Never more than a stopgap that was hugely inadequate to the gap in question, Steam Greenlight is finally set to disappear entirely later this Spring. The service has been around for almost five years, and while it was largely greeted with enthusiasm, the reality has never justified that optimism. The amassing of community votes for game approval turned out to be no barrier to all manner of grafters who launched unfinished, amateurish games (even using stolen assets in some cases) on the service, but enough of a barrier to be frustrating and annoying for many genuine indie developers. As an attempt to figure out how to prevent a storefront from drowning in the torrent of rubbish that has flooded the likes of the App Store and Google Play, it was a worthy experiment, but not one that ought to have persisted for five years, really.
Moreover, Greenlight isn’t disappearing because Valve has solved this problem to its satisfaction. The replacement, Direct, is in some regards a step backwards; it’ll see developers being able to publish directly on the system simply by confirming their identity (company or personal) through submission of business documents and paying a fee for each game they submit. The fee in question hasn’t been decided yet, but Valve says it’s thinking about everything from $100 to $5000.
The impact of Direct is going to depend heavily on what that fee ends up being. It’s worth noting that developers for iOS, for example, already pay around $100 a year to be part of Apple’s developer programme, and trawling through the oceans of unloved and unwanted apps released on the App Store every day shows just how little that $100 price does to dissuade the worst kind of shovelware. At $5000, meanwhile, quite a lot of indie developers will find themselves priced out of Steam, especially those at the more arthouse end of the scene, or new creators getting started out. Ironically, though, the chances are that many of the cynical types behind borderline-scam games with ripped off assets and design will calculate that $5000 is a small price to pay for a shot at sales on Steam, especially if the high fees are thinning out the number of titles launching.
It’s worth noting that, for the majority of Steam’s consumers, the loss of arthouse indie games and fringe titles from new creators won’t be of huge concern. Steam, like all storefronts, sells huge numbers at the top end and that falls off rapidly as you come down the charts; the number of consumers who are actively engaging with smaller niche titles on the service is pretty small. However, that doesn’t mean that locking out those creators wouldn’t be damaging – both creatively and commercially.
Plenty of creators are actually making a living at the low end of the market; they’re not making fortunes or buying gigantic mansions to hang around being miserable in, but they’re making enough money from their games to sustain themselves and keep up their output. Often, they’re working in niches that have small audiences of devoted fans, and locking them out of Steam with high submission costs would both rob them of their income (there are quite a few creators out there for whom $5000 represents a large proportion of their average revenue from a game) and rob audiences of their output, or at least force them to look elsewhere.
Sometimes, a game from a creator like that becomes a break-out hit, the game the whole world is talking about for months on end – sometimes, but not very often. It’s tempting to argue that Steam should be careful about its “low-end” indies (a term I use in the commercial sense, not as any judgement of quality; there’s great, great stuff lurking around the bottom of the charts) because otherwise it risks missing the Next Big Thing, but that’s not really a good reason. Steam is just about too big to ignore, and the Next Big Thing will almost certainly end up on the platform anyway.
Rather, the question is over what Valve wants Steam to be. If it’s a platform for distributing big games to mainstream consumers, okay; it is what it is. If they’re serious about it being a broad church, though, an all-encompassing platform where you can flick seamlessly between AAA titles with budgets in the tens of millions and arthouse, niche games made as a labour of love by part-timers or indie dreamers, then Direct as described still doesn’t solve the essential conflict in that vision.
In replacing publishers with a storefront through which creators can directly launch products to consumers, Valve and other store operators have asserted the value of pure market forces over curation – the fine but flawed notion of greatness rising to the top while bad quality products sink to the bottom simply through the actions of consumers making buying choices. This, of course, doesn’t work in practice, partially because in the real world free markets are enormously constrained and distorted by factors like the paucity of information (a handful of screenshots and a trailer video doth not a perfectly informed and rational purchasing decision make), and more importantly because free markets can’t actually make effective assessments of something as subjective as the quality of a game.
Thus, even as their stores have become more and more inundated with tides of low quality titles – perhaps even to the extent of snuffing out genuinely good quality games – store operators have tried to apply algorithmic wizardry to shore up marketplaces they’ve created. Users can vote, and rate things; elements of old-fashioned curation have even been attempted, with rather limited success. Tweaks have been applied to the submission process at one end and the discovery process at the other. Nothing, as yet, presents a very satisfying solution.
One interesting possibility is that we’re going to see the pendulum start to swing back a little – from the extreme position of believing that Steam and its ilk would make publishers obsolete, to the as yet untested notion that digital storefronts will ultimately do a better job of democratising publishing than they have done of democratising development. We’ve already seen the rise of a handful of “boutique” publishers who specialise in working with indie developers to get their games onto digital platforms with the appropriate degree of PR and marketing support; if platforms like Steam start to put up barriers to entry, we can expect a lot more companies like that to spring up to act as middlemen.
Like the indie developers themselves, some will cater to specific niches, while others will be more mainstream, but ultimately they will all serve a kind of curation role; their value will lie not just in PR, marketing and finance, but also in the ability to say to platforms and consumers that somewhere along the line, a human being has looked at a game in depth and said “yes, this is a good game and we’re willing to take a risk on it.” There’s a value to that simple function that’s been all too readily dismissed in the excitement over Steam, the App Store and so on, and as issues of discovery and quality continue to plague those storefronts, that value is only becoming greater.
