Buried within an announcement of another Pokemon movie, The Pokemon Company revealed today that Pokemon X and Y for 3DS have reached sales of 12 million units. According to the company, the latest installments in the gotta catch ’em all RPG series have helped the franchise reach sales of 245 million games sold to date.
A kid asking “What’s a Nintendo?” may sound preposterous to the ears of an adult weaned on Mario and Zelda, but trust me, put an iPad Mini and a 3DS on a table next to each other, and most kids today will reach, if not jump, for the iPad. If you don’t see that as an existential threat for Nintendo, there’s nothing I can say that will change your mind. A Nintendo that doesn’t make games for iOS is a Nintendo that doesn’t reach today’s kids; a Nintendo that doesn’t reach today’s kids is a Nintendo with no future.
I’d argue this is a bit out of touch; I don’t know too many parents who don’t see a big, big difference between a $169 3DS XL1 (or especially the 2DS’s new $129 price point) and an iPad mini that retails for a minimum of $329.2
I said earlier today that these devices are in different markets; the price points simply underline that.
Hey, so people are still talking about this, apparently.
In case you missed it, lots of people are discussing Nintendo’s introduction of a 3DS system (which is crazily but accurately called the 2DS) that lacks one of the main points of the system (the glassless 3D) just to drop the price $40. This has stimulated a lot of talk about how Nintendo is doomed. To many, the only way to save the Nintendo ship is for them to start making iOS games, and quickly.
I could link articles on this all day, but I’d rather keep what I have to say. Comments or questions are welcome. Salient points:
It’s too Early to Judge the 3DS (or the 2DS, for That Matter)
Pokémon’s not out yet. Diamond/Pearl/Platinum sold 18 million copies. Black/White and sequels sold about 15 million copies. They are still making Pokémon series and movies, and people are still watching them.
It’s not as popular as it was ten years ago, but Pokémon is still a force. I predict it will drive a lot of 2DS unit sales.1
Nintendo waited two years before releasing Diamond and Pearl for the DS, just like they have for the 3DS. Nintendo plays a long game in general—but in another segment, that’s not working in their favor.
Yes, The Wii U Is a Failure, and Here’s Why
They launched the Wii U without any compelling games and a split SKU strategy that made no sense.2
New Super Mario Bros. U is actually a really good 2D Mario game, but it’s not a barnburner by any stretch of the imagination, nor does it do anything unique with the hardware available. It was the only interesting thing available at launch that wasn’t available on other platforms, and other interesting games are only just now starting to appear.
The Wii U hardware itself is pretty novel and it has some promise that’s still not being exploited properly. It’s just that Nintendo hasn’t done anything to show off what it can do to the point that I’m curious what (if anything) they had in development when they designed the hardware.
For a company that designs hardware and software in tandem, it sure doesn’t look like it (yet) with Wii U.
Wii vs. Wii U: Markets Change
Nintendo’s other mistake when launching was courting third-parties to port (in some cases pretty old) titles to Wii U for launch. I just looked at my game shelf. I have a good number of Wii games sitting there, and not one of them is a multi-platform title.
The Wii was a weird aberration; an underpowered piece of hardware with a (then) novel control system. In many ways, it mirrors the original DS. Nintendo found a success marketing to people who hadn’t been marketed to before, and captured the attention of a consumer segment that until then wasn’t interested in buying a game console.
But the Wii launched in 2006, in a pre-iPhone world. Here’s what sold on the Wii3:
- Nintendo franchises.
- Mini-game collections.
- Rhythm games (primarily Just Dance).
In 2013, the Wii U suffers from a dearth of Nintendo franchises4, mini-game collections have largely (if not completely) been subsumed by iOS free-to-play games, and the music game genre has dwindled to near-nothing due to overexploitation.
Given the current state of the games market, Nintendo’s reaching out to independent game studios is a good sign, but it’s not a compelling reason to buy a Wii U instead of something else. Much like the Virtual Console, it’s a reason to spend money once you have one.
