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PostPosted: Wed Apr 3, '13, 12:47 am 
That's right. Each installment of this thread will take a look at one of video gaming's top-10 best selling franchises of all time, starting right from the top, looking at how it started, where it is, and why it works.


1.) Mario

One cannot talk about the history of video gaming as a whole without running smack into the Mario series, Nintendo's 30-year juggernaut that, in its time, saved Nintendo from bankruptcy, resurrected the North American Console Market, spawned literally hundreds of games, and been used as the cover label on almost every genre known to gaming, save fighting games and the First-Person shooter. It has outdone the next entry on this list (though mainly by its longevity, it seems) by over 2-to-1, and Mario himself is, perhaps, video gaming's most recognizable icon.

Like another franchise on this list, the Mario series was born of desperation. Following the dismal failure of Nintendo's arcade game Radar Scope, the president of the company asked Shigeru Miyamoto to design something to save their investment. Realizing that the game was too weak to be saved, he instead designed a new game that would run on the Radar Scope hardware, allowing his company to and arcade owners to convert the unsold cabinets into running the new game. He game up with the idea of a sort of obstacle-course game that involved a whole lot of running, jumping, climbing ladders, and so on, and in 1981, Donkey Kong was born, creating a franchise and eventually inviting a lawsuit from Universal Studios. The game was an immediate and huge success, becoming easily one of the best-selling arcade machines of the early 1980s, and it wasn't difficult to see why, as the game had gameplay far better-tuned and designed than many other contemporary machines. The game carried the first iteration of Mario, then called Jumpman, and so things began.

The character of Mario was supposedly named after Mario Segale, Nintendo of America's landlord in the early '80s. The arcade Mario Bros., which first introduced him as Mario as well as his brother, Luigi, became successful as well, despite the game being entirely sewer level, but Mario as a franchise did not fully take off until the release of Super Mario Bros., the pack-in game for the then-new Famicom/NES. Acclaim was immediate and universal, and, perhaps, with good reason, as Super Mario Bros. was one of the best games ever designed for the system- the controls for the game were unfailingly precise, exploration was rewarded, and through the player's toolset was limited, making the most of it was the key to success. The game was so well-loved that the Game Boy Advance re-release in 2004 sold almost 900,000 copies.

While the game started off as a series of platformers (including one game that was romhacked into being part of the franchise), the game grew to encompass many other genres and modes of play, starting, with Dr. Mario, but more famously, Mario Kart. while many franchises choose not to deviate from their original mode of play, the Mario label and characters have been used for all manner of games, such as all kinds of sports, puzzle games, racing games, third-person action games such as Luigi's Mansion, and a fairly well-loved line of RPGs that started with the first and only collaboration between Nintendo and Squaresoft, which took place during the era where it seemed that Squaresoft could do no wrong. This was especially notable because Nintendo very rarely allowed third-party developers to handle their most prized property.

Mario's breakthrough into 3D was no less successful than Mario's earlier offerings. Super Mario 64 was one of the launch titles for the unfortunately-delayed Nintendo 64 and served as the mold for all later 3D platformers on the system, such as the ones developed by Rare. SM64 placed an emphasis on exploring large areas with multiple objectives, and design decision which filtered down to games such as Banjo-Kazooie and its sequels. The game itself was no less lauded than its predecessors, and it remains one of the most well-loved Mario games, alongside its other notable cohorts, Mario Kart 64 and Paper Mario.

The franchise continues to reap large dividends for Nintendo, with the company continuing to release all manner of games containing the character for the Wii U and 3DS, including a remake of Super Mario 64- and the series's continued success can only mean good things for Nintendo down the road.

The success of the series can be pinned down to two major factors. The first is Nintendo's very careful marshaling of the brand, as the series is effectively Nintendo's first son, and boy howdy does the company know it. Nintendo, like with all of its properties, is extremely careful with who it allows to develop for the Mario series. while not all of the games have been hits, design-wise, the overall quality of the series remains high enough so that a single flop now and again doesn't reflect badly on the entire franchise, nor does it cause losses large enough to tank the franchise as a whole. There are very few properties that Nintendo manages and designs for as carefully as the Mario series, so while there may be certain iterations that a particular player may not care to play, there are very few examples of a terribly designed game that carries the Mario label.

The second is the game's sheer diversity of play. perhaps banking on its reputation as a more "kiddie" series, Mario is free to experiment in ways that other franchises are not, such as the bitter outcries that erupted when Halo got attached to a strategy game, or X-Com got attached to a first-person shooter. The Mario cast has appeared in an astounding number of different kinds of games, the franchise maintains a mind-boggling amount of flexibility in a field full of franchises that are one-trick ponies. While this may seem like a set of desperate cash-grabs to some, there is nothing desperate about them- Nintendo knows precisely what it's doing, which is why is has survived as a developer while some of its most bitter rivals have withdrawn or collapsed entirely.

Of course, Nintendo's particular brand of acumen has ended up meaning that they control not only the best-selling video game franchise of all time, but also the second-best selling as well.

Coming in part 2- Gotta Catch 'em All.

PostPosted: Fri Apr 5, '13, 5:15 pm 

2.) Pokémon

The second best-selling franchise of all game would happen to be Nintendo's other golden goose, Pokémon. The game may well have had the most successful launch of a new IP ever, it has persisted through a fair number of varying iterations, and it was a rather intensely social game before MMOs came into vogue by the very basics of its design. The first games sold so well that, if we consider that there were roughly 64 million original-spec Game Boys in circulation at the time of its release, it would mean that roughly one in every three Game Boy owners has purchased a copy of Generation 1, making it not only the best-selling Game Boy game, but also the best-selling RPG of all time. The game has spawned its own little media empire, and it's not stopping any time soon.