Whatever Valve ultimately decides to do with Direct – whether it sets a low price that essentially opens the floodgates, or a high one that leaves some developers unable to afford the cost of entry – it will not provide a panacea to Steam’s issues. It might, however, lay the ground for a fresh restructuring of the industry, one that returns emphasis to the publishing functions that were trampled underfoot in the initial indie gold-rush and, into the bargain, helps to provide consumers with clearer assurances of quality. A new breed of publisher may be the only answer to the problems created by storefronts we were once told were going to make publishers extinct.
Nintendo, is finally getting around to embracing third party development tools including the Unreal Engine.
Nintendo has always had trouble getting third-party developers to make games for its consoles, but the Switch is supposed to show off a new image for the former playing card maker.
Game designer Shigeru Miyamoto has announced that Nintendo engineers have been learning how to use third-party apps and especially the Unreal Engine.
The Switch, like the Wii U, supports the Unreal Engine but has not been particularly enthusiastic about it.
Nintendo’s Shinya Takahashi said Nintendo now wants to develop an environment where “a variety of different third-party developers are able to easily develop compatible software”.
Miyamoto also suggested that Japanese developers no longer are behind their western counterparts when it comes to third-party engines. He added that his engineers’ skill set can “now be compared with those of Western developers”.
While Nintendo will stick to using its own development tools when building games for its new hardware, its engineers are apparently trying to understand one of the most commonly-used game development engines.
Ever since Nintendo’s shares rocketed after the launch of Pokémon Go – and despite the worldwide phenomenon not being a Nintendo product – and the surprise announcement of Super Mario Run, all eyes have been on the platform holder’s mobile strategy need to be free.
Analysts and even the mainstream media have been quick to comment on the potential for traditional games brands in the mobile space, but in all the excitement some people seem to have forgotten several publishers have already made their mark on smart devices with their best-selling IP.
Square Enix, in particular, has a very healthy mobile business thanks to ports of Final Fantasy, Tomb Raider and Dragon Quest games, new IP such as Heavenstrike Rivals, and the acclaimed Go series that has so far offered new takes on the Hitman, Lara Croft and Deus Ex series. The Go games are developed by the mobile team at Square Enix Montreal, led by head of studio Patrick Naud, who tells GamesIndustry.biz that Nintendo’s determined push into mobile further validates what the Japanese publisher has already been doing for more than half a decade now.
Naud goes on to observe that Nintendo’s efforts also illustrate what Square Enix has long since been exploring with its biggest properties: that these brands can help encourage more core players to investigate the gaming possibilities afforded by smart devices.
“Games like Mario will open the road for other big console IPs and get more core players to give mobile a chance,” he says. “Sadly, mobile doesn’t have the best image for some gamers – and I understand why. I’m one of those guys who plays both console and mobile, but you need to find positives that bring you to mobile and ideally open up your mind to playing more mobile games.
“I hope that Mario did this. It’s sad to see so much negative press around it, particularly around the business model because I feel it’s a clever way to have people try the game first.”
“It’s sad to see so much negative press around Super Mario Run, particularly around the business model because I feel it’s a clever way to have people try the game first”
The backlash against Super Mario Run’s £7.99 price point, prompting scores of one-star reviews when the game launched, seemed baffling to many in the industry – myself included. While it’s undeniably more expensive than most premium games on the App Store, Square Enix had charged more than double that for mobile games. A casual glance through the firm’s catalogue shows ports of the early Final Fantasy games to range from £7.99 for FFII to a whopping £20.49 for FFIX. And its mobile business certainly doesn’t seem to have suffered. Why shouldn’t Nintendo charge that amount for its most valuable of IP?
Naud agrees, adding: “And I’d argue they’ve crafted a new epic Nintendo-like experience specifically for mobile. It’s Mario, and yes it’s inspired by the old Mario games, but there are new rules, new ways to play. In terms of level design and the way you play the game, it’s completely different to anything you’ve seen. You’ve got all the brains at Nintendo finding a way to play a Mario game on a phone, and it works, and it’s deep, it has the depth of all the Mario games. So yeah, it’s potentially worth more than what we usually pay.”
Now deep withing the rabbit hole of mobile pricing, the conversation turns to questioning why so many mobile users are less than keen on investing in quality games for their device. As Naud points out, people have been accustomed to paying £40 or more for new console game for decades, and yet they remain reluctant to spend far less on a mobile game? Why?
“When you go on your phone and you buy a game, you go to the app store, not the games store. They’re presented to people as an app. Apps are free”
“One key thing is mindset,” he suggests. “When you go on your phone and you buy a game, you go to the app store, not the games store. People who are willing to pay £15 for a game on Steam are struggling to pay a couple of quid for on mobile, sometimes for the same game. But what’s the difference? It’s because they’re presented to people as an app. Apps are free.
“We still need great games to push other great games. Whenever you have really good mobile titles, people go back to playing on their phones and realise there is some quality content on there. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. We’re going to keep making great games, hoping that it encourages other studios to celebrate doing the same. If people start demanding better experiences, or raising their standards of what they expect to play, the market can evolve and we’ll have more premium games.”
That’s no small challenge to overcome. In addition to difficulties convincing players to actually pay for their mobile games, there is then the increasingly common expectation that games will be updated and supported for months, if not years to come – and for free. British indie Ustwo Games faced backlash of its own when it dared to charge £1.49 for the expansion to Monument Valley – a high-quality add-on that essentially doubled the game’s content.
But is kowtowing to this attitude, lowering prices to what mobile users expect rather than what publishers would rather charge actually harmful? The Go games Naud and his team have produced are all critical smash hits, so does selling them for less than a fiver not undervalue the work that goes into them?
“The exercise of distilling a brand down to its core essence and making a minimalist game out of it – that’s our big challenge”
“Yeah,” Naud acknowledges. “We could sell it higher, but if the market’s not ready for it… we need to be clever about it, crafting the proper experience and the proper amount of content for the price.
