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The Marketing Genius of Nintendo of America

Was there any real doubt that Xenoblade was coming stateside?

Last Friday, Nintendo of America announced that the Nintendo faithful and loyal supports of Operation Rainfall would be granted one of their longstanding wishes with the stateside release of heralded RPG Xenoblade Chronicles this upcoming April.  The news came at a precarious time for Nintendo. With Skyward Sword having been released this past month, Nintendo’s upcoming release schedule was looking just a little more than barren.

In fact barren may be too kind a word to use for what Nintendo has planned for 2012.  There wasn’t a single marquee title on the horizon that Nintendo or its fans could hang their hat on; no dangling carrot that would help to get them through the dry months leading up to the presumed launch of the Wii U sometime next year.  But Nintendo changed that with just a few uploaded screenshots on their Facebook page and a blurry screenshot of a GameStop POS (Point of Sale) system.

Before you knew it, the internet was rampant with speculation that Nintendo was finally bringing the long-desired RPG to our shores and sure enough, Nintendo made it official later that day.  Xenoblade Chronicles is indeed crossing the pond this April.  Many have hailed Nintendo of America for granting fans their wish, while others have decried the company saying that it shouldn’t have taken so long to bring over a game that had already been localized for North America.

But no matter what side of the Nintendo bandwagon you fall on, you have to admit one thing:  Nintendo may very well have engineered the hype train themselves. The idea of Nintendo as marketing masterminds may be a little hard to wrap your mind around at first, but when you start to think about it, things become clearer.  In fact it’s quite likely that Nintendo was planning to give us Xenoblade all along, which begs the question: If Nintendo was planning on releasing Xenoblade in the states this whole time, why did they wait till now to announce it?

The answer is actually quite simple.  When Operation Rainfall began there wasn’t a massive amount of interest in the game.  There was a rabid fanbase that wanted to play the game, but let’s be honest – the numbers just weren’t there.  As the movement began to pick up steam it did something that Nintendo couldn’t have done better themselves.  It provided excellent -- and more importantly, free advertising for a game that most gamers had never heard of before.

If Xenoblade Chronicles had been released before Operation Rainfall in America it likely wouldn’t have sold all that well.  A small amount of ‘hardcore’ players would have picked it up, but it arguably would have been ignored by the gaming public at large since it would be seen as a niche title at best.  What Operation Rainfall did was put the game in the public spotlight.  I would wager that a vast majority of those reading this now hadn’t even heard of Xenoblade Chronicles until the Operation Rainfall movement started to gain momentum, specifically when they made it the best selling video game for a single day.

What followed was an avalanche of media coverage on a game that hardly anyone had even heard of.  People were curious as to what made this game so special, and more specifically they wanted it because Nintendo wasn’t planning on giving it to them.

When Nintendo responded to Operation Rainfall by saying that they had no intention to bring the game over at this time, it only fueled the movement – something that I believe Nintendo was counting on.  I believe that Nintendo at that point had already decided that they needed to bring the game over, but that the timing wasn’t right.  They wanted to concentrate on the flailing 3DS and Skyward Sword and understandably so.  But once Skyward Sword was out and selling well, it was time for Nintendo to make their move.

The decision to release the game in a limited fashion has only made Xenoblade seem even more special, and the idea that Nintendo has somehow acquiesced to the demands of the fans has made this title quite coveted by gamers who otherwise wouldn’t have given this game a second glance.  I myself would have likely not have bothered with the game if it were treated as a regular release, but the magic that has been meticulously woven around this title ensured that I would be in a GameStop last Friday putting my $5 down.

Nintendo has almost completely assured that Xenoblade Chronicles will be a big hit for the Wii and may end up being a system seller as well.  Some are wondering why The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower weren’t announced at the same time as Xenoblade, but I wouldn’t worry about those.  Nintendo will let us know when it’s time and we’ll be grateful for it.




12/08/2011 at 04:26 PM

Clever Nintendo, very clever....

Maybe too clever.....

Esteban Cuevas Staff Alumnus

12/08/2011 at 09:23 PM

I'm glad that Nintendo is bringing Xenoblade Chronicles to America since so many fans wanted to play it. I'm not a fan of region coding as it is so the least they can do is bring over games audiences want to play, even in limited quantities. The theory that Nintendo was just using the Rainfall movement and the word of mouth as a way to build up momentum just sounds mean though. It makes Nintendo sound like a manipulative girlfriend or something. I'd rather just think Nintendo decided to bring over the game after they saw the demand for it.

