When you hear the word “Google” the first thing you probably think of is searching the internet. Likewise, when you verbalize the act of searching the internet you likely use “Google” as your verb of choice—”let me Google that” for instance.
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Few people say, “Let me Yahoo! search that” though perhaps a handful actually say “I’m gonna go Bing that” (to the blank, confused stares of their peers.)
There’s an interesting parallel to this in the video game industry.
When I hear the word “Microsoft” my mind often turns to Windows or Office. I rarely go straight from Microsoft to Xbox.
Likewise, when I hear “Sony” it’s often in reference to TVs or movies or music, or any number of other possibilities.
The brands “Microsoft” and “Sony” can mean lots of things to different people. Their video game units are relatively small pieces of much bigger pies.
Nintendo is another beast altogether. When you hear the word “Nintendo” you immediately think of video games. Indeed, for much of my childhood, Nintendo was essentially a generic reference to simply playing video games, even if we were off to play on a Sega Genesis (or whatever.)
Nintendo is synonymous with video games in the same way Google is synonymous with search. Maybe less so now than in their heyday, but that linguistic association still very much exists. And it’s still an enormously valuable asset.
This is the sort of high-tier brand recognition that doesn’t happen overnight and that only a very select few companies ever achieve. Kleenex. Google. Coke. Nintendo. Others, but not many, and often just one per industry.
Nintendo risks watering down the potency of its brand name by exiting the hardware business. “Play Nintendo” will slowly become a thing of the past. Nintendo will become just another game publisher, but unlike Sega they will have fallen from a much higher perch—and for no reason.
This isn’t to say that there’s no way for Nintendo to expand beyond what it currently offers. Some have suggested that classic Nintendo games should debut on mobile platforms, and that’s actually a pretty good idea. Nintendo could keep exciting new IPs on proprietary hardware exclusively, while still getting Mario into the hands of millions of smartphone and tablet users, like some sort of beneficent gateway drug.
But to abandon hardware completely? To offer Mario and Zelda and Metroid on Xbox One and PS4? That would be a mistake that could impact our very language. And that’s not something I’d suggest doing simply because of a Wii U flop.