“There’s room for high-quality mobile games and they don’t need to be free-to-play.”
It’s easy to argue that this is why Square Enix, or indeed any other company, turns to ports of earlier releases or scaled-back takes on gameplay such as the Go series when bringing their big console IPs to mobile. Developing more comprehensive titles in the face of such resistance to invest must seem daunting and highly impractical. Square has, of course, dabbled in this with the release of Deus Ex: The Fall – a four to five-hour title that offers almost an identical experience to Human Revolution – but Naud says it is more to do with discerning between what console players think they want on mobile, and what they would actually enjoy.
“I’d argue that people do want to play console games on the go, but they won’t play the same type of experience,” he says. “People that are playing console games or even PC games are seated in their living room, with their nice couch, 7.1 surround sound, 60-inch TV – they’re going to play in a different way than if they were just going to play a five-minute session. So they might not play exactly the same game. That’s why I love the Switch, because it might be the middle ground that finally solves that.
“I assume most of the console players right now are also playing on mobile, but they’re really not playing the same type of experience because they’re not playing it at the same time. If you were to go from playing a first-person shooter on your TV – with that perfect set-up and your super-reactive controllers – to playing a similar game with a thumbstick on a touch screen… it will never be the same experience. Hence why we’re trying to craft experiences that are very much dedicated for mobile audiences and mobile phones.”
Instead, Naud says the key is to “create an experience specifically crafted for mobile” taking into account how smartphone owners interact with their device, their play habits, their usage and so on. In addition to his earlier example of Super Mario Run – offering the depth of a core Mario platformer with a one-touch control system designed for smart devices – he offers Hitman as further proof of how console IP can be re-appropriated for mobile.
Deus Ex Go is the third example of Square Enix Montreal taking a console franchise and distilling its core elements to a mobile-appropriate experience
So far, Square Enix Montreal has taken two approaches with IO Interactive’s flagship IP. Hitman Go focuses on the slow, strategic aspect of planning your kills and utilising any opportunities that present themselves. Hitman Sniper, meanwhile, takes the sniping element along with the sense of puppeteering, manipulating events from afar to set up better kills.
While the latter was partly borne from the popularity of the Hitman: Sniper Challenge digital title that preceded Absolution, Naud reveals the concept also stemmed from the desire to create a new entry in the series “without the constraints of moving in the world”.
“Half the players on Hitman Go, Lara Croft Go and Deus Ex Go discovered the game through the App Store”
“The biggest challenge when playing on your phone is navigation,” he says. “For Hitman, this was by far the smartest way to do it. And we’re still working on Sniper, we’re still updating the game on a regular basis and it’s been a – maybe not as big a critical success as the Go series, but on the financial side it’s been very successful.”
But it’s the Go series that, for Naud, really demonstrates the benefit of bringing blockbuster console IP to mobile devices: introducing the brands to a new audience.
“Half the players on Hitman Go, Lara Croft Go and Deus Ex Go discovered the game through the App Store,” he said. “Regardless of whether they were already fans or not, that’s how they discovered them. They got to them because they were recommended by Apple, or their friends. We actually have way more mainstream players for the Go games than Hitman players.
“Any time we do a Go game, it needs to be a different take [on the series], it needs to feel like the original, big console IP but with its own personality. All the critical acclaim made it clear that we’ve succeeded for a third consecutive time.
“The art direction of all three games is completely different and yet the gameplay is somewhat similar. You understand the rules, you don’t need big tutorials, it’s not that complex. For us, the exercise of distilling a brand down to its core essence and making a minimalist game out of it – that’s our big challenge.”
To date, Square Enix Montreal has only been granted access to Western and former Eidos franchises: Hitman, Tomb Raider, Deus Ex. With Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest and even Kingdom Hearts already establishing a foothold on mobile, could we see these Eastern IP receive the Go treatment?
“We’ll see,” says Naud. “Even if anything was in development, I couldn’t say anything – you know that. But we’re constantly thinking about what we could do next, what kind of projects we can work on, what we’ve learned from the Go games that can potentially take us in a new direction.”
You know a company has had a rough set of results when its CEO needs to publicly state that they represent the lowest extent of a slump, with a bounce surely to follow; this being essentially the line that Nintendo boss Tatsumi Kimishima attempted to soothe worried investors with this week. It didn’t exactly work; Nintendo shares, which had been trading at their highest levels in five years, dropped back below the 23,000 Yen mark for the first time since last September. The figures reveal sentiment; investors aren’t sold on the Switch, don’t really know what to make of Super Mario Run, and while they’re generally more positive on Nintendo than they were a couple of years ago, they’re feeling jittery and nervous about the firm’s prospects.
As well they should. In fact, 2017 is likely to be a rollercoaster of a year for Nintendo investors, and those nerves are likely going to get more and more jangled as the year rolls on. The reason for that is simple; Nintendo is taking risks, and they’re not the kind of risks that it’s easy to calculate an over-under on. That makes them into the kind of risks that investors love and hate at the same time – but mostly hate. If Nintendo’s risk-taking pays off, it might soar, but there’s also a strong chance it’ll all come crashing down, and the worst part is, nobody can accurately assess what the risk of either of those scenarios, or anything in between, may be.