Nintendo should do what it did with the DS once upon a time: create compelling first-party experiences using their franchises to sell units. A new IP or three wouldn’t hurt, either.5 (Nintendo hasn’t created a successful new IP since the Gamecube days.)
iOS Is (Hopefully) a Different Beast
Making iOS games is not in Nintendo’s DNA and I firmly believe they will go down fighting before they publish a game on iOS. (They have already published an app in the form of the Pokédex.)
Reasons I say this:
- Lack of physical controls (a controller API for iOS does not and will not fix this).
- Race-to-the-bottom pricing and the dominance of free-to-play, which is a game I do not believe Nintendo will want to play.
- Handheld gaming is where Nintendo is and has been in the strongest position. Even during the Wii era, there were 50% more DS units sold.
Apple’s not really competing in the same space. I agree with Lukas Mathis that the 3DS and other game systems are not the same market as iOS gaming. The use cases are fundamentally different.
I do think that this new segment of mobile gaming is stealing consumers from the more traditional handheld market. They are taking those market segments the Wii managed to reach and siphoning them off; it’s questionable traditional game consoles will see them again, though not for lack of trying.
There’s still a core audience that will continue to purchase and use consoles and handhelds. I’m not sure how much longer that’s going to last, but you should want it to if you like games. Take a look at the iOS top 25 grossing games chart and see the types of games that are in there.
I don’t want that becoming the dominant force in games, and if you care about the form, neither do you.6
All This Distracts from Nintendo’s Real Weakness
(But that’s a topic for another day.)
For the record, I’m bullish on the 2DS. ↩
So far, it’s Pikmin 3, a New Super Mario game and DLC pack, and an upcoming remake of an old Zelda game. ↩
cf. The Loudness Wars, The Megapixel Myth. ↩
Tonight, I finished up Super Mario 3D Land, which I didn’t just enjoy, I loved. It’s a great Mario game and just an all-around great game. It plays well, feels rewarding, and has an amazingly surprising difficulty spike near the end that was really challenging to get through.
You can tell almost all that from this screenshot of my game file:
As you can see, I spent some time on this one, and managed a five-star file (which is the equivalent of a 100% completion to the game). To get that, you have to clear every stage in the game with both Mario and Luigi, hit the top of the flagpole at the end at least once for every level, and complete a crazy final level called 8-Crown.
(The life counter there reads 1,084, by the way. The maximum number of lives you can have in the game is 1,110.)
It makes great use of 3D (especially some worlds that are shown top-down), has the powerups you expect, and does some novel things with the design of the game once you clear the first set of eight worlds. When you do that, there’s a second set of eight more worlds that open up, using the same basic designs but throwing in changes that make them much more challenging, like restricting the timer for a level or dropping in Cosmic Mario to chase you.
Later worlds will even combine the two, creating a tense experience that’s more like finding an optimal racing line than playing a recent Mario game. It hits that classic “pattern recognition” part of your brain that got you through the NES Mario games and drives people to speedrun things today.
It’s a nice challenge, but it did get a bit frustrating at times, as my wife will tell you when she had to put up with some more colorful language from me on some occasions. (Usually on those Cosmic Mario levels. They’re evil.) Like many good games, when you lose a life, you know it was your fault. The game doesn’t pull any punches in those last worlds and it takes some skill to clear them and grab all the Star Medals.
According to Activity Log, it took me 16:36 to clear the whole game, which was time well-spent. If you like platformers or have been disappointed in recent Mario games, I would urge you to give this one a shot. You can grab it from Amazon here.
SlashGear in proclaiming the death of the 3DS:
Unlike its predecessors, the 3DS is facing a slew of issues. For one, the 3D effect falls short for many folks, and after a while, it becomes more like a gimmick than an integral part of the gaming experience. What’s more, the 3DS’ lack of compelling games (which Nintendo says, will be addressed by the end of this year, thanks to Super Mario 3D Land), is holding it back.
