A Case of Quality Over Quantity

It’s no secret that the Wii has been inundated with crappy games ever since its launch. As Nintendo itself puts out superb, top-rate titles like Twilight Princess and SSB: Brawl, third-party developers continue to exploit the Wii’s impressive sales and simple development kit to rush a bunch of junk out the door in the hopes of making a quick buck. The only way to put a stop to this is for Nintendo to put its foot down and find a way to at least educate consumers and help them steer clear of horrid titles. Luckily, the solution is easy, as they have done it before. Now is the time for the Big N to bring back the Official Nintendo Seal of Quality.

Most of you already know what I’m referring to when I talk about the Seal, but anyone who was born after 1990 might not have the slightest idea. Basically, Nintendo adopted the Seal as a way to restore consumer confidence after the Video Game Crash of 1983. During this bleak period, the gaming market was saturated with absolute drivel, and the industry was hit so hard that it was feared that home console and PC gaming would never recover. The crash was caused not only by sub-par games, but a glut of systems as well. At the time of the crash, there were over a dozen different gaming consoles, and none of them had lockout devices or development restrictions. The resulting rush of startup companies making low quality games crippled the industry, leaving even mighty Atari a shell of its former self.

Two years after the crash, Nintendo debuted the original NES, and wary consumers wondered if they could trust yet another gaming company. The Nintendo execs came up with a brilliant solution, devising the Official Nintendo Seal of Quality to show that these particular games had been tested and approved by Nintendo, and would be free of content which parents might find offensive (Pornographic titles like Custer’s Revenge where fairly commonplace on the Atari). In addition to the Seal, Nintendo restricted publishers to releasing no more than five titles per year, thus assuring that every one of the games that were coming out would be a culmination of the developers’ best efforts.

The strategy paid off, and gaming not only rebounded from the crash, but flourished during the nearly two decades Nintendo put all approved games under the Seal. It was during these years that console gaming was revived by the NES, and games entered what could arguably be called their “golden age” during the SNES era. While it’s true that the Seal couldn’t prevent every bad game (I’m looking at you Batman Forever), it’s clear that things were much worse before the Seal took effect, and they are returning to dangerous levels of craptitude today.

The Seal was retired in 2003, with the current “Official Nintendo Seal” taking its place. The new Seal says nothing about the quality of the game it’s attached to, and merely serves to inform consumers that the product will work in an official Nintendo unit. The change was made roughly a year after the launch of the Gamecube, and most gamers would agree that it was during the ‘Cube’s lifecycle that third-party support for Nintendo’s home consoles really dropped through the floor. While the Gamecube didn’t suffer from an overabundance of software, the third-party titles which were released normally lagged far behind those coming out for The PS2 and Xbox.

The Gamecube’s troubles with quality games was significantly dampened by the fact that the console sold very poorly when compared to the other two, and too many people were busy with their Sony or Microsoft-branded console to much care for the junk that plagued the little purple box. Now however, it’s an entirely different situation, as the popularity of the Wii has only exacerbated the issue. Rather than a few developers putting out a few bad games that no one is buying anyway, scam artists are dumping tons of shovelware onto the Wii, which is being snatched up by an unsuspecting public that knows little about gaming and what a good title looks like. The time has come for someone to step in and lend a hand.

Of course, the Seal alone won’t be enough to prevent bad titles; Nintendo would also have to implement some sort of publishing restrictions in order to simply stop the worst games from going to retail. Unfortunately, this scenario is unrealistic due to the fact that the industry has grown so much over the past twenty-five years it is nearly impossible to slow down any publisher, much less stop them. Therefore, the only other viable option is consumer education, and Nintendo should take the lead by putting their mark of approval right there on the box only for games that deserve it. I’m not saying the Seal should adorn every game, far from it. I believe it should only be placed on titles that have shown themselves to be of exceptional quality and substantial customer value. Only those games which Nintendo itself would be proud to publish should see the coveted mark, and it should stand out clearly, like a beacon proclaiming, “Ignore that other nonsense, it’s me you want.” I’m not naïve enough to believe that such stringent standards would be implemented and enforced (the potential for corruption is rampant), but a guy can dream can’t he?

One argument I’m sure a few people are forming in their head is, “Why should Nintendo or anyone else be responsible for telling these consumers what they should and shouldn’t buy? It’s a free market and if they’re too stupid or lazy to research a game before they buy it then they should just live with the consequences.” This is a stance which we, as lovers of games, cannot and should not allow. Remember those times as a kid when your well-meaning parents bought you a game, thinking they were doing you a kindness? However, rather than picking up Super Mario Brothers 3 they bought Top Gun. They simply didn’t know any better, and you had to smile, thank them, and play a crappy game while they beamed at the kitchen table thinking they had done so well. They weren’t dumb, just uneducated on what makes a good game. By simply bringing back the Seal, Nintendo can help overwhelmed parents like these, who currently walk into a game store and don’t really have a clue what to buy, so they just read the back of the case and purchase the first thing that sounds interesting. With the return of the Seal and a simple marketing strategy, consumers can become more informed, and hopefully deserving titles will see their sales improve while the dreck will find itself relegated to the bargain bin where it belongs.

As a reader of this site, you have already proven that you probably know enough about games to avoid the worst of the worst. You likely check out previews and reviews of any title you’re thinking of purchasing, and you already have a fairly solid grasp of which developers put out the good stuff as opposed to the get rich quick con artists. However, with games expanding into the mainstream, we owe it to the newcomers to help them sort through the jungle and only spend their precious cash on titles they won’t regret buying ten minutes after booting it up. The media is doing its part by providing reviews, you are doing your part by telling friends what games you enjoy and what you would steer clear of, now it’s time for the manufacturers to do their part and play an active role in the process.

As it stands now, more and more shovelware is being released every month, and sadly a lot of people are buying it. If we wish to protect gaming from unscrupulous business, then the time has come to take a stand and show them we won’t turn a blind eye to awful products anymore. We all have a role to play, and it starts at the top.

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