The story of Pokémon begins with the nostalgia of Satoshi Tajiri, a chronic insomniac and eccentric developer if there ever was one. The former fanzine editor did have a couple of earlier successes under the lael of Game Freak, such as Quinty/Mendel Palace, and Nintendo was willing to listen to his ideas due to his prior work on the Legend of Zelda. The concept of Pokémon came about, as a number of Japanese works do, from Satoshi's memories of living in the now-diminishing Japanese countryside, and most specifically the then-common hobby of insect collecting. However, the rapid urbanization of Japan diminished the opportinities for such things among more contemporary Japanese children. Satoshi's major pitch of the game was the idea that the Game Boy's ink cable could be used for more than merely competitive gaming, and so Nintendo approved the project- work on Pokémon began in 1990.

In the end, it would take nearly six years for the game to be finished. Satoshi's studio, Game Freak, was nearly bankrupted by the effort, a number of employees quit, and Satoshi himself ended up having to work for free to preserve money for the game, living off of the aid of his family. Satoshi himself ended up working extremely irregular hours, sometimes 24 hours at a stretch in order to finish the game. It was Shigeru Miyamoto's idea to create two cartridges with different monster lists in order to further encourage trading and interaction between gamers, which ended up being one of the major keys to the game's success as a social game. Satoshi was very insistent on not having battle-based death in the game- some say it's because he though there as already enough of that already in video games, and others say he didn't want kids to equate death to losing a game.

By the time the game was finished and released in 1996, the expectations for success were rather low, as the Game Boy, despite outlasting all of its competitors in the handheld market, was considered to be a dying or even dead system. However, such concerns were unwarranted- the sales of the original versions, Red and Green, were explosive, and spurred on by Satoshi circulating rumors of Mew, a 151st Pokémon that he had added to the game without the knowledge of Nintendo. An enhanced version of the game, Pokémon Blue was released later by mail-order only, which featured new spritework and dialogue. Work began on a localization and the renaming of the various Pokémon for western audiences, while the underlying game code would be based on the more sound Pokémon Blue rather than the original Red and Green.

Localization would take two years, and the Pokémon animeted series would actually start airing in the US before the release of the games- on the Pacific side, Nintendo was unsure that the game would succeed in America, and Nintendo of America was unsure that a game with such cute "monsters" would at appeal to American audiences, and requested that Nintendo "beef up" the designs for the release, but Nintendo stood its ground, and the game was released to enormous success and acclaim. The game was the subject of a paper published by the Columbia University business school that used it as a basis to declare that both American and Japanese children hold gameplay as a higher priority than graphics. Any moral panic that accompanied a new craze was not present, either, perhaps in part due to the fact that the Conference of Italian Bishops, the body of the church that determines the liturgical structure of the mass, effectively declared the franchise to be somewhere between "fine by us" and "morally uplifting" (Though it is unknown if it was followed by a blessing of the Papal Ivysaur). Perhaps most astonishing was the fact that only half of the game's enormous sales in the US occurred during the first few months of release, with the rest following over the next few years, which is a rare trend for game sales.

Nintendo followed up on this by releasing more iterations of the game, and not just for the Game Boy and Game Boy Color- Pokémon Stadium for the Nintendo 64 could also accept data from Red and Blue, and original generation Pokémon that existed in generation 1 and 2 could be traded between Red/Blue and Gold/Silver. Further generations followed, and the Gameboy Advance saw the release of remakes of the originals, called Fire Red and Leaf Green, which contained the various gameplay features introduced into the game franchise since it began. The game continued to be Nintendo's handheld golden goose, despite the fact that it was originally released for what most considered to be a system that had reached the end of its life.

There has been an enormous amount of conjecture about what has made Pokémon such an astounding success, especially considering it's popularity in the West was originally considered to be against all odds (when localization began, Final Fantasy VII had not yet blown the door open for other JRPGs to succeed in the west). However, drawing together all of the threads yields the observation that Pokémon exists at the center of a rare intersection of accessibility, complexity, and family friendliness. While the general basics of the game are simple enough to be grasped by almost anyone, the Pokémon games are, under the hood, more complex than kid-friendly games usually allow themselves to be, even surpassing the complexity of games in the Final Fantasy series. However, the games make almost all of this complexity fairly easy to digest, so the Pokémon games can carry far more depth and engagement than the sorts of games that were(are?) usually aimed at the 6-12 market without frustrating its target audience, while also remaining appealing to older players.

Like most of Nintendo's properties, but unlike many of the complex games on the market, Pokémon has managed to retain a very family-friendly image, despite the constant and honestly rather sad efforts of the fringes of internet nerddom to paint it black. Given that the late '90s was the heyday of games like Quake, Resident Evil and their respective sequels, Pokémon was and is still seen as a comparatively innocent pastime to many of the other high-billing games on the market, and is something parents of the target audience would be more inclined. The attached show, while certainly quite blatantly commercial in its own way, was seen as an overall positive influence without relying the afterthought PSAs of previous "commercial" shows, such as GI Joe and He-Man.

As such, Pokémon can be counted on to be around for the foreseeable future, as it continues racking up enormous sales despite having far smaller budget and a more narrow platform selection than the rest of today's blockbuster games.

I have also discovered that also the third best-selling franchise of all time also belongs to Nintendo. How about that.

Next time- Wii can do it!

Last edited by R-90-2 on Fri Apr 5, '13, 5:15 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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