Heading into E3, there is usually an unparalleled sense of excitement and anticipation surrounding the impending event. That is by no means lacking this year, but with the recent release of Mario Kart 8, the pain of waiting for the show has been alleviated at least somewhat for many Nintendo fans. So instead of writing fifteen E3 anticipation articles like I have a strange urge to do, I’m going to take a step back and talk about Nintendo’s most recent release. More specifically, I’m going to talk about Luigi’s death stare and how perfectly it encapsulates so much of what can be incredibly important in today’s marketplace.
For the uninitiated, Luigi is freakishly terrifying in the new Mario Kart, giving those whom he crashes into or takes out with an item an emotionless, horrifying stare — if not an outright smile of sick, twisted pleasure. Frankly, it’s nothing short of hilarious and so, the Internet has turned it into a meme — unsurprisingly. In no time at all, videos took over YouTube, gifs infiltrated Reddit and Tumblr, and major sites were reporting on the latest meme/gif. This is one of the best things that could have happened for Mario Kart 8‘s marketing.
The Internet is becoming more and more a driving force for increasing how many people see a product. When it comes to games, that means it’s limited to gaming and entertainment pages for the most part. The problem with that is that only those already interested in games will frequent such sites. Everyone is involved in social media, however; each demographic, from kids to moms to teenage girls to the elderly, are present on mainstream social networking sites to some degree. They have a presence on Facebook, on Instagram, on Tumblr, on Reddit. These kind of websites are not just for one type of person — all types visit them.
When something goes viral, when a meme or a video appeals to those beyond a certain niche, when it makes a splash on major sites in a major way, everyone sees it and, for a product, that can be huge. Actually playing the game at a friend’s house, brand recognition and TV commercials are all still as important as ever, but the Internet has reached a point where it can influence society just as strongly. Getting the word out about a product on the Internet, where it goes beyond the group of people who already would know about the impending release, can do wonders in this day and age.
In a way, Nintendo seems to understand this. Mario Kart TV allows people to upload their best highlights not only to Miiverse, but to YouTube — and that is brilliant. Not only people with capture cards and the drive — no pun intended — to publish gameplay have been showing off the game; everyday consumers can now easily and quickly show off to their friends. In this way, Mario Kart 8 can extend beyond the normal reaches of marketing. Sharing Let’s Plays, analysis videos, gameplay tips, and the like make the game slightly more visible to the widespread Internet, but with everyone everywhere now showing off highlights from their experience, the game becomes practically unstoppable when combined with the already existing hype and critical acclaim.
Now, there is a meme, a legitimately hilarious meme that has, for a time, taken over a surprisingly large portion of the Internet. Going beyond the early discussions people have had around the release of the title, a meme is a major way to keep the game in people’s minds and eyes. Luigi looking like he wants to murder other racers keeps the conversation about Mario Kart 8 continuing with sincere enthusiasm. In my eyes, it is not unlike “I took an arrow in the knee,” if to a lesser extent.
People already talked about Skyrim constantly as it was, but with a meme being repeatedly mentioned — I saw “arrow to the knee” on social media sites where I normally would not expect to oft see references to video games — the game managed to stay in the spotlight longer than it might have otherwise. These MK8 gifs may not be as widespread, but they are certainly getting popular. They even were featured on live television via Fox News. To put it bluntly, Luigi’s scary, mustached face being all over Reddit, Tumblr, and wherever else may not utterly change the fate of Mario Kart 8, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that it is certainly helping.
This importance of the Internet is a big part of why I am so disappointed in the YouTube Affiliate Program, a new rule that splits the income from YouTube videos between Google, Nintendo, and the content creators. It keeps people from benefiting fully when they are creative with Nintendo’s products, which could mean they will be less inclined to make videos using Nintendo games, meaning fewer videos, meaning fewer views and shares, which means their games receive less visibility from gamers and non-gamers alike. Not to mention, it’s a bit of a “screw you” towards many fans who love making videos about their content, all just for a tiny fraction of what they would gain from the game sales.
It shows a lack of understanding from Nintendo about how important the crazy, wacky Internet can be, despite their proving with Mario Kart TV that they know that such things are, in fact, very influential. Luigi’s stares weren’t part of some elaborate plan to have Mario Kart 8 go viral, but through the increasingly detailed animations and the added social media features, the game was in a perfect position for something just like this. Limiting incentive for people to show off the games could keep more opportunities such as this from arising.
But either way, Luigi getting sweet, psychopathic, hilarious revenge on his fellow racers is doing more for Nintendo than anyone could have ever guessed. It’s all because Nintendo gave the tools to consumers to let their game go viral — it is just too bad they don’t quite understand how important that is yet.