How to make your customers hate you. Nintendo’s Melee and Splatoon 2 controversy case study

Oh boy, has it been a rough time to be associated with Nintendo by any means. It took them two extremely poor decisions to be absolutely bombarded by their own players, by the industry and by the entire gaming part of the Internet. How it all happened? Let’s get to the story.

Nintendo hates its accidentally created greatest esport scene

The year’s 2001. Nintendo has released its brand new Gamecube console and it decided to release a new version of their crossover brawler (a fighting game which is kind of a platformer at the same time) on the system – Super Smash Bros. Melee. It’s was, at the time, the only game (aside from the original N64 SSB) in which you could kick Sheik’s ass with Kirby, or to make Pikachu and Mario fight against each other untill one of them is cast into an endless void. In all seriousness, though, this game instantly became a classic and it set a standard for brawlers. Some say the game’s never been surpassed and is the best this genre has to offer. When compared to its predecessor, it’s way quicker and more precise, while it still can be played as a party game – just like Nintendo intended it to be played. The game gained a great Metascore rating of 92 and it feels good to this day.

I love that 90s aesthetics combined with early 00s models. source: gamervw.com

Cranking the tempo up, however, meant that there had to be a lot of jank in the frame data (how quickly attacks come out, how long characters recover from their attack animations and so on). And there surely was a ton of it in the game. While it usually doesn’t matter in the case of party games, the high tempo gave people an idea – what if the game became a serious competitive title? That’s when the esport scene started gathering around Melee. There’s way more to this story, though, and I’m not qualified enough to talk about it in detail. Nerd Night uploaded a great video in which Mike Kelly talks about the competitive scene of Melee.

Gamecube wasn’t selling particularily well, so Nintendo released Wii a few years after Gamecube was released. They also made a new Smash in 2008 and a lot of people liked it. However, some people stuck to Melee for a handful of reasons. Wii came out in 2006 and it took about a year and a half until the system got its Smash instalment, and the first versions of the console supported GameCube titles and controllers. At first, Melee players were happy to play Brawl, but they quickly realised that the new game’s slower and that execution is easier (I kinda chuckle when I’m writing this, since Smash players are often considered to lack any execution skills, according to a vast part of the fighting games community). It didn’t matter much that Brawl got better scores from the press (it has an impressive score of 93 on Metacritic). It simply wasn’t what the esport scene cherished. About the same time, a well known mod for Brawl emerged – Project M. It aimed to bring rapid and frantic gameplay of Melee to the newer game. It was also famous for one other reason. It wasn’t subjected to a cease and desist order from Nintendo.

source: supersmashbros.fandom.com

Nintendo hates mods and fanmade games

What do these games you’ve probably never heard of have in common?

  • AM2R,
  • Pokemon Uranium,
  • Super Mario 64 HD,
  • Goldeneye 25,
  • Super Mario Bros X,
  • Full Screen Mario,
  • The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time 2D,
  • Psycho Waluigi,
  • Zelda 30 Tribute,
  • PokeNet.

There’s a bunch of shared characteristics:

  • these are all fan games,
  • they used Nintendo’s IPs,
  • they were at least partly C&D’d by Nintendo.

While there’s a bunch of other games which Nintendo got rid of, they rarely do so for apparent reasons. There’s been a case of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD fan remake, which was halted by Nintendo but it kind of made sense, since the game could compete against Nintendo’s own remake of the game.

The dumbest takedown of them all had to be Psycho Waluigi – there are no games in which the evil and twisted counterpart of Luigi is the main character.

This is how Psycho Waluigi looks like. source: mobygames.com

Project M was in develoment for about 7 or 8 years until they decided to halt the development. Nobody knows why they abruptly stopped developing the mod – they weren’t C&D’d by the big N, but there are theories that the mod was taken down in order to prevent such an order from Nintendo – a preemptive measure to avoid problems.

The thing is that Project M was introducing mechanics and pace of Melee to Brawl and it also allowed to play the game online easily via emulators such as Dolphin.

Everybody hates netcode made by Nintendo

Melee in its vanilla version had no online functionalities, rendering the game to be impossible to be played on the web. Nintendo tried to introduce netplay into their Smash games and, let’s say, it’s far from stellar. Fighting games often struggle with netplay, but Smash Ultimate for Switch has to be one of the worst offenders. The game’s barely playable and I’d much rather play Brawlhalla (a free to play brawler) online. And Brawlhalla works bad on Switch. As a matter of fact, Switch doesn’t have an ethernet port. I’ve talked about the importance of wired connection in fighting games on this blog in one of my previous posts. This created an interesting situation due to the plague the world’s dealing with right now.

Fuck you ‚rona. source: 3mpolska.pl

Before 2020 most of the fighting games tournaments were held offline for the sake of the best possible experience for everyone involved. However, the pandemic made such gatherings, not even taking international travel limitations under consideration, quite risky not only due to health hazards, but also due to many fines which could be put on organizers or even attendees of such events by authorities.

Under these circumstances Melee players had little to no choice if they wanted to play on a high competitive level and they started using modded versions of Melee on emulators. The game had to have some sort of online capabilities, so it had to have them modded in and, it would had to be played on Dolphin or some other emulator.