There are essentially two major risks Nintendo is taking on. The first, of course, is Switch. The company is hoping for Wii-like sales of the device; almost anything would be an improvement over the Wii U, of course, but in reality it probably needs to hit 40 or 50 million to be considered a genuine success, while anything below 20 million would be enough of a disappointment to cast a pall over the company’s entire future in the home console business. Switch is a high-concept device, quite unlike anything else on the market; from the control system it affords to the mixed-mode portable/home console design of the system, it’s a genuinely unusual piece of kit (far more so than the Wii U was) and that alone will undoubtedly inspire a lot of early adopters to pick one up out of sheer curiosity. It could ignite the imagination of a wide swathe of consumers and become a must-have entertainment device, like the Wii before it. It could equally prove attractive only to Nintendo’s fanbase and sink into much-loved but commercially disastrous obscurity like the Wii U.
My personal guess is that it’ll do far better than the Wii U, but come nowhere close to the success of the Wii, but I’m at pains to call that a guess and nothing more. Anyone demanding that their forecast of the device’s performance is of more worth than mere guesswork is, bluntly, a bit of a charlatan. Not only is the market into which Switch is launching extremely poorly understood at the moment (find me a single soul who predicted pre-launch that PS4, at this point in its lifespan, would be outselling the mighty PS2?), with vast new differences emerging between different global markets and demographic groups, the device itself also has no clear analogues to which we might look for guidance. The strength of the Switch is that it’s Nintendo doing something genuinely different and distinctive from its competition – a metric on which the Wii U, ultimately, failed. The weakness of Switch is that that means success or failure, though clearly influenced greatly by traditional factors like software support, is impossible to pin down with a probability calculation.
Having one big, risky venture on the go would be enough to make investors jumpy, but Nintendo has another one running in parallel. The company has been told for years by its investors that it should be involved in the smartphone market, and indeed its recently relatively buoyant share price is largely the result of its initial announcement of a partnership to do just that with DeNA in 2015, and the launch of Pokemon Go last summer. As the company’s titles roll out, though, things are getting a little more grounded and sober, and investors are perhaps recalling that the market they’ve told Nintendo to dive into is one of the riskiest in the business. The first game title created under the Nintendo-DeNA partnership (discounting Miitomo, which wasn’t considered a game, and Pokemon Go, which was simply Nintendo IP licensed out to a different developer, Niantic) was Super Mario Run, which has been largely well-received critically but hasn’t set the world on fire otherwise. Eschewing the F2P business model and the various hooks and enticements it offers for player retention was taken as reassuring by the company’s vocal core fans, but has seen Super Mario Run fade rapidly from consumer consciousness. After a backlash over its $10 price, which laid out just how uphill the struggle for premium-priced mobile games is, Mario Run has managed around a 5% conversion rate and $53 million in revenue so far.
To be clear – that’s not bad, it’s just unremarkable, and not really what investors had hoped for when they pushed Nintendo towards mobile. The company’s next launch, Fire Emblem Heroes, arrived this week and uses the more established business model for mobile titles; a few months down the line we’ll also have an Animal Crossing title on mobile. The thing is that despite the popularity of these franchises and the pedigree of their development teams, their success simply isn’t assured – even the very best mobile developers have had trouble replicating their greatest successes or even being consistently successful with their titles. Many of the world’s biggest mobile game companies are essentially sustained by one huge, evergreen game, and show no evidence of knowing how to bottle that lightning; the reality is that it’s a hugely fickle, difficult market where, even if you produce a brilliant game, external factors (including a pretty big dose of luck) play an inordinately large role in success. Nobody should doubt the quality of the games Nintendo will launch on smartphones, but nobody should consider a gigantic commercial hit to be a sure thing, either.
All that being said, the point here isn’t that Nintendo is going in the wrong direction; it’s that it’s facing a risky, bumpy year ahead, and that’s going to play merry hell with the firm’s relationship with its investors. Since, unfortunately, the media remains convinced that stock markets are magically possessed of grand insights unattainable to mere humans, like a modern-day Oracle of Delphi – where the reality is that stock markets, in their short-term motions at least, are just the sum total of a load of largely not terribly well informed people charging around in blind mob panics – we’re going to see a lot of context-free stories this year about Nintendo’s share price plunging or recovering as the balance of risk seems to sway one way or the other. The reality behind that is that at least in the next few months, the actual nature of that risk profile is going to be utterly obscure to everyone – even to Nintendo itself.
Right now, the wrong direction for Nintendo would be the direction it was headed in two years ago; competing head-to-head with Sony and Microsoft with a home console that was poorly differentiated from the competition; pretending smartphones hadn’t upended its market; making some of the best software in its history for some of the least-played hardware on the market. The right direction is one that changes that path, and change means risk – especially when the only avenues of change available to you involve innovation, untested ideas, and a tough, poorly understood market.
Buried in Nintendo’s statements this week is cause for great optimism; the success of Pokemon Sun/Moon, which are already among the best-selling installments in the series, was built upon the use of Pokemon Go as a marketing and awareness vehicle, allowing Nintendo to reactivate older consumers of the franchise and change the demographic profile of its audience. As a test run for its future strategy of building struts of mutual support between mobile and console titles, it’s been damned near flawless; sure, it got lucky with a timely implementation of AR tech and a lovely marriage of IP to gameplay, but the underlying business strategy has also played out as well as could be hoped. These are the things to watch for in the next year. Ignore the markets; with any company as highly exposed to risk as Nintendo is right now, share price movements will be exaggerated and hypersensitive, even to rumour and falsehood. Watch, instead, for evidence that Nintendo’s actual plans – the things it wants to sell, the consumers it wants to cultivate and the ways it wants to link together its IPs across platforms and approaches – are coming together or falling apart. Only that will tell us whether Nintendo is really going to bounce back, or if Kimishima’s certainty that it’s already hit rock bottom is going to be tested.
Virtual reality will be coming to the Nintendo Switch – just as soon as the company is convinced people can play it for longer periods of time.
