His sister would disagree. Amanda is obsessed with her DSi. Maybe obsessed is unkind. She very much enjoys playing DS. When I ask her what she does on her DS, she doesn't focus on games. "You can go to PictoChat and draw things," she gushes, "or you can go to DS downloads, if you have a friend that has a DS you can put the DSes together and play the same game together, or PictoChat each other." The experience she describes sounds a lot like things you could do more easily (and more slickly) on a smart phone. But, no matter what Gossip Girl tells you, not every tween has a smart phone. Especially not every pre-tween. This discussion of the interactive possibilities of the DS was the most animated I heard either of them get about Nintendo in our entire conversation, and of course, none of this is by accident.
Is this the future of Nintendo? Fake smart phones for girls 10 and under? Well, maybe. And maybe this isn't as bad as it sounds. Flurry Analytics, a mobile gaming market research company, estimates that Nintendo accounted for 70% of all mobile gaming revenue in 2009. While that may have been a 5% loss from 2008 (a loss largely to iPhones), it was still meant Nintendo made over $1.5 billion in mobile gaming that year. While this number has no doubt gone down as the ubiquity of iPhones has gone up, it still accounts for a sizable chunk of Nintendo's market.
Perhaps the most striking thing about my conversations with Caleb and Amanda was their lack of brand loyalty, and their lack of real positive associations with Nintendo. Sure, Caleb has memories of playing Nintendo with friends, but that was just because he happened to own a Nintendo at the time. The specialness of Nintendo, that idea that Nintendo stands for some standard of innovation, quality, or anything else seems largely to have vanished. By focusing on products for the extremely young, Nintendo has made a gamble - they may be making a considerable amount of money, but the idea that Nintendos are just something you have until you're old enough to get something else seems to have firmly taken hold. Instead of proudly wearing Mario shirts well into their 20s, today's young will likely go to great lengths to hide ever having used, let alone liked a Nintendo - culturally, Nintendo's gone from being GI Joe to Barney in the space of a few decades.
Then again, Nintendo has this identity now because that is what it wants. They have marketed themselves to children and to parents as safe starter games for the young, full of simple yet creative puzzles. While at first, Caleb claimed to be "an Xbox person" with no interest in owning anything else in the near future, he eventually admitted that if Nintendo came out with something better than an Xbox, he'd be more than happy to have it. When it comes down to it, he just wanted whatever system was best, and whatever system his parents would buy him. Some things never change.
Chris Chafin spent spent his childhood getting beaten at Nintendo Golf by his own grandfather.