Jon Lewis Staff Writer

12/08/2011 at 10:00 PM

My thoughts exactly....sneaky Nintendo

Kyle Charizanis Staff Alumnus

12/09/2011 at 11:48 AM

It's more parsimonious to say that they weren't going to bring it over when no one cared, then people gradually started to care, and only at that point did Nintendo apply their marketing techniques to the game.

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

12/09/2011 at 11:55 AM

I'm not so sure honestly. It sounds like you're saying that, if Operation Rainfall hadn't happened, we would have gotten this game anyway. I don't think that's the case myself.

Jesse Miller Staff Writer

12/09/2011 at 01:39 PM

My point wasn't that we weren't going to get this game the ENTIRE time, it was that Nintendo was planning on bringing it to us even when they said they had no plans. That, coupled with Operation Rainfall helped to give attention to this game. Nintendo effectively used Operation Rainfall to better market the game without having to spend a single dollar.

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

12/09/2011 at 01:43 PM

I see. So you think they knew they wanted to bring it over as soon as they saw the drama, and just capitalized by sitting on it. I can see that. Thanks for clearing that up.

Kyle Charizanis Staff Alumnus

12/09/2011 at 04:59 PM

Oh, if that's what you're saying, Jesse, that makes more sense. Yeah, they probably saw a good thing with Operation Rainfall and took advantage of its increasing popularity. They still might not have been sure of what to do when they made that statement, but I can definitely see them saying "Oh, no, no plans, none at all...hehehe."

Matt McLennan Staff Alumnus

12/10/2011 at 12:51 AM

One out of three Rainfall titles is not bad at all. Xenoblade, according to my Pietriots pals, is EXCELLENT. Chris Tansley (Grubdog), however, made a great article about Operation Rainfall during its initial run.

The negativity (from the gaming press) did hurt Rainfall's purpose, but I still actively support this group. However, it still depends on our European friends and if they buy the last two.


Angelo Grant Staff Writer

12/12/2011 at 01:15 PM

From what I've heard, I'd be very excited to try The Last Story, but I would probably pass on Pandora's Tower.


12/12/2011 at 03:30 PM

damn straight, Xenoblade is a system's the reason I asked the wife for a Wii for christmas. Plus I want to get my toddler active with it, wear him down so he naps better!!

Kathrine Theidy Staff Alumnus

12/13/2011 at 05:50 PM

I think you're giving Nintendo way too much credit if you honestly believe that they planned this whole thing.

For one thing, Nintendo didn't leave it at "no plans," they said that they would be watching how the game sold in Europe before making the final decision. I'm certain that the game selling better than expected in Europe is a large part of why the game is being released here, not to try and build hype. I'm still not convinced that anyone who will buy this game didn't already want it back when it was on the NA release list as Monado: Beginning of the World. I see no evidence of that.

With the weak dollar compared to the yen, and Nintendo looking at potential losses due to slow sales of the 3DS and being forced to drop the price, Nintendo of America wasn't willing to take a chance on a game that would bring little profit at best. In fact, this limited release shows that they're still concerned about losing money on the game, and that it's a GameStop exclusive probably means that GameStop is helping to foot the bill for localization and/or distribution.

If Nintendo really were trying to build hype, then why not make it a regular release? If they really did want to make it seem special by making it limited, then why not make a "Special Edition" or "Limited Edition" that's sold in most stores? What you're saying just doesn't add up.

Jesse Miller Staff Writer

12/13/2011 at 06:01 PM

@Kathrine - But they did say they had no plans at the time...

My point was that Nintendo saw an opportunity in Operation Rainfall to drum up much more interest by letting the kettle boil as it were. Truth of the matter is, not many people wanted this game prior to Nintendo saying "We have no plans at this time..."

It's a classic example of people wanting what they couldn't have. If they made it a regular release it wouldn't have gotten a fraction of the free advertising that it did with Operation Rainfall, Forum threads and editorials like this one. It would have fallen flat and to say otherwise would be ridiculous. And selling special or limited editions of a game that no one has heard of?

If you think everyone knew what Xenoblade was before Operation Rainfall then you're dealing with an extraordinarily small and focused group of people - hardcore Nintendo and JRPG fanatics. That group alone is not big enough to support a release like Xenoblade and Nintendo knew this.

