Business Week has an article questioning the extensive brand loyalty many people feel for Apple, but Joystiq has spun that around and wondered just how dangerous falling in love with a company can be, in this case Nintendo. I've been on a Nintendo kick lately here at PTB (more than usual, that is) and before moving on to other things I thought this would be a good time to explain just why I love playing Nintendo products so much and whether or not brand love and loyalty is appropriate in the world of game journalism.
Joystiq suggests that falling in love with a company leads to a decrease in perceiving flaws and critical thinking. That may well be true. It's very easy for Nintendo to dangle a new Super Mario title in front of fans in order to get any uncomfortable question to go away. We get distracted sometimes, and rightly so. I know in my case I've been playing Nintendo games since I was seven years old, and if there's one thing that massive corporations love to do it's to hook children on their products early in order to guarantee that child becomes a customer for life. I'm firmly hooked and I know it. Chances are I'll be playing new Super Mario and Legend of Zelda titles long into my twilight years and telling the grandkids to get their own Nintendo consoles while shouting "Don't you dare touch my vintage Nintendo DS!" just like an old man yells at children to get off his lawn.
So, that said, why do I love the company's products? I love them because they're fun to play. As I've said before, Mario and friends have been there for me during some difficult times in my life. It's almost a form of therapy or even a coping mechanism. Then there's the times I played games with friends. That ties Nintendo products to happy social memories. Playing alone on a free weekend or evening acts as a stress relief tool. Start peeling back the layers of my life and you'll find that somewhere in the middle of most favorite memories and daily routines is a few minutes spent with a Nintendo product. How can I not love the games that has contributed so much joy to my life?
I'm also well aware that Nintendo is a corporation and its primary goal is to earn revenue, which brings me to my next point: despite Nintendo's drive for profit, the company has never (pardon the expression here) screwed me over. Nintendo hardware is rock solid. I've never had a unit of Nintendo hardware die of anything except extreme overuse and old age, and even then only once (my original 1989 Game Boy). The old 1988 Nintendo Entertainment System is still alive and kicking, as are the 1991 Super NES and 1996 N64. All of the old accessories and game paks go on without a hitch, too. When I buy something with the Nintendo name on it, I know I'm getting quality hardware that won't need a replacement in two years because some silly little part failed for no good reason.
Now that I've declared my consumer love for Nintendo products, does that taint my opinions of the company? Am I biased towards the company? Not everything is sunshine and mushrooms. I'm well aware of Nintendo's mistakes and poor decisions. If Nintendo does something I consider to be unfair towards its customers or just downright (for lack of a better word) stupid, I'll call them on it. Not everything with the Nintendo seal is going to be a good game, and I've reviewed my share of Nintendo-created clunkers this generation. I may even be more critical towards the company's games in that I know what the talented developers in the organization can produce, and when I see them toss out the annual installment of the dried-up Mario Party franchise or a bland Pokemon RPG, I know they can do better and I point that out in my reviews. I hold Nintendo products to a high standard because I know those products almost always meet or exceed my expectations.
At the professional level there is no friendship or familiarity between Nintendo and myself. It's strictly a business relationship between us when I interview developers or review products. At the end of the day though when I kick off my shoes, I do love the company's products. That's the important distinction. Love a company and you'll eventually get hurt in some fashion, but the love for a great game is eternal.