The news comes from an interview between Nintendo president Tatsumi Kimishima and Nikkei, as translated by Dr Serkan Toto, CEO of Tokyo-based consultancy Kantan Games. According to Toto’s tweets, Kimishima said Nintendo is studying VR now but will hold off until users can “play for hours on end without problems”.
Nintendo has been extremely cautious about virtual reality, partly due to ongoing reports of nausea and headaches among early adopters. The platform holder’s US president Reggie Fils-Aime also said the technology is “not fun” and “not social”.
However, patents emerged back in December for a virtual reality accessory designed to be used with the Nintendo Switch, suggesting the platform holder is at least preparing to make its new console VR-enabled.
Meanwhile, Kimishima has also detailed prices for Switch’s paid online service, suggesting Nintendo plans to ask for 2,000 to 3,000 yen per year.
3) Nintendo plans to introduce yearly and monthly paid plans for the online service. Again, price range is 2-3,000 yen/year (.70-.50).
— Dr. Serkan Toto (@serkantoto) February 2, 2017
As Toto observes, that translates to between $17.70 and $26.50, or £13.95 and £20.89 for the UK.
Little is know about the paid service yet, save that it will be required for online multiplayer titles and that subscribers will receive a free NES or SNES game every month. Some of the latter will also have online multiplayer added.
While the price point makes Switch’s paid service cheaper than those of PlayStation and Xbox, it will be interesting to see whether consumers deem there to be enough value to signing up. Both PlayStation and Xbox also offer free games every month, often major AAA releases from the past year, and thanks to strong third-party support the number of online multiplayer titles subscribers gain access to is much higher.
The Nintendo Switch launches worldwide on March 3rd, and VG247 reports that Kimishima is confident it will reverse the platform holder’s recent fortunes, with the president claiming Nintendo’s fiscal performance will only improve from here.
He said the Switch’s unique features mean it could sell as well as the Wii – which means Nintendo is targeting sales of around 100m. Regardless of whether or not it reaches that, hopes are high that it beats Wii U’s disappointing lifetime sales of 13.5m.
Former playing card maker Nintendo has managed to make its first profit in four quarters thanks to its mobile gaming division.
For those who came in late, like Nintendo, the game maker did not want to touch mobile gaming with a 10-foot barge pole because it would cannibalise its portable console market. However it looks like it was wrong.
However it warned that there might be trouble ahead as there are lower game downloads for its consoles.
Operating profit reached $284 million in October-December, which is 3.7 percent lower than the same period a year earlier but better than the cocaine nose-jobs of Wall Street expected.
For the year ending March, Nintendo cut its operating profit forecast by a third due to lower game software downloads for its consoles.
Nevertheless, projected income from investments and a weaker yen allowed it to almost double its net profit forecast.
In the nine months through December, the games maker said it earned $93,903,200 from mobile gaming, accessories and related merchandise, including from its first Nintendo-branded mobile game, Super Mario Run. The figure was up from $ 36 million in the same period a year earlier.
Super Mario Run, featuring the princess-rescuing Italian plumber, has reached about 78 million downloads since 15 December, Nintendo said.
But the game has also received a high number of reviews from users complaining mainly about its $9.99 one-time cost, with less than 10 percent of users paying to unlock all features. Most mobile games are free to play and charge small payments for special features.
Nintendo has said it plans to release around 3 mobile games a year, with two titles – Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem – planned for the coming months.
Still, it continues to regard mobile gaming primarily as a means of luring players to its mainstay consoles. Nintendo’s president, Tatsumi Kimishima, said at a news briefing on Tuesday that the games maker plans to move up production plans to meet orders.
Firstly, there is a lot of confusion over what the Nintendo Switch can do. Multiple account support was teased in a photo posted by indie developer Nicalis on Twitter but then this was pulled and people shut up about it.
Now Kotaku have confirmed that the system does support up to eight multiple users but really people should not have to be digging for that information right now.
Nintendo’s colourful Miis will be making a return and Mii characters can be used to represent a user profile, but are not required. They can still be used in games if developers choose to include them.
This is a new detail which for some reason Nintendo forgot to mention at its presentation in Tokyo. Some think this is because they are too closely associated with the Wii era, but others are think Nintendo is daft for forgetting to mention it. After all they are a function which the console will have and a sales point.
But the biggest problem for the console is that for some reason Nintendo forgot to sort out support for video streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Video.
Streaming video is available on practically anything and would be an important feature of any entertainment centre, so why did Nintendo forget to include it? Apparenly they were spending all their time “making the Nintendo Switch system an amazing dedicated video game platform, so it will not support any video streaming services at launch,” a spokesperson said.
Such apps are “being considered for a future update.” To be fair the Wii U was not a great video streaming set-top box, but then again that console was also disappointing.
Chinese search engine Baidu Inc announced that it has launched an augmented reality (AR) lab in Beijing as part of a $200 million effort to revitalize the company’s shrinking profits with cutting edge technology.
The lab, which currently employs 55 people, will initially aim to drive revenue through AR marketing, though will later explore healthcare and education.
“AR marketing is taking off,” Andrew Ng, the chief scientist overseeing Baidu’s artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality and deep learning projects, told Reuters.
Popularised in 2016 by Nintendo Co Ltd’s Pokemon Go game, augmented reality involves rendering virtual images over real life settings viewed on a smartphone, headset or other device. In marketing, the software can be used to animate a product or a branded space.
Baidu’s AR launch comes as the company gears up to report full-year earnings next month. It has forecast a revenue drop of around 4.6 percent as it grapples with the aftermath of new government curbs on medical advertising. Those curbs have slashed into the profits of its core search business and saw ad customers drop 16 percent in the quarter ended in September.