Kathrine Theidy Staff Alumnus

12/13/2011 at 06:33 PM

Do you have any evidence that no one cared about the game before, or is it all baseless conjecture?

How did Nintendo know that Operation Rainfall would come into existence before deciding to withhold the release for the time, especially considering the game was on the schedule for quite a while?

The game seemed to sell fine in Europe without needing publicity from something like Operation Rainfall, so why can the game not sell on its own merits? And look, Europe got a special red Classic Controller edition of this game that apparently no one has heard of.

What group are you thinking now knows about XenoBlade who didn't before? If you think the mainstream now cares about it, then why is it being sold in the two places catering to "hardcore"/informed gamers? Places where the average gamer won't find it?

Jesse Miller Staff Writer

12/13/2011 at 08:30 PM

You can't compare the American and European game markets - they just aren't the same. And the European sales DID benefit from Operation Rainfall and is the sole reason why the release date was originally bumped up a month - they wanted to capitalize on the movement.

And while I don't have figures I'm basing my assumptions on the fact that no one was talking about the game until Operation Rainfall launched - forums in game sites are filled with comments of people saying they had never heard of the game.

And I didn't say that the mainstream now cares about it - I said the only gamers that were really excited for it were hardcore Wii fans - who have been starved for quality titles - and hardcore JRPG fans. Xbox and PlayStation owners hadn't.

Kathrine Theidy Staff Alumnus

12/13/2011 at 08:42 PM

The American and European markets are actually very similar, which is one reason why Nintendo of America wanted to first see how the game sold there before making the final decision here.

I think no one was talking about the game much because it hadn't been released in an English-speaking country. I believe that the near universal praise the game received did far more to raise awareness of the game than Operation Rainfall could dream of. If Operation Rainfall did anything, it was convincing GameStop to strike a deal with Nintendo to release the game, something which is rumoured to be true from anonymous sources.

I also disagree with the notion that hardcore Wii owners are starved for quality titles; the only Wii owners who are deprived of quality titles are those who do not seek them out. I also don't think this game will sell to people who own other systems or anyone outside of RPG fans, but we'll just have to wait and see what happens on that one.

Matt McLennan Staff Alumnus

12/13/2011 at 10:33 PM

"I also disagree with the notion that hardcore Wii owners are starved for quality titles; the only Wii owners who are deprived of quality titles are those who do not seek them out."

While I agree with this, the releases are so few and far between. However, this was how it was with the N64 and Gamecube. And now, the 3DS. Most of this is the fault of third parties though and their lack of support.

They better as hell deliver after Nintendo unleashes their glut of games this holiday season. Because if they don't, they just missed the gravy boat and alienated an audience.

Nick DiMola Director

12/14/2011 at 08:38 AM

I'm a hardcore Wii owner and I AM starved for quality titles. I've already played anything of note and at this point the release schedule is completely devoid of anything, really. I don't think I'm the only one in this boat and speaking on Jesse's behalf, I'm sure he's right there with me.

I think it's shortsighted to say that Operation Rainfall didn't raise awareness of these titles. It mobilized the entire media and had everyone talking about all of this for weeks. Whether or not Nintendo capitalized on that is debatable, but there's no question that people who didn't know about these now do. RPG fanatics WILL buy these games, because they come from some of the most respected companies in the genre. Monolith is responsible for the rest of Xenosaga and The Last Story is from the FF creator. People want these games, regardless of the consoles they own because they are quality titles from notable folks.

I would say the only gamers who had these on their radar were die hard Nintendo fans, everyone else has been more than busy playing games on their other systems, so these aren't quite as notable because they haven't been picking at scraps for a solid year.

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

12/14/2011 at 10:41 AM

Actually Nick, I had The Last Story on my radar since I heard about it, and I would hardly consider myself a Wii fan. I have maybe 5 games for that platform total. I am, however, a classic FF fan who loved Lost Odyssey.

Xenoblade, on the other hand, I was not interested in at all until I got information overload from Rainfall. I haven't had much of a positive experience with any game that had Xeno in the title. This one looks like it will change that.

Kathrine Theidy Staff Alumnus

12/14/2011 at 08:05 PM

Nick: As someone who owns more than 1,500 games, are you sure that you're qualified to make such statements? :P

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