Is Nostalgia a Pure Numbers Game?

Bill Loguidice's picture

Matt Barton and I were having a discussion about mass market, or more mainstream popularity, and specifically how that applies to journalistic coverage (articles, videos, books, etc.) of videogames and how popular said coverage becomes. My theory is relatively straightforward and - on the surface - fairly obvious: The more you skew your coverage towards the best selling platforms and games - and naturally the latest and greatest games - the more interest you'll generate. This can be further expanded by saying that the more specific you get - to a point - the better. For instance, if you cover all things Nintendo you get that enviable combination of nostalgia and present popularity, but if you further targeted your coverage to just Nintendo puzzle games, you will lose a not insignificant percentage of that same audience.

Also, there are far fewer people like me who consider themselves videogame and computer agnostic and have a genuine passion for anything and everything related to the subject. In other words, it might be a tough sell getting a large number of people interested in videos covering videogames and computers from all eras and in any context (gaming, productivity, etc.) as it would be if you just focused on say Apple iPhone apps. In short, though I believe what I believe and like what I like, the reality it is not representative of how most people think of or like things.

Let's look at the total system sales over the lifetimes of a few major platforms:
* Atari 2600 Video Computer System (1977 – 1992), ~30 million
* Commodore 64 (C-64) (1982 – 1994), the best selling computer of all time, up to 30 million units (though some argue as few as 17 million units)
* Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)/Famicom (1983 – 1995), ~61 million
* Sony PlayStation 2 (PS2) (2001 – Present), ~140 million (and counting)

So we see a far greater concentration of sales in a far shorter period of time with each successive generation. To me, it’s the aforementioned pure numbers game. That’s why the Atari 2600 VCS is still so fondly remembered and is the top classic system for new homebrew creations. That’s why it seems “most” people grew up with the NES. Hell, Nintendo's Super Mario Bros. alone has “sold” over 40 million copies mostly due to it being a system pack-in. Imagine a SINGLE game being played by AT LEAST 40 million people? That’s group memory/nostalgia/identification if I ever saw it.

What about something like the IBM PC standard that got its start in 1981 and has evolved into today's modern day Windows PC's, which dominate nearly 90% of the home computing market. The downside for the PC standard is that it’s always been a moving target spec-wise, so even though over the lifetime of pure IBM PC compatible computers it’s probably sold more than any other “platform”, it’s simply not the same thing as a unified brand. The other issue I would think is that most young children, due to the relative complexity of computers, got their start playing on simple-to-operate consoles, and of course the memories you form when you’re youngest are the memories that color the rest of your life, particularly since as you get older, your available free leisure time generally goes down. So certainly pure numbers don't tell the whole story - they have to be the "right" numbers.

So, I guess my point is, the more of the right “low hanging fruit” you go after, the more potential interest you should be able to generate. So say a Youtube video producer that hits a minimum quality level, by focusing on Nintendo and also the three current consoles (fresh in mind, fresh in interest), is probably tapping into the largest possible pool in our audience niche of "videogames", versus someone who may be doing their videos better but is either scattershot in their approach or tapping into a smaller niche.

Will I ever give in to the "dark side" of things and pander to the biggest possible audience rather than what moves me? Maybe one time as an experiment or interesting study of social dynamics - perhaps a good book that is specifically designed to target something that would move the widest range of today's gamers (and perhaps tying back to something that is nostalgic for them) - but really, I'd rather just be true to my own passions. I think that ultimately results in the best end product. Even something like my upcoming Wii Fitness for Dummies book superficially looks like something that simply panders to the mass market. What may not be immediately obvious though is that I've been passionate about working out (bodybuilding specifically) for the better part of 20 years and the genesis of the idea that eventually became this book was an idea to leverage my love of both videogames and fitness. Sometimes you just get lucky like that.

So, what are YOUR thoughts on the subject? Anything I say out of whack, ill thought out or just plain wrong? Do you have your own ideas? I'd love to hear them.

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Matt Barton
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I responded over email as

I responded over email as well, but adding a few quick thoughts.

A few book ideas that might work could be things like, what Nintendo does better than everyone else, or how Xbox is affecting the game industry by tearing away Nintendo's (and wider, Japan's) grip on the U.S. gaming market. There are also lots of people interested in personalities, such as a biography of Shigeru Miyamoto or Nolan Bushnell.

But, yeah, easier to go after an existing market than trying to build one. My book project about the history of adventure games is probably limited to a few thousand people, max. A book about Nintendo's greatest hits would probably have exponentially greater appeal. It could be that we've been going at this all wrong.