The company injected $200 million into its AI and AR unit in September in an effort to kick start new growth, followed by the announcement of a $3 billion investment fund announced in October focusing on mid-to-late stage startups.
The company in a statement said it is currently working with AR in China with Yum! Brands Inc’s KFC, BMW and L’Oreal SA’s Lancome among other brands, and has demonstrated a small range of high-end applications.
Baidu began working on the technology two years ago, and is working on integrating it with AI to produce visuals capable of interacting with real-time surroundings, unlike current popular AR games.
“It’s working quite well now, but it’s clear that it could be better,” said Ng. “I’m quite optimistic.”
AR technology is still going through a regulatory teething phase in China. While Pokemon Go is yet to launch there, location-based AR concepts have sprung up, drawing the ire of regulators who have refused to license some services over security concerns.
According to Ng, Baidu is yet to run into the same issues.
“I feel like the abilities for AR have risen up in China faster than the Western world may be aware,” said Ng.
Finnish mobile games and animation developer Rovio Entertainment is intensifying its search for new hit games by opening a studio in London to focus on multiplayer games that would not rely on the company’s Angry Birds brand.
Privately-held Rovio has struggled in recent years as profits from the Angry Birds franchise dropped, prompting deep job cuts and divestments.
But last year Rovio launched an animated Angry Birds 3D Hollywood film that it said did well at the box office and yielded new licensing deals.
“MMO is a genre that is growing in mobile, but it is not fully saturated. We are not looking for a niche position but a very wide, inclusive game,” Wilhelm Taht, head of games, told Reuters.
The original Angry Birds game, in which players use a slingshot to attack pigs who steal the birds’ eggs, was launched in 2009 and it remains the top paid mobile app of all time.
Rovio exploited the brand early on by licensing its use on a string of consumer products. But the company’s failure to bring out new hit games resulted in falling profit, prompting Rovio to cut more than 300 jobs in 2014 and 2015.
“In the long term, our new characters may generate intellectual property and even a brand,” Taht said.
Rovio has a series of smartphone games based on Angry Birds characters. In 2015 it published a puzzle game called Nibblers and it will soon put out Battle Bay, a real-time multiplayer game.
Rovio is not looking to launch a large number of games this year, Taht added.
“Perhaps there’s been some change in our thinking here,” he said. “The market is favorable for games that will live long and that are operated with a service mindset.”
Asked about Nintendo’s hit smartphone game Pokemon GO, Taht said the game truly put augmented reality (AR) on the gaming map.
“We will, of course, be following AR as a technology and a tool,” he said.
In the first half of 2016 Rovio booked a small operating profit, compared with a loss a year earlier, help by growth in game sales.
Rovio has around 200 employees spread between its four game studios in Finland and Sweden and about 400 in total.
I was prepared to write all about virtual reality once again, despite the fact that my colleague Brendan Sinclair did a fine job of it last week, but then I woke up today to see Nintendo’s appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and it got me thinking about the company’s future.
Before I dive into it, the one thing I’ll say on VR is that I’m encouraged by moves that bring about unity. With the Global Virtual Reality Association pushing for solidarity and open standards, and the discovery this week following the launch of Oculus Touch that Rift with Touch can support most SteamVR titles, developers should find it easier to target the combined (albeit still limited) installed bases of the PC VR platforms. Game makers in the VR ecosystem need all the help they can get.
Onto Nintendo, the company is quite possibly on the cusp of a major comeback after a miserable few years with its worst performing console in history, the Wii U. Watching as an excited audience witnessed Shigeru Miyamoto play the Mario theme along with The Roots, followed by Reggie Fils-Aime demoing both Super Mario Run on iPhone and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on Switch reminded me that there’s still quite a lot of goodwill for Nintendo and its highly valuable IP. Now it’s up to the company to actually capitalize on that excitement. The rise of Pokemon Go, which helped jumpstart Pokemon Sun and Moon to become Nintendo’s fastest-selling titles ever in Europe and the Americas is just the start.
The NES Mini microconsole has been continually selling out at retail, feeding into nostalgia for NES classics while people eagerly await the launch of the first ever Mario game for smartphones, Super Mario Run. The game, which quickly saw 20 million people sign up to be notified about its release, will be a fascinating test for the mobile market given its $9.99 price point and for Nintendo, which hopes that both lapsed gamers and new players will come to appreciate the Italian plumber and seek out deeper and even more engaging experiences — on the Switch of course.
“Super Mario Run is going to introduce millions of more people to the fun of Mario, and it’ll become the entry point for them,” Miyamoto told The Verge. “And then the question becomes, once you’ve gone through that entry point, then what comes next? Is it a more traditional Mario experience? Is it something like the Mario Galaxy games? We’ll then have to look at what it is these new fans want from a Mario game, and we’ll continue to see Mario evolve in that way.”
Miyamoto and Nintendo may be a bit too optimistic to think that everyone who picks up Super Mario Run will want to run out and spend several hundred dollars more on a dedicated gaming platform plus software, but I’m convinced that a certain portion of the Super Mario Run audience will do just that. Another, possibly much larger, portion of that audience, however, could very well decide that Super Mario Run is fantastic and they’d simply like more experiences like that from Nintendo on smartphones. Either way, that’s great news because it means Nintendo has vastly expanded its audience.