This is where the first part of the story takes place

The Big House, the biggest Melee torunament in the world (afaik) was going to adapt to the current pandemic and, even though the organizers, players and attendees knew that they would miss a bunch of stuff which usually goes down during such evens, they still were quite happy to host their Melee tournament online. Using game ROMs (you can think of them as of files containing an entire game) with Slippi mod enabling netplay at a satisfying level and playing the game on emulators. There were a bunch of events following the same formula earlier this year (even ones officially endorsed by Nintendo) and everything was looking to be fine and dandy. However, if everything turned out fine, I wouldn’t be writing an article.

Slippi’s logo. source: ssbwiki.com

Nintendo filed a cease and desist order to the organizers and on the 19h of November, The Big House tweeted this statement:

The use of Slippi was said to be one of the main reasons behind the cancelation of the event. Shortly after TBH’s statement, Patrick Shanley, a video games journalist, shared this crap of a statement made by Nintendo.

I’m not entirely sure about the legality of these claims, but I’m convinced that they are at least partly false or are not backed by any evidence. The people who were going to play at the tournament most likely own an original copy of Melee (why wouldn’t they if they are pro players) and, even though using the Slippi mod most likely goes against whatever terms of use Nintendo enforces, stating that the torunament „requires use of illegally copied versions of the game” is both blatantly false (TBH never encouraged people to pirate – illegally acquire copies of Melee) and once a person legally owns a copy of the IP in question, they can do a lot, if it doesn’t infringe copyrights of the IP owner. And, aside from modding, it’s pretty damn hard to prove how these actions could be harmful for Nintendo or their profit (this game’s not been available on the market for about a decade, I believe).

The entire community of Melee players outraged and, to no surprise, pretty much the entire gaming world critiqued Nintendo’s proceedings. They were far from positive and, even though most likely legal (they could D&C the event), they opposed their community, which brought another point in the argument against Nintendo caring about their players.

Why did they do it?

Taking under consideration the fact that Nintendo has a vast history of not caring and closing fan projects, I think that they did it in order to maintain their way of dealing with anyone who may use their edited IPs. On the other hand, it’s hard to believe that there are no community guidelines at the company as big as Nintendo, so they probably tried to be consistent with them. As a professional, I can see where they are coming from with their decision, but I also have to point out how poor this decision’s been when it comes to public relations and I think that it would be better if they simply allowed TBH to run their tournament.

This spicy meme kind of sums up how players feel about the brand at the moment. source: no clue, sorry

Here’s where the REALLY messed up (and kinda awesome) part begins

There’s this game series called Splatoon. It’s a shooter game with a twist – instead of focusing fire exclusively on your enemies, it’s just as important (if not more important) to paint the area of the map with paint. It’s not the biggest deal out there, but the game has a considerable community and has two instalments in the franchise. It also happens to be a first party IP developed by Nintendo themselves, so it’s obvious that even if the game isn’t that popular, the company does something to maintain it, including tournaments.

source: myhandhelds.pl

Splatoon 2 North American Open December 2020 was to be hosted between the 5th and the 6th of December and was to be streamed. However, as an act of solidarity, about a third of all the teams which enrolled showed support to the Melee/Smash community by including the #FreeMelee hashtag and other similar stuff in their team names. So what did Nintendo do?

They cancelled the stream of the finals and released an extremely vague statement, something along the lines of „administrative problems”. The blandest and vaguest PR statement ever released.

Now, this pissed everyone off and Splatoon community, simply put, showed a middle finger to the big N and held their very own tournament, The Big Squid (as a homage to The Big House), which not only broke streaming records for Splatoon tournaments, but also topped the prize pool, by expanding it to $25000 exclusively due to donations from the players. They had to cap it and the rest of the donations went to charities.

Will Nintendo change their ways? What could they do differently?

Nope, they won’t change a thing.

The thing with Nintendo is that they seem to be too strong to fall and their sales are going to remain strong, because Switch is a great piece of gear and their game prices are stupidly high. This whole scandal surely will hurt them, but it will most likely not be a massive blow and they will recover quickly.

I think that in order to make things right, Nintendo could do a bunch of things:

  • They can stop cancelling non-profit fan games which aren’t competing with their own titles. It’s hard to believe that Pokemon Uranium (a great game, by the way) would negatively influence the sales of the mainline series. Psycho Waluigi – Waluigi doesn’t even have a game in which he’s a protagonist.
  • They can learn to say that they sometimes mess up and it’s ok to address things directly. Vague statements only can infuriate your playerbase under such circumstances. And it doesn’t have to be either Nintendo’s way or no way.
  • Adapt to the pandemic – people can’t play Melee the way they always did, so they tried to adapt and Nintendo bombarded the biggest tournament of the scene, instead of letting it slide. What would be the greatest thing? If Nintendo embraced Slippi and officially gave it a green light to be used during the pandemic.
  • Rework their community guidelines. In this day and age Nintendo’s approach is unaccetable when it comes to „supporting” their communities and there’s so much more that could be done to maintain healthy relationships within their communities and between the communities and themselves.
  • Apologise to the Splatoon community and be transparent.
  • Invest in their community management departments.

If anyone from Nintendo ends up reading this article, hit me up on LinkedIn, I’d love to lend you a hand. Prolly won’t happen, but it’s always worth to try, innit.

What do you think about this whole craziness that went down? Share your thoughts in the comments below and feel free to add me on LinkedIn and to follow me on Twitter. I’m always happy to talk about games and marketing!

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