How I'd Fix Nintendo: Start Playing the Disney Game

Nintendo should start thinking out of the box to save itself.

Feb 5, 2014 at 2:21PM


Gamers and investors alike have heard the news – Nintendo's (NASDAQOTH:NTDOY) current financial performance is as disastrous and embarrassing as a plumber hitting a rolling barrel thrown by an ape. Consumers aren't going for the Wii U; instead, new consoles from Sony (NYSE:SNE) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), as well as a legion of cheap cell phone titles, are grabbing all the attention away from the onetime juggernaut of home systems. What can the company do now to avoid further calamity?

First: Admit something about the Wii

I think it's time for Nintendo execs – as well as perhaps everyone who bought one – to advance a truth about the Wii: the only reason people went wild for it in the first place is price elasticity. Relative to the other consoles at the time of its release, the Wii was cheaper, and that was that. Some will probably have a problem with that assertion, but I know, on an anecdotal basis, gamers who were once thrilled at the prospect of owning a Wii with the fancy wand controller and its revolutionary nunchuk companion eventually pined for the good old days of Atari 2600 joysticks.

Nintendo based its Wii strategy on the wireless interface, and although the zeitgeist thought it liked it, it didn't. The market was simply killing time until PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 became more economically appealing. Once this is accepted, then maybe the rest will come easier.

Diversify into filmed content creation

I know, it sounds crazy. For those who follow the movie and television industry, the idea of entering the realm of motion pictures is a frightening prospect because, well, let's just admit it – there is a ton of risk, and Hollywood tends to fleece the newcomers. Even the non-newcomers can get fleeced; major studios are constantly being overcharged for the services of talent by an agent-management system that seems to want higher upfront guarantees and even more lucrative first-gross-dollar participation points.

Let's keep something in mind, though. Nintendo, like all video game companies, is in the entertainment business. While video games represent a specific kind of entertainment that necessitates rigorous technological focus, that doesn't mean that Nintendo is precluded from delivering all kinds of entertainment experiences in different forms of media.

I would propose that Nintendo seriously consider competing with Sony by generating and releasing filmed content not necessarily tied to just the Pokémon and Zelda trademarks. Content is risky, but inevitable for an enterprise like Nintendo; just as Disney (NYSE:DIS) couldn't afford to ignore the merchandising implications of the video game industry, Nintendo cannot be cavalier about engaging its consumer base in ways that go beyond controlling pixels on a monitor.

And while there has been experimentation in the past with porting Nintendo's IP to the big screen, I think the company would have to do a lot better than the "Super Mario Bros." movie that was released back in 1993, starred Bob Hoskins, and was released by a Disney label at the time called Hollywood Pictures. That was a different era, one that today's movie consumers don't want to revisit, as they are used to a certain level of quality and sophistication that was absent back then in some feature product.

I'll also mention that Nintendo would have to strive to produce more competitive content than what has been seen in the previous Pokémon movies and small-screen cartoons -- the animated Pokémon series is still around, but any content plan Nintendo would hypothetically create would need to cross over to other audiences.

What kinds of content would Nintendo make?

Nintendo could produce superhero movies, low-budget horror, cartoons, comedies ... you name it. It has the connections, it has the talent, and it has the advantage of operating in an area that is becoming more like the movie business every day. I foresee a time when all gaming publishers, from Activision Blizzard to Electronic Arts, will start software franchises on the silver screen. "The Walking Dead" started out as a comic book, then became a TV show, then became a video game; the direction in which the process flows is wholly agnostic.

One of the best examples of what I'm talking about, a model that Nintendo should emulate, is the one previously employed by Marvel. Marvel used to license its IP to other studios to bolster its brand equity, push merchandise sales, and generate a little revenue. Little is the operative term, here, because when you license your movie to a studio, you're only going to get so much in return.

Marvel figured out it was better to actually make films itself so as to keep all of the bounty generated. It was a risky move; I myself wasn't sure at the time about the wisdom of the strategy. Things turned out very well for the comic-book factory.

The intersection of technology companies and entertainment is empirically obvious. Pixar is nothing but a technology company driven by creative mission statements. Nintendo is a technology company that could evolve one section of its business into a Pixar-like division that takes characters like Mario and Donkey Kong and places them in their own "Toy Story"-like world.

And it doesn't have to cost a lot. Budgets for Pixar projects, as well as those released by DreamWorks Animation, tend to run well over $100 million; Pixar's "Brave" was rendered for a reported $185 million while DreamWorks Animation's "Turbo" cost $135 million (source: Box Office Mojo). While those big guns tend to spend more, you have to appreciate what $146 million can buy you; believe it or not, it actually could buy a "Despicable Me" and a "Despicable Me 2," as the former cost about $70 million while the latter set its animators back by $76 million. (As a side note, I always thought the Gamecube title "Luigi's Mansion" would make a great CGI cartoon.) "Despicable Me 2" captured $970 million in ticket sales around the globe. Not a bad business model.

