Anything you can do, we can do better…
Ah, where to begin on this one?
It would seem that companies such as Nintendo haven’t learned how to deal with the prosumer culture in the post-millennium age. Of course there is the obligatory DMCA for things like Another Metroid 2 Remake (AM2R) which was/is a fan made recreation of Metroid 2 with luscious graphics (updated to a 16 bit feel), but more importantly (for this post) I’d like to touch on Nintendo’s latest prosumer blunder:
The NES Classic Edition.
A little back-story is in order here.
So essentially, Nintendo had this bright idea to make a mini version of their classic NES system pre-loaded with 20 NES games. This seemed like a great idea for nostalgia collectors the world over, except there are a few problems if you’re keen to notice.
- It’s essentially a customized emulator on hardware
- It only offers 30 games to play
- Nintendo completely screwed up the supply chain
What ended up happening is that Nintendo simply didn’t make the supply of these NES Classic systems high enough for the demand, and in fact had restricted the supply so much that they ended up sold out before they even went on sale to the public. Whether this is because of scalpers buying the entire supply of a store, or the store employees themselves buying them up before they went on sale, what we can say is that as a result of this extremely limited supply, the NES Classic is now showing up on eBay being resold for as much as a few hundred dollars per unit.
If we haven’t learned anything from this situation (or prior situations), then as a company you’ll just sit there with a smug smile thinking you control the entire supply and demand process, and that the peasants will take whatever you give them.
Which, we should all know is patently untrue these days.
The consumer actually has more choices than whatever Nintendo is willing to offer when it comes to this, and it is Nintendo themselves who created the situation by which the consumers would opt for those alternatives instead of paying Nintendo for a coveted NES Classic, or paying an arm and a leg on eBay for one on auction.
This is, after all, the age of the prosumer (as I’ve outlined before); Which is to say that when a company who owns intellectual property doesn’t offer what the consumers want to buy, those consumers will now go ahead and make something better themselves and ignore the company.
A company such as Nintendo, in their archaic thinking, simply sends their lawyers out with a DMCA storm and threats of lawsuits to take down the content and kill the projects. Of course, these fan-made games comply and take down the direct links to the files being hosted. The lawyers at Nintendo pat themselves on the back and move on, thinking they’ve killed the Hydra.
Of course, we should all know better than that.
This is the Internet. So long as somebody, somewhere, has a copy of the installation and people want access to it, then that access will be made available all across the world in hundreds (or even thousands and millions) of locations and methods.
In effect, the people of the world will simply mirror the files all around the world, or they will put them up on Bittorrent sites for peer-to-peer sharing.
Companies like Nintendo are the sort that believe cutting off a single head of a Hydra is enough to have killed it, when in fact the Hydra simply grew thousands of heads and continued on whether they liked it or not.
This is historically known as “The Streisand Effect”, named after an incident where a photographer took pictures of Barbara Streisand’s house and put them online. Barbara Streisand promptly tried to file a cease and desist (DMCA) to get those pictures removed from the Internet, which the photographer complied with but then the entire Internet made the pictures available in thousands and millions of locations around the world as mirrors.
Barbara Streisand’s Estate in Malibu, California
The Streisand effect is the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet. It is an example of psychological reactance, wherein once people are aware something is being kept from them, their motivation to access and spread the information is increased.
It is named after American entertainer Barbra Streisand, whose 2003 attempt to suppress photographs of her residence in Malibu, California, inadvertently drew further public attention to it. Similar attempts have been made, for example, in cease-and-desist letters to suppress numbers, files, and websites. Instead of being suppressed, the information receives extensive publicity and media extensions such as videos and spoof songs, often being widely mirrored across the Internet or distributed on file-sharing networks.
You would think that nearly 15 years later, companies would already know this and try to avoid the consequences. But alas, they continue making the same, tired, mistakes.
