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Indies Beware, Mario may Hop on Droid/IOS Platforms

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Nintendo apparently disappointing with WiiU sales is exploring the possibility of porting titles to IOS and Android to compete with the growing mobile games market and shift of gamers from the console back to open platforms. Browser and mobile OS support of GPU hardware certainly makes it possible.


From Bloomberg Financial News 1/17:


“We are thinking about a new business structure,” Iwata said at a press conference yesterday in Osaka, Japan. “Given the expansion of smart devices, we are naturally studying how smart devices can be used to grow the game-player business. It’s not as simple as enabling Mario to move on a smartphone.”

Nintendo American depositary receipts fell 17 percent to $14.90 yesterday New York, their biggest decline since September 2001. Each ADR equals 0.125 underlying shares.

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I don't really see this as an issue at all.

Major publishers like EA, Activision, Zynga, Capcom, Disney, have already jumped on the mobile bandwagon.

The game console vendors (Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony) have oddly been slow to accept mobile devices. They don't want to threaten the money that comes from console sales, they don't want to threaten developers who license their technology, and antitrust concerns on the global market are very real. I have been confused to why they don't release apps that provide interactions with their systems, for example an app that integrates with PSN or XBL at the very least.

I can understand quite a few reasons why they might be reluctant to release mobile games. When you have a large, successful business model that is almost entirely dependant on third parties you want to ensure those others are happy. Consider: Most mobile titles fail to make much profit, and porting AAA titles have resulted in more flops than successes. Suppose Sony does produce a new God of War or SOCOM or Twisted Metal for tablets and phones, if they have a small budget it will likely fail, if they have a big budget it will likely not be profitable. It is a week value proposition with a huge risk that doesn't make much sense for a large corporation. I they start moving games to other platforms and somehow anger studios developing the titles that propel the console business, how much money to they stand to lose in license fees, unrealized sales, and losses in the console marketplace.

Nintendo is probably the safest of the three in that regard, with Microsoft a close second.

Nintendo has never really had much of a network play situation, it has always been based around people who can share the couch. Their systems are driven mainly by first-party sales so it might slightly harm the console, but they are pretty good at putting out small and tight projects and could do well.

Microsoft wouldn't want to put the xbox at risk, but they do have their own lines of tablets and mobile phones. Unfortunately they don't really own any good game IP directly. They could work with Bungie and get a Halo game, or work with Lionhead, Twisted Pixel, or other studios they bought and update some of their older properties, but those are all long shots. As long as Microsoft limited itself to Windows Phone and MS Surface rather than Android and iOS the third parties wouldn't have much to complain about.

Sony is an interesting beast. Sony globally is huge, and games represent only the tiniest fraction of their interests. Sony's first party games are also a tiny fraction of their console market, with almost everything depending on third parties. Sony has very little to gain and much to lose by taking risks on Android and iOS. They will probably do nothing until both Nintendo and Microsoft have established what is safe and acceptable.

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Their WiiU might be selling poorly, but on the other hand, their 3DS handheld is dominating hard and doing fantastically in hardware and software sales.
I wonder if Sony or Microsoft might not cut Nintendo a deal for putting Nintendo on their consoles; but I don't see why Nintendo would want to sell their IP at $10 or less a game on iOS and Android, when they are currently selling them for $40 a game, quite successfully, on the 3DS.
Yeah, yeah, there are billions of iOS and Android devices... but not all of them are smartphones, not all the smartphones are good, not all the smartphone users are gamers, not all the gamers are interested in Nintendo's flavor of games (though Nintendo could very easily adapt - gameplay-adapting to devices is Nintendo's specialty), and Nintendo would be fighting for store positions against Angry Birds and other such games, would give up 30% of the revenue, would lose the revenue cuts other developers currently pay Nintendo, would get pirated like you wouldn't believe, wouldn't control the hardware (a long-term important key to Nintendo's success up to now), would be developing games across a configuration of hardware instead of a consistent platform (something I think Nintendo would have a problem adapting to).
As you quoted yourself: "It’s not as simple as enabling Mario to move on a smartphone."
Nintendo dropped the ball majorly on the WiiU (as badly as they did with the GameCube). I think it'd be financially better for Nintendo to cut a deal with Sony for this console generation, while developing better plans for the long-term.