It doesn't have to be all Luigi and Pokémon films. Nintendo should cast its celluloid net further out into the cinematic ocean. Younger people love Pikachu, but as they move into their teens and beyond, they also appreciate pictures like "Paranormal Activity" and "Saw." I know, I just mentioned "Paranormal Activity" and "Saw" in a piece about why Nintendo should go Hollywood. Your first thought is: why would Nintendo do this when its image is so family oriented? My rejoinder is that Nintendo isn't above exposure to adult-oriented stuff being on its platforms; if the company is willing to be associated with something like the awesome "Resident Evil" series of games, then it probably would be OK with investing in a hard-edged horror fest every once in a while.

As I also mentioned, superhero characters are something Nintendo could excel at. While I wouldn't expect the company to create as profitable a mythology as "Batman," there is still plenty of opportunity to synthesize an imaginative set of heroes and villains that could be cross-promoted to the demos that wait with anticipation for the next release of the "Zelda" saga.

Nintendo should release another console, but...

All of this is not to say that Nintendo shouldn't eventually release a new, more powerful console. It should. One that will hopefully embrace older games while keeping the younger members of the family unit entertained as well. That's always been the image problem with Sony and Microsoft – those two tend not to program for kids. Even though the image might not be entirely accurate (Kinect, anyone?), it still is instructive for Nintendo: be open to all age groups.

At the same time, Nintendo has to do things completely differently. Entertainment, whether delivered by algorithms or optical illusion in a screening room, is a complex collection of cultural touchstones that consumers are willing to apply a premium to. It makes synergistic sense, and it is appropriately diversifying in terms of revenue generation.

Perhaps if Nintendo does a little zigging and zagging as the above suggests it can buy itself a little time as it tries to figure out its new place in the post-digital world of fickle video game consumers who don't know whether they want to play a twenty-plus hour first-person shooter or a challenging game of war between avian and porcine societies on their portable telephones. Until some better news and/or innovative thought comes out of Nintendo, this remains a company to avoid.

The next step for you

Want to figure out how to profit on business analysis like this? The key is to learn how to turn business insights into portfolio gold by taking your first steps as an investor. Those who wait on the sidelines are missing out on huge gains and putting their financial futures in jeopardy. In our brand-new special report, "Your Essential Guide to Start Investing Today," The Motley Fool's personal finance experts show you what you need to get started, and even give you access to some stocks to buy first. Click here to get your copy today -- it's absolutely free.

Steven Mallas owns shares of Disney and DreamWorks Animation. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Microsoft and Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

4 in 5 Americans Are Ignoring Buffett's Warning

Don't be one of them.

Jun 12, 2015 at 5:01PM

Admitting fear is difficult.

So you can imagine how shocked I was to find out Warren Buffett recently told a select number of investors about the cutting-edge technology that's keeping him awake at night.

This past May, The Motley Fool sent 8 of its best stock analysts to Omaha, Nebraska to attend the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder meeting. CEO Warren Buffett and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger fielded questions for nearly 6 hours.
The catch was: Attendees weren't allowed to record any of it. No audio. No video. 

Our team of analysts wrote down every single word Buffett and Munger uttered. Over 16,000 words. But only two words stood out to me as I read the detailed transcript of the event: "Real threat."

That's how Buffett responded when asked about this emerging market that is already expected to be worth more than $2 trillion in the U.S. alone. Google has already put some of its best engineers behind the technology powering this trend. 

The amazing thing is, while Buffett may be nervous, the rest of us can invest in this new industry BEFORE the old money realizes what hit them.

KPMG advises we're "on the cusp of revolutionary change" coming much "sooner than you think."

Even one legendary MIT professor had to recant his position that the technology was "beyond the capability of computer science." (He recently confessed to The Wall Street Journal that he's now a believer and amazed "how quickly this technology caught on.")

Yet according to one J.D. Power and Associates survey, only 1 in 5 Americans are even interested in this technology, much less ready to invest in it. Needless to say, you haven't missed your window of opportunity. 

Think about how many amazing technologies you've watched soar to new heights while you kick yourself thinking, "I knew about that technology before everyone was talking about it, but I just sat on my hands." 

Don't let that happen again. This time, it should be your family telling you, "I can't believe you knew about and invested in that technology so early on."

That's why I hope you take just a few minutes to access the exclusive research our team of analysts has put together on this industry and the one stock positioned to capitalize on this major shift.

Click here to learn about this incredible technology before Buffett stops being scared and starts buying!

David Hanson owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and American Express. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway, Google, and Coca-Cola.We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

©1995-2014 The Motley Fool. All rights reserved. | Privacy/Legal Information