But I think it goes beyond that. The 3DS is failing right now, more than any other reason, because of smartphones and tablets offering compelling gaming experiences. And when the iPhone 5 launches in the next several weeks, you can expect it to officially kill off the 3DS.
This isn’t the only thing I’ve read discussing the quandary that Nintendo finds itself in. Example: Tycho in yesterday’s Penny Arcade post, discussing the battery life of the upcoming PlayStation Vita:
This isn’t just true of the Vita, of course, this battery stuff; if anyone actually played their 3DS for any length of time, I suspect they’d come away similarly despondent, pressing buttons which don’t do anything and looking at a screen which is connected to nothing.
This is that “portability” thing when we talk about a “portable” gaming system. Portability means more than the ability to carry something or stow it on your person. Obviously, the word doesn’t mean that – it’s not bound up in the roots. But the implication is that something may be carried and still retain its function. Right? Right. This isn’t really a philosophical distinction, it’s not hair-splitting for dialectic giggles. A portable without robust power storage is not.
Handheld gaming is facing tough challenges on multiple fronts at the moment. I’m increasingly finding myself choosing to play portable games on my iPhone or iPad. I’ll go so far as to know I’m going out somewhere where I will have time, look at my DS, pick it up, and then put it back down as I decide it’s not worth the time.
The PSP was arguably always a failure; it failed to capture a solid market and was a product that never seemed to find decent footing. But the DS was one of the most successful game consoles in history, with a ridiculous sell-through and a strong appeal to the casual market as well as great long-form experiences (it’s a great platform to find quality JRPG experiences and 2d platformers). Nintendo sold through no less than four revisions of basically the same hardware—which I believe is also contributing to the market resistance to the 3DS.
Satoru Iwata believes the 3DS has a future, at least officially in response to calls for Nintendo to embrace smartphone development:
“This is absolutely not under consideration,” he said. “If we did this, Nintendo would cease to be Nintendo. Having a hardware development team in-house is a major strength. It’s the duty of management to make use of those strengths.
“It’s probably the correct decision in the sense that the moment we started to release games on smartphones we’d make profits. However, I believe my responsibility is not to short-term profits, but to Nintendo’s mid- and long-term competitive strength.”
Keep in mind that this is after the Nintendo showcase at TGS, traditionally their marquee event, caused a market reaction that sent Nintendo’s stock tumbling 5%.
For me, it boils down to the following: for $40, I can have this copy of a remake (a remake!) of perhaps the best game of all time:
For about 60 bucks (not counting buying things on sale), I can have this:
And I don’t have to go to a GameStop or similarly annoying store to buy them; I just load up the App Store, make the purchase, and download it. Some of the games on this list have provided me with longer experiences than many DS games, and certainly a better value proposition in the long-term.
This doesn’t even approach the added value of the iPad being my salvation from airplane movie selections (look; an entire TV season in my backpack!), or the fact that I do a majority of my web reading on this device (I found the articles linked in this post using various apps on my iPad). Or the fact that the same experiences are available on the phone I already have with me anyway, or that both devices have at least double the battery life (in the case of iPad, more like triple or better).
There’s a value train that left the station a while back, and Nintendo is not on board. I love Nintendo and the minds they have there designing interactive experiences. Their games were a special part of my childhood. I don’t want them to fail, and I don’t want to miss out on what they are doing (which will likely lead to my purchasing whatever the rev 2 hardware is for 3DS).
Sony finds themselves in a similar situation; an over-designed piece of hardware that will likely have compelling games but a like pricing structure and comparable challenges ahead. The Vita is sure to be impressive and looks good on paper.
But unfortunately for both those companies my money is better spent on iOS.
Lazard Capital analyst Colin Sebastian:
“We expect a late 2010 launch of the 3DS in Japan, followed by March 2011 in North America, with a price point in the $249-$299 range.”
That’s pretty funny. I highly doubt Nintendo holds any illusions that they’d be able to sell people on a new DS that cost that much more than the old ones. There are patterns to follow, just like with iPod/iPhone pricing: this will enter the market at $199, tops.