Winners & Losers: Nintendo powers up, Ladies loathe Lego

Mario and company finally concede that maybe these smartphone things are here to stay

 

▲ Nintendo

The princess you seek is in another castle

Nintendo characters Luigi and Mario
(Nintendo)

The Japanese firm is doing something it should have done long ago: reissuing Battletoads. Wait, sorry, that’s just a secret wish of ours. What Nintendo is actually doing is finally getting into mobile gaming. Nintendo this week announced a partnership with Japanese mobile gaming firm DeNA to produce games for smartphones and tablets, bringing storied franchises like Super Mario Bros., Pokemon, and Metroid to a much wider audience. Nintendo has refused to license its characters for mobile games in the past, believing that it would cannibalize sales of its own consoles and handheld 3DS systems. Company president Satoru Iwata even told the Wall Street Journal in 2013 that “we may look back at the decision not to supply Nintendo games to smartphones and think that is the reason why the company is still here.” It was a strange thing to say as the company’s finances were struggling; sales totaled more than ¥1.4 billion in fiscal 2010, but dropped to ¥571.1 million in the last fiscal year. Meanwhile, mobile gaming exploded. Market research firm Newzoo predicts mobile gaming revenues will total US$30.3 billion this year, eclipsing console revenues for the first time. Nintendo will finally get a piece of that action, and given the prominence of its video game characters, the shift in strategy could pay off. Investors certainly like the idea, and sent the company’s stock soaring roughly 40% this week. Now if only Nintendo could build in Power Glove functionality.

▼ Lego

Blockheads

Man made of lego opening his chest cavity so that blocks spill out
(Lego)

Is your seven-year-old daughter experiencing anxiety over the shape of her face? Is her little square face streaked with tears because she can’t figure out a hair style to suit her? Is she aware facial shapes are even a thing? Luckily, Lego is here to both stoke and soothe her worries. The company’s Lego Club Magazine, a publication for children, ran a spread in its most recent issue called “Emma’s Beauty Tips!” that advised girls on proper hairstyles for various facial shapes, and featured a photo of mini-figurines from its Lego Friends line hanging out at a beauty salon. New York Times columnist Sharon Holbrook wrote that her seven-year-old daughter suddenly became concerned about the shape of her face after seeing the article. “My little girl, the shape of her face, and whether her haircut is flattering are none of Lego’s concern. It wasn’t even her concern until a toy magazine told her to start worrying about it,” she wrote. The article sparked outrage online for perpetuating outdated gender stereotypes and instilling image anxiety into young girls. Lego addressed the controversy this week, with Michael McNally, an oval-faced senior director of brand relations, saying the article was written in response to reader demand for an advice column. “We sincerely regret any disappointment it may have caused,” he added. That’s not exactly the same thing as regretting publishing the article in the first place, of course, and the blunder offers more proof that Lego is somewhat incapable of marketing its products without resorting to these kinds of stereotypes. The Lego Friends line, targeted specifically at girls, has been controversial for this reason since its release in 2011. (With Lego Friends, girls can build pink and purple shopping malls, beauty salons, and yachts.) While Lego has taken steps to present more women characters in diverse roles, such as by mass-producing a line of women scientist mini-figs, the beauty tips article will likely erode some of the goodwill the company has built up.

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