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Nintendo Sure has Gotten Away from their “Blue Ocean” Approach

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Eiji Aonuma announced today that the long-anticipated Breath of the Wild 2 has been delayed again, this time for almost a whole year. This kind of delay will likely only hurt the final game’s prospects.

It wasn’t all that long ago that Nintendo was one of the few global behemoths that did things their own way. Instead of following the trends of the rest of the gaming industry, such as microtransactions, bloated console features, and bigger graphics, Nintendo kept to their own approach to the entertainment medium. What these internal philosophies are isn’t clear, but it seems as though lightweight, scalable, and universal are the guiding principles.

Recently though, Nintendo has shown trends away from their typical Blue Ocean approach.

A quick summary of what a Blue Ocean is: instead of competing in an existing market, create your own market (akin to a pure ocean brimming with life). Nintendo has always stuck to this highly risky business approach.

Instead of going from “home console” to “fully-featured entertainment device” the way Sony and Xbox did — by adding lots of apps that had little to do with gaming — Nintendo stuck with their lightweight and universal Wii device. It kept gaming to gaming, but expanded the audience with motion controls. They’ve also consistently resisted making games more realistic, pivoting to multiplayer extravaganzas, or implementing motion capture.

In the last few years though, Nintendo’s trends have shifted to being more conventional, with the repeated delays of BOTW 2 being the latest example.

Splatoon was a multiplayer-focused extravaganza, BOTW 1 had DLC, and they released the 3D Mario games as a timed exclusive. Despite providing their own “Nintendo spin” on these features — to mixed results — these signal Nintendo’s desire to chase more conventional metrics of gaming. I.E. How many people are talking online about us? How high is our multiplayer base? What’s our stock price?

There was a time when Nintendo only announced a game when it was close to finished. Leaving us consumers not waiting long for the next great Nintendo experience. Nowadays, they announce a rough launch window, delay it again and again, and then release something only mildly exciting.

The issue isn’t with delays necessarily, as it’s sometimes what happens when teams need more time to develop. The issue is with the consequences of delays, which typically lead to more crunch among developers, a volatile stock price, and soaring expectations from consumers on a product that might not deliver.

The excitement that follows the sinking feeling of a delay usually involves thoughts of, “well, it’s going to be so much better if they’re working on it more!” But what typically happens is teams that are already crunching hard to hit a release window have that golden opportunity to finally take a break pushed to a later date. It also dims the final quality, as the expectations are so high after such a protracted wait time that it’s difficult to meet, let alone exceed, those expectations.

Horizon: Forbidden West is a good recent example. After delay upon delay, the final product was good, but not the earth-shattering follow-up to one of the greatest games of last generation people were hoping for. There’s no real information on why the game was delayed from the hot holiday market to only a couple months out, but it only seemed to hurt rather than help the game’s prospects. The game released with a number of bugs that had to be patched quickly, the story received a mixed reception, and even more egregiously, it had to compete with Elden Ring, which quickly re-oriented the gaming media’s attention.

Had it released earlier, during a time when there were few holiday games to occupy people’s time off at the end of the year, and been given that runway between December and February to mature in the gaming world’s discourse, it could have been received better.

BOTW 2 will likely run into a similar problem. It’s not clear what the team’s reasons are for delaying, but at the very least it’ll lead to more crunch, increasing expectations, and another troubling move away from their Blue Ocean approach to a convention sadly too prevalent in the gaming world.