On the other hand, I would argue that we know the field a lot better than most people, and that knowledge is what draws us to lesser known genres, games, and platforms. Not to brag or anything, but the average person probably has something like 5% of our knowledge and little clue why they should bother learning more. If we take this on, it'd be our job to convince them otherwise.

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Bill Loguidice
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Nintendo
Matt Barton wrote:

But, yeah, easier to go after an existing market than trying to build one. My book project about the history of adventure games is probably limited to a few thousand people, max. A book about Nintendo's greatest hits would probably have exponentially greater appeal. It could be that we've been going at this all wrong.

That Nintendo thing is an interesting idea. A more mainstream version (less references/footnotes, a bit more chatty, etc.) of "Vintage Games" that focuses on Nintendo's greatest hits (Donkey Kong, DK Jr., Super Mario Bros., Zelda, Wii Sports, etc.) could be huge. Of course Nintendo might unleash the copyright monster on us, but it's probably worth the risk with the right publisher.

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Matt Barton
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I agree. I'm warming up to

I agree. I'm warming up to the idea of a book with mass market appeal, especially since my poor ol' Floyd Lives book isn't going anywhere. I don't know about you (well, actually I do), but I'd love to have my name associated with a national best-seller. Heck, international, really, given the ubiquity of Nintendo.

I think to stick to what we do best, we might focus on Nintendo's games and what made them so great (rather than on developers' lives or key business decisions). We could always have that stuff in the background and quotations, but naturally we'd run into problems with the language barriers and access. Besides, I think most people really want to read about Mario more than where Miyamoto shops for ties or whatever. Of course, it'd be even better if we could get at least a few interviews (maybe with Nintendo staff on this side of the pond) to get a few quotes and such.

I think it could have even broader appeal if we applied the "lessons" very broadly. So, looking at a design philosophy or principles and how they could be applied to other sectors of business or life. Sort of a "what does Super Mario Bros. have to teach us about life." I think we could have some fun with that. Just have to keep in mind our audience wouldn't be hardcore gamers but rather the NPR/Oprah Club/mildly geeky folks who belong to book clubs and enjoy discussing this stuff. They might like to learn more about what makes Nintendo games unique, lessons these games their kids (or themselves), how the changes might be reflected in or influence the wider society, etc.

As far as copyright goes, I just don't see it as an issue. We know enough not to violate their trademarks and what have you, and again not really competing in any way with their business. They'd have a very hard time convincing a judge or jury that this was infringement, since it's clearly a work of criticism and/or scholarship and protected under fair use (I could play the academic card if push came to shove). Of course, we wouldn't be fanboyish and may even be critical of a few things (such as the failure to embrace CD-ROM or HD, or the Virtual Boy fiasco). Still, that's for the lawyers get paid to worry about, not us.

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Rowdy Rob
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My thoughts.

First of all, a "mass market" book is a great idea. I liked the idea when it was called "Vintage Games." Ok, I won't harp on that one....

A Nintendo book is a very good idea, and I would love to see you guys get some mainstream cred, and especially wealth, from your videogame knowledge and your writing talents. But it really depends on how you guys approach the idea, and how you approach the writing.

Nintendo is both a very ubiquitous mainstream company and a VERY Japanese company. It is across the pond, the result of a culture that is very alien to many Westerners. It would be very difficult to write a book about Nintendo without acknowledging the culture it arose from. That means that you'll have to, at some point, deal with Japanese culture. Most people who pick up a book about Nintendo, I suspect, would expect the "Japanese" issue to come up. I don't see how you guys will get around that one, especially if you're writing a book about the cultural influence of the games Nintendo produced. That might require more "research" than you guys might have expected, even if you only intend to concentrate on Nintendo's success in the West. This doesn't mean you have to be "politically correct" about it (screw that!), but I'd probably be impossible to avoid.

Also, dare I say it, the "Nintendo" audience tends to be one drawn to whimsy and lighthearted gameplay. Are they really prepared for a SCHOLARLY work on the subject of Nintendo?

"Oh, I just wanted to read about Mario.... who's this Robert Reich dude? And who is Ludwig Wittgenstein? What's this doing in my Nintendo book?"

How are you going to write a mass-market book on Nintendo without a) being intimately familiar with the inner workings of Nintendo, and b) dumbing down your normal writing style?