Microsoft wouldn't want to put the xbox at risk, but they do have their own lines of tablets and mobile phones. Unfortunately they don't really own any good game IP directly. They could work with Bungie and get a Halo game, or work with Lionhead, Twisted Pixel, or other studios they bought and update some of their older properties, but those are all long shots.


[Edit:] (Bah, completely skipped over the key qualifier, "studios they bought" - all the below was based on me missing those three words. ph34r.png)


While Nintendo is the king of IP, and Microsoft doesn't even come close, Microsoft does have some IP they could be doing a better job to leverage to their advantage, whether to push the XBox or to push WinPhones and tablets.

Microsoft doesn't have to work with Bungie - Microsoft retained the Halo IP after Bungie bought back their independence. Now Halo is developed by an internal Microsoft studio (343 Industries - created by Microsoft solely to manage Halo). That leaves Microsoft perfectly free to make Halo smartphone games to try to motivate people to migrate to WinPhone8.
Another good IP that Microsoft owns that would translate well would be Age of Empires (hey, I own a Microsoft-approved Age of Kings port for Nintendo's DS console. Pretty poor quality though).
Other than those two games, Microsoft owns a few game studios that have a little bit of IP that might be worth using to promote Win Phone 8: They own Rare, and thus, Banjo and Kazooie, Perfect Dark, and uh, Conker's Bad Fur Day (not sure how popular that one is, but I've at least heard of it before). Forza Motorsport I guess, and Viva Pinata (Viva Pinata might translate its characters well to small mobile games).
You mentioned Lionhead Studio (Fable, Black & White) and Twisted Pixel Games - both are wholly owned by Microsoft (1st party studios).
Microsoft might also own the IP to Lost Odyssey and Blue Dragon. They partially financially funded the startup of the development studio, then they (Microsoft and the studio) split up and Microsoft possibly retained the rights.

Edited by Servant of the Lord

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Yeah, that was a rather important detail.


For the console makers Nintendo clearly has the best portfolio for marketing on the mobile devices. It is narrow, but deep.  The entire Mario franchise with all the characters are extremely popular and would sell no matter what the platform. That single franchise ranges from Donkey Kong and Mario through characters in the current games. They also have the Zelda franchise. They have deep connections with Pokemon and that could also sell extremely well on phones and tablets. Apart from those, they don't have much that is easily marketed.  Deep, but narrow.


Microsoft's got Halo which is moderately popular, but still nothing compared to the depth of Nintendo's cornerstone.  Besides Halo they really don't have anything that is active and buzzworthy. They could try to resurrect Age of Assorted Governments, or B&W, or some of the older franchises, but none would carry much weight. The games themselves were fairly popular at the time, but probably not enough to justify the cost of a series reboot.




I think all three of the console makers have missed the boat on this one as far as software goes. The hardware will sell, Nintendo will drive Nintendo hardware sales, third parties will drive Microsoft and Sony hardware sales, but I don't see any of them succeeding at software on Android/iOS mobile. Maybe in four or five years they will be able to catch up, but I don't see any of them taking a leadership role in the near term.



Of all the major players out there, I think EA is in the best position in mobile. They had the steady stream of apps back on the J2ME-era phones, and they must have been profitable or they would have stopped. They made the transition to today's mobile environment relatively smoothly by pumping out classics (both modern and old) such as Tetris and Bejeweled variations, plus the usual annual sports titles on every platform in the universe. Their Hasbro license is still making gobs of money with variations of Monopoly, Life, Scrabble, and assorted other popular titles. They had a few missteps in mobile but overall seem to have trended pretty well, far better on average then the competitors.  Some of their purchases have paid off, such as Popcap that was felt as overpriced at the time, but with games like PvZ2 with Apple giving 'truckloads of money' to delay the release, it seems the investments worked out. They also have a very broad portfolio of IP and are airing out classics with Mortal Kombat and Ultima reboots. 


