Nintendo seems to be settling down & picking less-strange console names

Japanese poll asks fans Do you want the Nintendo Switch OLED Mode

When the Nintendo Switch OLED model was revealed, for the most part, the gaming community was understandably underwhelmed. Many of the reports had set expectations much higher than what Nintendo delivered, but there is one aspect that fans haven’t had much to complain about: the name of the new console. The Nintendo Switch OLED model is exactly what it says on the tin, keeping things simple. This is notable because Nintendo has a history of dipping in and out of bizarre names for its consoles and their iterations, which has been a subject of ridicule and memes amongst Nintendo fans and beyond. However, it’s hard to say that any strange naming conventions have really harmed Nintendo, aside from with Wii U. It opens a conversation about whether poor console names really have any effect on Nintendo’s bottom line, and what happens when it gets it right, as it apparently has been lately?

A legacy of inconsistent naming with Nintendo

Naming sense is subjective, but being simple and conveying what a product is about is ideal in terms of marketing. Consider “Nintendo Entertainment System” and “Super Nintendo Entertainment System.” They were simple names that informed the average Joe of their functions as a game console and a better version of said game console respectively. Then compare that to the name “Nintendo 64,” which could have drawn attention due to the pedigree of the word “Nintendo,” but regular consumers might not have understood that “64” referred to its 64-bit processor, even if that era in game history was obsessed with using numbers in advertising. Meanwhile, GameCube is a fan-favorite console for Nintendo fans, and while that could be chalked up to how literal the name is, it also plays off the fact that Nintendo hardware before it shared the “Game” moniker, such as the Game Boy.

Nintendo video game console names and naming convention

On rare occasions, Nintendo uses existing names to inform its buyers of a new system. GameCube was one example, but the Virtual Boy also cleverly uses the “boy” branding established by the Game Boy. Add that to the word “virtual” referencing virtual reality, and it was an easy name to parse.

It could be argued that the Wii was too easy to make fun of and that its name conveyed nothing of the motion-controlled nature of the console. Yet, the Wii brand was a goldmine for Nintendo, eventually leading to the Wii U, which was conversely a disaster. In the same generation, the Nintendo 3DS was superseded by the New 3DS and then the 2DS, a nightmare for casual discussions. Nintendo has clearly had an inconsistent naming sense, but for various reasons, only a few consoles have truly suffered as a result.

Bad names don’t hurt the bottom line for Nintendo consoles (usually)

Conventional wisdom might suggest that the Nintendo consoles with bizarre names would suffer somewhat in sales, at least getting off to a slower start in sales. However, that’s often not the case. The aforementioned Wii was a bizarre name that shouldn’t have worked, and it became Nintendo’s most successful home console ever. Conversely, the GameCube with its “game” branding and literal description of the console performed far worse, though not enough to be deemed a financial failure. Despite the clever use of past branding, Virtual Boy also massively underperformed, whereas frustratingly cryptic handhelds like the Nintendo DSi sold gangbusters.

Nintendo video game console names and naming convention

Simply put, there is no rhyme or reason to the sales Nintendo achieves as a result of the names it gives its consoles. The one major exception to this trend would be the Wii U. Many consumers likely confused the Wii U to be just another accessory for the Wii, and the console’s dramatic financial failure reflects that. Otherwise, a weird console name from Nintendo just hasn’t seemed to matter. So, what happens when Nintendo actually does come up with a clever title?

But a good name can be an ace in the hole

Nintendo’s strange console names have had varying degrees of success, but when it gets it right, it strikes gold. The Nintendo Entertainment System shrewdly positioned itself as a source of electronic entertainment (and initially packed in R.O.B. as a sort of Trojan horse) without explicitly calling itself a video game console, which retailers were hesitant to stock after the video game crash of 1983. This resulted in the most profitable entry into the video game market a platform holder could ask for, and Super Nintendo Entertainment System carried the NES torch by being super.

Game Boy and Game Boy Color were also self-explanatory handhelds that any consumer could understand at a glance, and the same applies to the dual-screen DS family for the most part. The 3DS was a clever way of telling consumers that it was an iteration on the DS but with 3D functionality, while its upgrade to the 3DS XL used well-known clothing terminology to convey the key differences between the devices. It’s common knowledge that Nintendo dominates the handheld gaming space, and it’s possible that these names have had a part to play in that.

Nintendo video game console names and naming convention

When a Nintendo console name presents simplicity and relevance to the console’s core idea, it seems to contribute to its success. Nintendo Switch fits this bill perfectly. One word informs consumers of the hybrid nature of the console, and while interested individuals can dive into details at their own discretion, the general public understands what a Nintendo Switch is with little effort. Switch Lite and Switch OLED are also perfectly self-explanatory, and the record-breaking sales numbers of the Switch family speak for themselves. The quality of a name seems to matter little to a Nintendo console underperforming, but a well thought-out name can be a shot in the arm for a system’s prosperity. Perhaps Nintendo finally understands this, and that bodes well for the future of Nintendo’s console names.

Do you think Nintendo has gotten better at naming consoles?

Chirag Pattni
Psychologist and long time gamer. Has a love-hate relationship with technology and enjoys all things Japanese.