“Frankly, I think the future is once again starting to look quite bright for Nintendo. The next critical step for the company is to absolutely get its marketing message right as it moves forward”
In a sense, the Switch will become the “niche” product for the hardcore Nintendo fan, while mobile will ultimately become where Nintendo reaches the majority of players. If the lion’s share of revenues for Nintendo begin to come from mobile, it’ll pose a very interesting question about the future of hardware like Switch, but as long as people crave in-depth games like Breath of the Wild, Nintendo will find a way to make them, regardless of platform.
Frankly, I think the future is once again starting to look quite bright for Nintendo. The next critical step for the company is to absolutely get its marketing message right as it moves forward. All the love and excitement Nintendo engendered with the Wii was squandered with the Wii U, but now the company has a legitimate chance to see a real domino effect take place, with each piece pushing the next forward – Pokemon to Super Mario Run to Switch and Zelda, etc, etc.
What needs to happen from now through next March when the Switch launches is an all-out assault on the media; mainstream news, talk shows, social networks, and more. What Nintendo achieved with Jimmy Fallon this week was pure marketing brilliance, and it’s that sort of approach that catapulted the original Wii to stratospheric heights in 2006. The Wii didn’t succeed because IGN or GameSpot thought it was cool; it took off because everyone from The Wall Street Journal to the New York Times to Bloomberg wrote glowing things about it. Nintendo’s appearance on Fallon could perhaps be the start of a new media blitz; it needs to be if Nintendo wants to reclaim its place atop the industry.
We’ll see how the next domino piece tilts in one week when Super Mario Run launches. “This is definitely a defining moment for Nintendo,” Yoshio Osaki, president of IDG Consulting Inc, told The Wall Street Journal. “If Mario can’t get the job done, I don’t know what other character could.”
Nintendo is offering cash rewards for hackers that can expose security weaknesses in its 3DS family of consoles.
Upwards of $20,000 will be made available to successful hackers who can help address the weaknesses in Nintendo’s portable machine. The offer does not extend to Wii U.
It’s part of a program the firm is working on with HackerOne.
The offer is Nintendo’s renewed efforts to reduce piracy (including game application dumping and game copying execution), cheating (which includes game modification and save data modification) and the spreading of inappropriate content to children.
It suggests that Nintendo is true to its statement that it wants to maintain its 3DS business, even after the launch of its Switch console in March. Switch, which doubles as both a home and portable console, is seen as the natural successor to the 3DS, although Nintendo has stated it will continue to release games for the hardware. Over 60m 3DS consoles have been sold worldwide since the machine launched in 2011.
The ‘reward’ for finding vulnerabilities in the 3DS hardware will range from $100 to $20,000, and the amount will be at Nintendo’s discretion. Vulnerabilities that are already known will not be counted. The level of the reward will depend on the importance of information, quality of report and the severity of the vulnerability. Nintendo is looking for reports that include a proof of concept or functional exploit of code.
The upcoming titles will free up some of Sony’s popular gaming franchises, such as Everybody’s Golf, from PlayStation consoles to make them available on Apple Inc’s iOS and Google’s Android mobile platforms.
An aggressive push into the rapidly growing segment is seen as a necessity for Sony as its games unit has emerged as the group’s largest profit contributor following an overhaul of the group’s consumer electronics business.
They will be available initially in Japan and eventually in other Asian countries, Tomoki Kawaguchi, executive director of Sony’s mobile gaming unit, told reporters.
The announcement comes before Nintendo debuts its game franchise Super Mario Bros on Apple’s iPhone next week.
While disappointing sales of Wii U consoles helped push Nintendo into mobile gaming, Sony has been a decisive winner in console gaming with over 40 million PlayStation 4 sales, almost double the sales of Microsoft Corp’s XBox One.
But Sony is facing the increasing threat from mobile in countries such as Japan, the world’s third largest game market where mobile gaming accounts for more than half of the $12.4 billion market, according to games research firm Newzoo.
Sony has launched some games for smartphones through its music entertainment unit but failed to fully introduce mobile gaming to its PlayStation business.
Analysts doubt Sony’s chances of major success in mobile gaming, citing a lack of powerful characters like Nintendo’s Super Mario and Donkey Kong, which have achieved widespread appeal globally.
EA CFO Blake Jorgensen says he ‘can’t yet predict’ if people will be interested in Switch alongside their regular portable device.
His statement came at the UBS Global Technology Conference, and reported by GameSpot. He says the firm is excited about the product and committed to bringing ‘one or two’ of its biggest games IP to the platform. Based on EA’s history with Nintendo, these will likely be games from its sports catalog.
“We’re excited for Nintendo, it’s an interesting device,” Jorgensen stated. “But I can’t yet predict how broad it’s going to be, and if folk will be interested in a portable device alongside their regular portable device that they already have.”
He continued: “In their announcement they announced that we’ll be supporting with a game or two on that new platform. We haven’t yet announced what game, but you should assume that it’s one of our bigger games we’ve been involved with.”
It is clearly positive for Nintendo that EA is showing support for its next machine after it abandoned publishing efforts on Wii U shortly after the machine launched. The company’s Wii U line-up included ports of Need for Speed and Mass Effect 3.
Nintendo proudly boasted a strong Switch third-party line-up, with the likes of Activision, Capcom, Warner Bros, Sega, Take-Two, Codemasters, Konami, From Software, Square Enix, Ubisoft, Bethesda, Bandai Namco, Platinum, Level-5, GameTrust and Atlas already signed on to support the device.
If Nintendo hopes to maintain this level of third-party support, it will need a significantly stronger start for Switch than it achieved with its Wii U console. It’s not clear what the launch line-up for Switch will be, with reports suggesting that the highly anticipated The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will miss the console’s release window. Other games shown during Nintendo’s Switch reveal, although not confirmed titles, included Mario Kart, a new Mario platformer, Skyrim and Splatoon.