Zynga's a distant second, but they seem to be in a death spiral for general games. They have two product families that are good but seem in decline, the Something-Ville family and the "With Friends" franchises. Everything else they release feels like one-off titles rather than long-living franchises. They lack both the breadth and depth of EA's massive portfolio, and it feels like they are still too much of a hit-and-miss with products requiring SaaS connections and vanishing quickly and noisily. It seems last year they made more negative news with all the games they closed rather than news with new products. All we hear is "OMGPOP is closing!", "CityVille2 is closing!", "Mafia Wars is Closing!", "PetVille is Closing!", "YoVille is closing!", and so on. Nothing about new amazing products. They dropped from $1B down to $400M for a while. They only new thing is their real-money gambling. Sure the gambling has potential to make a lot of money, but certainly limits their growth geographically and in the mobile market generally.


I think EA's already figured out a collection of sweet-spots in the mobile market that reliably balance cost, profit, and entertainment. Sure there are the companies that put out a lottery-winning blockbuster, but nobody has yet figured out how to reliably make hits; EA seems how to at least reliably mix profit and fun. By volume of released mobile games they seem to be the clear winner so far of the established game industry players.  


Also they've started with Ultima Forever a few months back, now they just need to bring back the Wing Commander universe. wub.png

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Heheh, nice, I didn't know Apple paid EA to delay Plants vs Zombies 2. Being around my desktop machine almost 24/7, I don't own a smartphone myself.


Two non-Sony/Microsoft/Nintendo franchises I feel are very compatible to the cheap-development + recognizable + touch-compatible + bite-size consumption design are the Ace Attorney (Capcom) and Professor Layton (Level-5) series, which I've recently gotten into. Both of those franchises have made the leap to iOS and Android; I'd be interested in knowing whether they were financially successful or not.


The Phoenix Wright series, especially, seems very low-cost to develop, but doesn't feel low cost.

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I don't think we'll see any new Nintendo games on iOS or other non-Nintendo platforms. What I think is likely to happen is that Nintendo will perhaps leverage those kinds of mobile devices to release companion apps for their online service, or for certain game aspects, and also that they will begin to release their own back-catalog of classic-games. I think their first experiments are likely to be stand-alone releases of say Super Mario Brothers or Legend of Zelda, but I think where they'll land eventually is releasing virtual console apps to the mobile platforms--first with first-party titles, and then with 3rd party ones--where individual ROMs are purchased as DLC. It's also possible you might see Nintendo characters in new games that are designed for tablets (and which might also appear on the WiiU with its tablet touchscreen, but which wouldn't work on the 3DS). Its also pretty likely, I think, that Nintendo's own next mobile platform will either be based on android or run android simultaneously with a game-focused OS, similar to how the Xbox One does with its Windows 8-based OS partition. Another outside possibility is that they might release an app that allows for smart tablets to act as a WiiU tablet with virtual controls -- Supposedly the WiiU can support at least 2 WiiU tablets, but you can't buy one stand-alone, and they're reportedly something like $120 for a replacement. Too expensive, but most households have at least one tablet these days, and that would enable game developers to build multi-tablet games.


Their own mobile platforms are doing well enough that they don't need to bring high-profile new games to other platforms, and as a Japanese company, saving face is something that should be expected. That's why I think bringing the virtual console to other platforms is likely the main pillar of their strategy -- rather than being seen as acquiescing to a changing world by releasing new titles on 3rd party platforms, bringing the virtual console to those platforms will be seen as storming the beaches of those platforms. Aside from that, its a low-risk venture that is likely to have good returns, and opens up a pretty large potential revenue stream if they're able to take 70% of first-party revenue and 20-30% of 3rd-party revenue. I think if they take this strategy, Nintendo will probably attempt to negotiate a special revenue-sharing rate with the platform-holders and succeed at getting a better split than the typical 70-30 that everyone else does. 

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