Please don't interpret my rant here as discouragement. If anyone can find a way to do this right, it's you guys. I just want you to know that this isn't a pie-in-the-sky fantasy, it is reality. I'm sure you guys aren't the first writers to take on Nintendo's legacy. You better darn well have a good angle to approach this subject, though. A dumbed-down "yo, Nintendo Roxorz" book wouldn't be true to yourselves, but a scholarly work isn't going to be a mainstream success unless you have an angle.

That's my opinions... a Nintendo book isn't as easy as it might seem, from my view. Not unless you are willing to write poorly-reviewed mass-market drek. If you're going to do it, it's a BIG project. I suspect it will require more hard work and dedication than all the projects you guys have worked on (or are working on) combined! If you take on a Nintendo project, you're really going to have to earn it. But if you do it right, without sacrificing who you are, there may be gold in them hills.... and not necessarily material gold, but "legitimacy" gold. :-)

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Matt Barton
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Rob, as always you make

Rob, as always you make great points. Why aren't you writing books?? :)

I think it might be better to focus on either the Atari or the Xbox. I'd argue that we'd still have to deal with the Nintendo in either case, though admittedly not nearly as much--and no one would expect us to be experts on Japanese culture writing such a topic. Plus, we'd be far more likely to get access to someone even as high profile as Bill Gates or Nolan Bushnell a long time before we'd be given an audience with Shigeru. I did read "Power Up" which talked a lot about Japanese culture, but as far as I know that book really hasn't done very well (even though I enjoyed it considerably).

Of course, if we had a co-author or a consultant who *could* fill in the gaps about Japanese culture, the Nintendo book still has lots of promise. I think we could pull it off regardless. Surely it wouldn't be *that* hard to avoid gross distortions or blatant mistakes. But you're right, we'd need to do a lot of reading about Japan (and gasp, maybe go there for awhile). Obviously a trip there is out of the question, at least right now.

My vote is for an Xbox book, simply because the Atari was so recently covered by Racing the Beam. The only real problem is that it isn't nearly as old as the NES or the 2600, so we might end up talking a lot more about modern franchises. I'm trying to see in my mind what a book about Xbox would look like. What innovations did it really bring?

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Chris Kennedy
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Nintin...did

Personally, I like the idea of a Nintendo book - a Nintendo book with a primary focus on the American adoption of that boxy, gray VCR that plays Nintendo "tapes" shortly after the crash of the early 80s.

Nintendo had an opportunity in the West and seized it at the right moment. Not only that, but Nintendo just cranked out great games. They licensed the games - and I believe this licensing held 3rd parties to only publishing so many titles per year. This limited publishers to picking and choosing to release their "good" games. (My) Facts straight or not, the NES (imho) received a large number of games that were fun during its life cycle. I would say that the timing of Nintendo's pounce on the Western market along with the presence of remarkably fun library of games was absolutely PIVOTAL.

So here you have a console in America that really added some extra oomph to the Atari - You used a (trademarked) crosspad with two buttons. No numeric keypad was needed. The graphics were better and the music had more to it. What about the NES vs. computers at the time? It was simpler, people (kids obviously included) didn't have to deal with a keyboard or operating system, and it was a lot less expensive. It finally got console gaming to its next level, and it had already been around for over two years. When Nintendo set to launch the Famicom in the U.S., it already had a library of games from which to choose.

I personally think the NES hit the West with all cylinders firing at a high RPM. This, along with detailed coverage of games such as Zelda & Mario among others, would seem to make a fairly simple, enjoyable book that will also allow for detailed explanations where necessary. Using this theme as your structure, I am sure you guys could use your judgment to decide where details should be added and where some information is just too much.

Matt - I didn't look it up, but I believe "Power Up" was written by Chris Kohler of Wired. He often does guest spots on Retronauts - a podcast about old games that is produced by 1up.com. The podcast has been pretty good over the years, but it's not without a bit of juvenile humor and vocabulary. That said, Chris seems to really have a bulk of knowledge when it comes to A: Nintendo and B: Japan. I haven't read his book, but I have thought about picking up a copy. It's funny you said, "if we had a co-author or consultant," because I was just thinking "well they could use Kohler if they ever wanted a consultant..." just before I read your sentence. I do not know the man, personally. He might be worth contacting.

I think this is a project I feel you guys really NEED to do. Honestly...I am curious as to why someone hasn't done this book yet.

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Bill Loguidice
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Actually, now that I think

Actually, now that I think about it, the next book we probably really need to do is a novelization of the feature film documentary. It would be the first proper (comprehensive) videogame and computer history book and also would hopefully have all of the uncut interviews we did. After that we could consider something like a Nintendo or Xbox book or what-have-you.

