From the first portable controller to a touchscreen before the iPhone, what you can learn from Nintendo’s experience design.
People tend to forget it, but customer experience (CX) is not a trend, a nice to have or doing the right thing. It is a business strategy. One that drives revenue through a focus on customer value, enriching relationships and reducing price sensitivity and churn rates.
Jeanne Bliss, a CX thought leader, puts forward three fundamental truths on CX strategy:
- Customers are assets, not costs
- Customer experience professionals need to earn the right to do the work (i.e. deliver results and demonstrate the value they bring)
- Most importantly, it unlocks customer-driven growth
The financial returns of customer experience have been quantified by Forrester and the internet is full of other statistics on the benefits earned from truly great experiences.
I, however, cannot help but feel that our industry has kept confidential one of the greatest success story of this strategy.
Great fun meets excellent experience design
Home devices are where Nintendo’s forward-thinking shines.
Nintendo, the Japanese video games giant, is among the greatest in customer-centric business strategies.
They launched the Game Boy in 1989, the first genuine portable console, long before mobile phones were a thing. They understood there was a desire for consumers not to be house-bound to play games. Identifying this as a significant customer pain point, they filled the gap and went on to sell more than 100 million devices.
The Nintendo DS launched in 2004 as a device with two complementary screens, one of which is a touchscreen (three years before the iPhone). It stood out thanks to a more immersive and involving experience, harnessing the possibilities brought by the dual screen technology. It is the genesis of second screen in TV: accessing related content on a different screen for a more holistic experience.
This device sold 154 million units. It is the world’s bestselling handheld device and Nintendo’s bestselling product.
But home devices are where Nintendo’s forward-thinking shines. While the market consistently works towards making more powerful devices and better looking games, Nintendo reinvents its approach to experience: each new home device brought meaningful change from its predecessor.
Let’s analyse how Nintendo masterfully harnessed customer-centric strategies and design through the examples of the Wii and the Switch.
Nintendo Wii: Immersive gaming made real
Launched in 2006, the Wii aimed to expand the gaming market to a larger and more mainstream audience while catering to its historic customer base. Centring the gaming experience around a motion-sensitive remote, the Wii brought a unique touch to entertainment , which pleased both new and existing customers.
Here’s where Nintendo got design right: they put the gaming experience ahead of product specifications and performance.
A player could physically swing the baseball bat, throw the bowling ball and shoot at enemies. I recall playing a survival-horror game when younger, lights off (fully immersed) and reaching an apex of tension… and be terrified. So terrified, I cowardly stopped playing and did not resume for months – something I never experienced before with the competition.
Here’s where Nintendo got design right: they put the gaming experience ahead of product specifications and performance. A cross-platform game was less pretty on the Wii, but the experience was superior. The trade-off was a no-brainer for customers: they’d rather be immersed in the experience, shooting enemies, slashing monsters or driving their kart, than sitting in front of a slightly better-looking game.
The strategy clearly paid-off, as the Wii sold more than 100 million consoles worldwide, 20 million more than its two competitors – all thanks to a differentiated experience.
However impressive the Wii was from a design standpoint, the Switch is Nintendo’s true masterpiece.
The Nintendo Switch: The ultimate CX console?
The Switch, brought gaming to a new standard at its launch in 2017, like the Wii did a decade before (2006).
Meeting customers on their own terms is also key to the experience design.
Nintendo took one of the business’ greatest challenge – providing a truly omni-channel experience – and made it core to the design of the Switch. It is a console that can be played connected to your living room’s TV, on a table on its own or anywhere else, on the go.
Meeting customers on their own terms is also key to the experience design. A remote can be used in multiple ways: by one or two players, joined up, separated or attached to the screen, or even as a more traditional and mainstream remote. Motion sensors embedded on the screen enrich the gaming experience further through puzzles and in-game features.
Most important of all is the Switch’s unique ability to fit around the customer’s life, without compromising on the gameplay or the experience, regardless of playing mode – more than ‘omni-channel’, it manages to go beyond the concept of channels, very much like customers do when they think of a business.
This customer-centric design is critical as it enables the Switch to deliver more value and go beyond experience.
Nintedo: The CX transformation game-changer
Joe Pine and James Gilmore identified back in 1999 in their seminal book “The Experience Economy” that businesses move from commodities, to goods, to services, to experiences to transformation. Transformation is the ultimate stage of evolution, where customers benefit personally and grow thanks to the experiences with the console – this is the standard achieved with the Switch.
Nintendo’s customer-centric strategy earned them their most profitable quarter in the decade.
Taking a personal example once again, the Switch enabled me to increase my attendance at the gym and workout far longer, more frequently and consistently than ever before. It provides me with engaging, entertaining and flexible entertainment in a way that no other console ever could (most of handheld consoles requiring the two hands to be joined up in holding the console in order to play comfortably).
I went from dreading exercising to not minding it and, surprisingly, wanting to stay longer than planned (to finish that one level of that great game).
With the Switch, Nintendo reached the last stage of the experience economy, enabling a healthier routine, fitting around, enhancing and transforming lives – a claim that currently no competitor could credibly substantiate.
Nintendo’s customer-centric strategy earned them their most profitable quarter in the decade; raising their profit forecast by a third.
The gaming company has reached the exclusive milestone of selling more than 100 million units (therefore earning more than £10 billion in revenue) for three of its products, which also happen to be three of the five bestselling consoles of all times). Hopes are high for the Switch to join this very select club.
Nintendo’s success demonstrates that leading product and experience design with the customer in mind will ultimately pay off and unlock customer-driven growth. The company has been able to prove time and time again, across the decades, that making next practice a reality is not only a profitable strategy, it’s the most profitable strategy of all.