Nintendo (OTC:NTDOY) has been on a big winning streak over the last few years, with fantastic sales for its Switch console and the successful introduction of some of its big franchises to mobile platforms helping the Japanese gaming giant deliver fantastic earnings growth and stock performance. A recent controversy surrounding its latest Pokemon games probably won't be the catalyst that reverses its momentum, and it hasn't dented the company's post-earnings share price gains, but the titles could now safely be put on a list of 2019's most controversial games.
Fans of the series are upset that the new games seem to reuse character models, assets, and animations from the preceding installments in the series. This probably wouldn't have been a problem, but the game's developer, Game Freak, cited the need to make new character models and animations as the reason the new games have significantly reduced the number of collectible Pokemon.
In other words, content that some fans view as central to the series' appeal isn't in the newest games, and evidence surfaced that the rationale given for the exclusion may have been inaccurate. While this scenario doesn't pose a significant long-term threat to Nintendo, it turned into a massive issue on social media.
Gotta catch some of 'em
Game Freak let fans know that Sword and Shield would have a reduced lineup of Pokemon back in June, but its explanation for the trim only recently came under intense scrutiny. After the game file data for Pokemon Sword and Shield were uploaded to a computer and analyzed by someone who had the games, players took to social media to point out that it appeared that the games used the same models as the last games in the series for many characters.
Two days before Sword and Shield's Nov. 15 release, the hashtag "#GameFreakLied" was trending worldwide on Twitter. The hashtag actually made it to the top of the social media platform's trending list in the U.S., and outpourings of negative sentiment also took place on platforms including Reddit and Facebook.
For a series that has revolved around catching Pokemon to be part of your battling team -- and has otherwise always increased the number of collectible characters with each mainline release, it's not surprising that some fans are upset that a significant number of previous characters are not included with the latest series installments. The last entries in the series featured roughly 800 Pokemon for players to catch, while Sword and Shield offer 400 Pokemon despite adding new characters. The series tag line "Gotta catch 'em all" may need some modification.
Other reasons fans attacked Sword and Shield
Fans have also voiced dissatisfaction with the appearance of the new Pokemon's game world and the quality of the animations for its characters. Some Twitter users highlighted Pokemon Sword and Shield's relatively bland visuals by comparing them to more graphically impressive Switch games like Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild -- another game from Nintendo that also features a large, open world for players to explore.
Flashy graphics have never been central to the appeal of the Pokemon franchise, and Nintendo's overall decision not to partake in the graphical arms race that some competitors in the gaming industry engage in has proven to be a smart move. That said, complaints that Sword and Shield are visually unimpressive compared to other games on the Switch aren't unwarranted -- and footage of the new Pokemon games showcases glitches that are surprising because Nintendo's console is capable of much-higher visual fidelity.
This is the franchise's first mainline installment for the Switch and also among the most anticipated releases for the platform. Series enthusiasts expected more. The titles have gotten mostly positive reviews and will still put up huge sales, but the negative fan reaction will likely have some impact and puts pressure on Nintendo to deliver a crowd-pleaser with the series' next installments.
What went wrong and can Nintendo fix it?
The trimmed Pokemon roster, underwhelming graphics, and visual glitches and bugs suggest that the game's developer may have run into unexpected difficulties making the game. Game Freak has mostly worked on handheld platforms -- getting its start on Nintendo's Game Boy with the first two Pokemon games, delivering a series of follow-ups for the platform, and then creating subsequent releases in the series for each of the portable systems that Nintendo released. The studio may have had trouble transitioning to the Switch and HD game development.
Pokemon is one of Nintendo's most successful franchises, and mainline entries in the series reliably wind up among the best-selling titles in their given release years. Devoting more development resources to ensure that games in the series live up to fan expectations would probably be a smart move. The company has managed to keep the franchise going strong for more than two decades, and shifting more support staff to the next Pokemon games to address fan concerns could help preserve the series' longevity.
Dissatisfied enthusiasts are sometimes written off as "a vocal minority" when they raise issues about their favorite entertainment properties. However, it's often the case that the opinions of dissatisfied hardcore fans come to be more prevalent among the broader fan base with time, and companies in the entertainment industry shouldn't be too dismissive of this kind of feedback.
Nintendo typically does a fantastic job of maintaining goodwill from its audience, and successes on that front have played a significant role in the company's longevity and ability to ride out rough stretches. Investors concerned about the company's near-term performance should monitor ongoing fan reception and early sales data for indications of how Sword and Shield are performing relative to other entries, while investors with a more long-term outlook may want to monitor what steps the company takes to remedy fan concerns.