Let's talk about interactive children's entertainment, children's literature, and magic

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March 26, 2011

The Nintendo 3DS

Nintendo's Fads, Microsoft's Sweet-Spot, and why Children's Literature is Awesome

Nintendo's Official Seal of Quality in NTSC re...Image via Wikipedia

The first thing you need to know about Nintendo? The blue ocean strategy: basically, this means creating a market where one never existed before, rather than fighting over pre-existing customers.

Nintendo did this brilliantly when they introduced the Wii  in 2006. Microsoft and Sony were fighting to the death over  18 to 34 year old males, offering expensive hardware that required tons of investment and huge costs of goods on every console sold.

Meanwhile, Nintendo said 'let's get everyone playing video games, regardless of age or gender.'

Creating entertainment products for everyone is the goal of any good story/mythology (again, the 4 quadrant film I mentioned last week). If you want to appeal to everyone, you have to aim your product towards the lowest common denominator--such as kids (or in Nintendo's case, anyone outside of the 18-34 year old demographic).

That's why children's literature rocks: done well, there's something there for everyone. People didn't read Harry Potter because it was literature--they read it because it was friggin' awesome.

Nintendo's hook, of course, was the revolutionary motion sensor that replaced button combinations with life-like movement. Instead of making complicated video games , they made them really, really, simple.

Attending E3 in 2005, I realized that Nintendo's philosophies were a lot like my own. I'm the least competitive person I know, so the Blue Ocean Strategy is very appealing. It's why I went into video games instead of the film industry after grad school, and why I write children's literature in LA instead of screenplays.

It wasn't till several years later that I realized how Nintedo's system, while fun and engadging, didn't have legs like the Xbox 360 or the Playstation3. Fads come and go...so did the Wii. A few months ago Microsoft came out with KINECT, which is like a bzillion times better...

...but while Microsoft was making something a bzillion times better than the Wii (and spending a bzillion dollars in the process), Nintendo was preparing the next fad. It's the same thing here in Hollywood. Non-creative execs are still trying to make movies about teenage vampires because of Twilight, totally oblivious to the fact that no one in publishing can stand the thought any more.

The Nintendo 3DS is the first 3D handheld game system. Everyone is going to want one...until they don't. Did I forget to mention that it might cause permanent eye damage in kids under 6? (A sidenote, Nintendo played this brilliantly, flooding the news media with press releases about the 3DS helping diagnose vision problems instead of causing them.)

Around 2007, I was working on a video game adaptation of Alvin And The Chipmunks, an experience that ultimately revealed the most ironic thing about the Wii: The Wii is so ground-breaking and ahead of it's time...that Wii games were really, really, really, ridiculously hard to make. (Rule number 1 about Nintendo: You never buy a game for their systems unless Nintendo made it. What that means is, Nintendo is the only one making money.)

The Microsoft LogoI
Because of this, Microsoft seems poised to really do some groundbreaking things in the next few years, because their products are finally appealing to everyone, and they're totally committed to
third party support (they're a  
      software company, after all).

A successful children's book needs to do similar things--it has to be groundbreaking, and new, and offer kids something totally new (Alvin and The Chipmunks did this in 1958, using the technical innovation of double speed audio playback to make characters sound like nothing anyone had ever heard before). At the same time,  it also has to have traditional roots, so the professionals who work on branding it can relate, and ultimately profit from its content.

People of all ages are going to encounter a 3DS and, like the Wii, get some enjoyment out of it--not just because it's fun, but because it's the hip new thing.

But the fad is a double edged sword, isn't it? They're gone as fast as they arrived, and if you don't own the next best thing, you better play the traditional game really, really well.

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