We're supposed to finish capturing all of the footage for the film by the end of October and I'm supposed to finish work on Wii Fitness for Dummies by the end of November, so perhaps in December we can seriously think about what's next. I'm not necessarily looking forward to a "next", but it's probably best to keep the momentum going...

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.
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Matt Barton
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I definitely agree about the

I definitely agree about the momentum. A lot of people take a major hiatus after a big project and never do get back to where they were. Much better to press on and ride the wave as long as you can. I figure we need three books to really make or break it. There's really no excuse for a third book not to be the best you can possibly do, since you've already been through the experience twice and ought to have a pretty good idea of what people want and what you can do (as well as your own weaknesses, so you can make sure they're covered).

I feel strongly about getting the footage done for the film before we embark on anything else.

Chris, I am once again switching from Xbox to Nintendo. While I think Rob makes good points about our lack of intimacy with Japanese culture, I'm not convinced it's required for a book about the company's influence on these shores. Did the typical American Nintendo gamer back in the 80s know anything about Japan? They probably couldn't even point it out on a map (this might hold true today for all I know). I still think it'd be essential to talk to at least a few major developers and some of the Nintendo folks, both here and in Japan. The holy grail (for me) would be some sort of interview with Shigeru himself, since just having his name associated with the project would likely drive up sales (not to mention all the great questions we could ask him).

Again, to think about markets--for the NPR crowd I was talking about before, we'd need to focus on Nintendo and its impact on American culture, perhaps going beyond the games to talk about everything from merchandise to cartoon shows to the way kids played with their Gameboys at school. We'd also need to talk about what it was about the games that appealed so strongly to kids as well as adults.

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clok1966
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I own a nintendo History

I own a nintendo History book, I will dig it out sometime and give you the name (it was purchased several years ago, i would say about gamecube release time, maybe a year or so before, I know it had some stuff on the failed Vurtial Boy) its english but is a translation (actually pretty good one) and all the 'fine print" on the back is asian, i would guess some possibly shady import. And yes its put toghter like a traditional american book, but I can see it was originaly back to front as a couple spots pages are messed up. It was very detailed, wish I could remeber the name (and even more where I have it packed away). I sorta remeber it was named something like "The house that mario built, inside nintendo". There was alot of interviews with Nintendo programers. best part was some concept art for some games, some unreleased games (in document form or partial made form). Not as many pictures as i would have liked, pretty much 90% reading 10% pictures (mistake in my mind for a video game book). But i do believe the book was geared more to people who wanted to know the business side not the game side.

I know right now when you talk about how people cover stuff and how you draw in viewers (websites, etc) it really seems to be a PR war instead of actual facts. 5 years ago, Sony could do no worng, MS was just dreaming of playing with the big boys, and Nintendo was falling flat. Now MS can do no wrong, Sony is a whipping boy and nintendo is brilliant if a bit overwhlemed by there success. In the video game coverage (websites) ite very trendy to bash Sony, Love MS (360 i guess, not MS) and forget nintendo is makeing um both look silly (sales wise) Nintendo doesnt really need any covarge they are currenlty winning this round of console wars. Seems to be a MS vs Sony thing while in reality its nintendo vs everybody (if sales mean anything). A Hardware site i read alot has gotten very 360 happy. Recently they talked about the 360 price cut, the story mentioned the cut and had (sorry cant rember the exact qoute) "a lot of console for the money" Just yesterday they had one on the Wii price cut and said "After a few years of watching Microsoft and Sony beat each other over the head with price cuts" which is poor reporting in my opinion.. Where was the Wii love? Sony has made one price cut in 2 years (just recently) while the 360 has had 3 in 3 years... it also stated nintendo was "forced" to do the price cut. last time I looked, the Wii was still outselling either ms or sony system, just by alot less then it had. yes I think the price cut by nintendo was a good move, but forced? not to sure.

It appears to be right now websites generate hits on certian consoles more then others, but thats just opinion.

Bill Loguidice
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I think Nintendo was in fact

I think Nintendo was in fact "forced" to do a price cut on the Wii just to keep their momentum going. They could easily continue to outsell the competition at the inflated $249 price point, but losing too much momentum would be a dangerous thing. Why give up any dominance when a slight drop in profit margin is all it takes to keep things going the way they've been? I think if Sony didn't receive the huge bump in sales that it did from the price drop/new model, then Nintendo probably would have stood pat, particularly considering that Microsoft has no real Japanese presence and can only really compete in the other territories.

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.
[About Me]

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