Obvious Disclaimer is Obvious: Blah blah, not condoning piracy. Downloading these are at your own risk. Nintendo reserves the right to kick in your door and force feed you 30 year old Nintendo Cereal while holding your eyes open like in A Clockwork Orange to make you watch the Super Mario Bros Super Show on endless repeat… later beating every coin from the Mushroom Kingdom out of your mooching ass. Links listed here purely for educational purposes…
Once again, the Prosumer wins, and Nintendo spends a stupid amount of time and money trying to shut down something while only throwing fuel on the fire.
Let’s make something clear:
In the age of the prosumer, it is completely pointless to try and stop the proliferation of something. There is supply and demand – and if the companies which own these intellectual properties are not meeting that demand, then the consumers who want such things will meet the demand themselves. The prosumer isn’t going to bother asking Nintendo for permission to do something, either (let alone any other company). They are just going to do it with or without you.
I know, it sucks ass right? If you’re a company with IP, you’re likely losing sleep over all of this and slamming your fist on the table in board meetings trying to figure out how to stop this proliferation of unauthorized media.
The sooner you come to grips with the realization that you cannot control the entirety of your IP, but with some common sense, you can help guide the direction of it and reward good behavior, the easier this is going to go in the long run.
If you make any attempt to stop the proliferation of your Intellectual Property in a hyper-connected world, you will more than likely fail miserably. Of course, you also have to come to grips with the reality that “good behavior” is entirely redefined in the modern age.
The only thing you can do is see the demand and meet it with a superior product. Barring that, you need to have a plan in place which collaborates with the prosumers to create those products. You may not exercise authoritarian control over your IP in this case, but at least you get to have some manner of say in what happens, giving hard limits to the prosumer you’re working with but ultimately letting them express their creative freedom.
So, back to the NES Classic and Nintendo’s blunder (once again).
As I’ve established, it’s essentially running an emulator… and it comes with 30 NES games built in.
That is Nintendo’s first mistake. Breaking the first rule of Prosumer culture is sure to do you in -
If you are appropriating something that the prosumer community already has had access to for many years, and trying to pass it off as your own, you had better bring something to the table which is superior than what the prosumers already have or else they will.
In this case, Nintendo thought appropriating an emulator and branding it for themselves was going to win them brownie points. This falls under the thinking “We can release an emulator but you can’t because we think it’s illegal”.
Which is a total farce at best, and sleazy corporate practice. Some jack-ass in a board room somewhere thought it was a brilliant idea to grab a free emulator, throw in a few games and repackage it for sale.
It would be a good idea if it wasn’t for the fact that much more powerful emulation options exist, in the same package, for less money, on pretty much every conceivable system known to mankind.
In the case of the NES Classic, there is the RetroPie Arcade.
Lesson 1: Don’t try to pass off an inferior emulator when better options exist from the people who originally made the emulators and hardware.
For instance, you can simply get a Raspberry Pi 3 kit and emulate pretty much everything from NES, SNES, N64, Atari, Arcade Games, Master System, Genesis, Playstation, XBox, Gamecube, and more all on the same system.
And of course, we (as prosumers) can simply 3D Print an NES Classic shell to house it all in. But then we can go one step further (because why not?) and 3D print little NES Cartridges that actually work in the Mini NES via NFC Tags.
This is something Nintendo should have thought of, honestly… because this version of the NES Mini that somebody simply built themselves is by far superior in every conceivable manner to the official NES Classic.
With the NFC Mini NES Cartridges, Nintendo could have had a product that could expand indefinitely, and opened the door to selling the entire NES library as additional games beyond the built in 30 games.
How would that work, you may ask? Let’s take a look…
Well, since the NFC is really just telling the system what game to load from a pre-installed list, and the NES Mini (Pi3 version) has Bluetooth and Wi-Fi access built in, it could just download the game if the person doesn’t have it already.
And when the owner doesn’t have the mini-cartridge to plug in, the owner just doesn’t get to play it (I guess). But then Nintendo would be back to square one by trying to limit the options through their own channel when the prosumer can build something better that allows people play literally every classic game that exists in a single package.
