids busy during the summer vacation. Gamers have no option but to wait, or play on consoles with richer line-ups : by the end of the summer, 40 titles will have been released on PS4/PSVita, only 15 on 3DS/WiiU.
In Japan, the situation isn’t that rosy either : in the 25 best-selling 2015 games to date, 18 are Playstation games! Figures compiled from GAF Dengeki archives are clear : Nintendo is losing ground, 2/3 of the games out until September being on Playstation platforms. This ratio is higher still when you consider only third party publishers, who do know where their audience is. Indeed, they must be quite dubious when seeing the much anticipated Xenoblade Chronicles X and Bravely Second struggling against Far Cry 4 or Battlefield Hardline (they will most likely never catch up with the latter). The red alert must be deafening in Kyoto given this unexpected underperforming of games widely regarded as the new references of JRPG. Those two have thus actually less appeal than a useless mod of Battlefield 4, and needless to say, not even remotely close to compete with Bloodborne, Sword Art Online Lost Song, Tales of Zestiria and Dragon Quest Heroes.
Regardless of the headlines praising Splatoon, Nintendo doesn’t come to E3 in a strong position. Having themselves discarded Zelda, they will have a hard time finding something to rival the likes of Star Wars Battlefront or Halo 5. At least the company will be able to clear the evaporation of CodeName STEAM with the expected success of Fire Emblem If and Yokai Watch Busters at the beginning of the summer.