To be perfectly honest, the entire NES Library itself only takes up roughly 200 MB of storage (I just checked).
Let’s say the NES Mini had a built in storage capacity of 32GB, as these flash storage mediums are pretty cheap now at the 32 GB range (about $40 retail).
Then a fully functional NES Mini can hold every NES, SNES, N64, Master System, Genesis, etc game and probably have room to spare.
Here’s the breakdown -
The entire SNES library clocks in about 1.2GB, the entire NES library clocks in about 200MB (including Famicom Disk System games), and the entire N64 library clocks in at about 7.5GB total. You could easily throw in the entire line of Gameboy games (Gameboy, Gameboy Color, Gameboy Advance) and still not hit the end of that storage.
So let’s say Nintendo put the entire NES through N64 library on an NES Mini… they would only be using about 10GB of that 32GB storage. Well, Nintendo can’t do this because the legal hoops they have to jump through due to all the third party publishers and their games would be ridiculous. But this highlights a major flaw in the way companies do things today concerning the usage of Intellectual Property – in that just because Nintendo can’t do it, doesn’t mean the Prosumer isn’t going to do it.
And in fact, they already have done it. Just because companies and IP owners can’t get their collective shit together and unify on the same page for the greater good doesn’t mean the prosumers aren’t going to skip them and do it without you.
So we have an NES Mini with a functional NFC reader, loaded with every game from multiple systems and built in emulators (plural) from multiple classic systems.
Well damn, son… the Prosumer kicked your ass.
Look at it like this:
Companies are like the overblown, clueless Villains and the Prosumer Culture is essentially One Punch Man. They will collectively kick your ass in a single blow, and not even be trying, while you will be throwing literally everything you’ve got at it. Just by getting into the fight, you’ve already lost and haven’t realize it yet.
Your only hope is to work with them and not try to defeat them.
Rule #1: Work within the system
You may not have defined that system or the culture that resides in it, but you are ultimately subject to it whether you like it or not. The same holds true in general (The Internet) and billions of people worldwide. The times are changing, and we need to evolve to work within these new sets of rules or we will ultimately be our own undoing. (See also: Blockbuster Video)
And that’s the point of today’s post.
Nintendo (and really any company) should ask an all important question before they try to release a new product based on their existing intellectual property, or file a DMCA notice, or incorporate some sort of DRM technology:
Is there a better option available than what we are about to do, and if so, can the consumer make it on their own? How can we work with them for the mutual benefit of everyone involved?
Then, of course, if the answer to that question is a resounding Yes, then the company should reach out to the community first and see about a collaboration to make that new thing with them.
Ironically, it is Nintendo themselves that already used this to their advantage in the creation of Super Mario Maker.
How in the hell Nintendo got it right and then promptly forgot everything they just learned is beyond me.
In the case of AM2R and Pokemon Uranium, Nintendo should have offered some sort of partnership, clearly denoting those games as Fan-made and not officially from Nintendo, but existing with the full blessing of Nintendo. The same would be true in the case of the ingenious NES Mini design… except that they could have reached out to enterprising prosumers online asking if anyone wanted to design a better version of what they were thinking about – ie: Nintendo explains the premise and what they would like it to do, and why… and then see if any prosumers (fans) can make it better. Then Nintendo would work with those fans to create the end-product that is far superior.
This is how a company should operate in the age of the prosumer culture. Because the prosumer culture is going to operate like this with or without you, and trying to cut off the head off the Hydra isn’t going to slay the beast, but instead just make it multiply.
In the Age of the Prosumer, you either have the most powerful ally in the world on your side (your biggest fans) to create amazing things, or you’re fighting the most powerful collective in the world (your biggest fans) and losing.
When in Rome, Nintendo… Do as the Romans do.
In case you were interested in the details of how the NES Mini was created, you can find those details here: http://www.daftmike.com/2016/07/NESPi.html