More details on the Switch launch is scheduled for January, with the machine due to launch in March.
Nintendo president Tatsumi Kimishima has asserted that the company’s new console does not represent a shift in the way it sees its audience. “As the name implies, we’re switching a lot of things,” he told Bloomberg, “but we have no interest in switching our customers.”
The Switch debuted in a promotional video that had a distinct lack of families and children, two groups with which Nintendo is closely associated. It also featured footage from core-facing franchises like The Elder Scrolls and NBA 2K, despite neither being confirmed for the console when it launches in March next year.
According to Kimishima, however, Nintendo has no intention of “just going after a certain age group. Depending on the kind of software that comes out, families and kids will be able to play too.” The prominent use of games like Skyrim was to communicate with groups who “will grasp it right away,” referring to the console’s ability to be used as a handheld or connected to a television. “For families and kids,” he added, “we want them to understand by actually experiencing it.”
“Our core philosophy is that we want to increase the number of gamers at all ages, and there’s no change to that. So we have no intention to lean just towards core gamers. But to communicate our new idea, when you think about who will understand it first, naturally it will be people who really understand games. To communicate that as quickly as possible, we focused on those folks who really understand games.”
Kimishima placed the Switch in the context of a plan to “revitalize” Nintendo, which he devised along with creative lead Shigeru Miyamoto and tech led Genyo Takeda three years ago. Console hardware was one aspect, smartphone software another, and making better use of the company’s enviable IP stable another.
“Now the critical period is finally here,” he said. “From the end of this fiscal period and into the next one is when we actually show the product and deliver it to our customers.
“Our revenue has fallen for eight straight years. What we aim for is to increase the number of people who play games. We want to deliver all kinds of new surprises to our customers, and it is through their support that our revenue increases. That’s the end result. But if that result doesn’t show, that means we weren’t able to deliver. Next year is when we see the result.”
Kimishima also described the Switch’s detachable controllers are “add-on hardware” or “accessories,” and that we “can assume that there will be a wider array.”
Now that Nintendo has finally teased the world with its Switch hardware reveal, everyone of course wants to know more and bigger questions about Nintendo’s strategy have become top of mind. Analysts have brought up a number of potential issues facing Nintendo as it moves forward. Most importantly, who is Nintendo really targeting with its new product and how is the company positioning the Switch against powerful consoles like next year’s Xbox Scorpio or this year’s PS4 Pro?
“Nintendo’s Switch reveal trailer unveiled a product positioning which aims to defend against the increasingly robust encroachment of the smartphone and tablet gaming opportunity yet still appeal to traditional console gamers that are looking for a big-screen gaming solution in the home. It has designed the Switch to deliver a flexible solution to cover multiple types of usage, but must avoid delivering a substandard experience by trying to be all things to all users,” said Piers Harding-Rolls, head of games research at IHS, which is now forecasting that Switch will sell 2.85 million units globally next March when it launches.
“Interestingly, the Switch reveal trailer was squarely targeted at young adults, which suggests that Nintendo is refocusing its early marketing on more traditional console gamers and those that also increasingly like gaming on the move. To build success with these buyers the offering must include third-party titles that are supported on other platforms,” Harding-Rolls continued. “Nintendo looks to have killed off its motion controllers with the Switch and opted for a more traditional form of gaming experience. This suggests the company is serious about getting third-party publishers to support the platform with multi-platform titles. Potentially, this will help Nintendo’s ambition to target young adult gamers.”
Third-party support does seem to be better already. Wii U had a list of just 21 publishers and developers at its launch while Switch has close to 50. Support, of course, is something that’s always in flux, but it’s crucial for Nintendo to get its messaging right with consumers if it wants to maintain that support from third parties. “They need a proper message. Right now I am concerned they are pitching it as just another tablet with controllers,” said DFC Intelligence’s David Cole.
“Nintendo’s ability to market a clear use case message to the audience [will be key]. Nintendo failed to do this with the Wii U and paid the price,” added Harding-Rolls.
SuperData’s Joost van Dreunen believes Nintendo needs to do a better job in defining its audience. “I have my reservations with regards to the breadth of the audience it targets. The Switch will likely be most popular among a younger audience: its functionality is uniquely geared toward pre-teens and teenagers. While the device seems much less like a toy than we’re used to from Nintendo, its features like backseat multi-player and the ability to have several people play using a single piece of the controller target Nintendo’s traditional audience. The reveal video makes a lot more sense to me if you swap out all the adults in it with kids,” he noted.
It’s clear that the widespread adoption of gaming on smartphones has had an impact on Nintendo, and indeed the company is pushing out its own mobile titles like Super Mario Run this holiday, but will that approach truly serve as a stepping stone to the Switch, or will it ultimately cannibalize Nintendo’s new hardware?
Dr. Serkan Toto, an analyst who specializes in the mobile market in Asia, remains skeptical. “Sorry, but is a portable/home console approach really that innovative in 2016? I am most concerned about the target group of the device: who else but die-hard Nintendo fans will buy the Switch? The Switch lacks a killer feature, and I think it will be very difficult for Nintendo to win back the casual gamers that are mostly on mobile now,” he commented. “In Japan, for example, the mobile gaming sector is already 2-3 times bigger than consoles. Even the PS4 struggles over here. It’s going to be a huge challenge to try to reverse that trend.”
So will Super Mario Run make a difference? “I find it very difficult to picture a scenario where a critical number of mobile, free-to-play users converts to console and buy hard- and software for several hundred dollars upfront. Different markets, very difficult to bridge,” Toto continued.
As ever, the biggest factor in the Switch launch and its chances for success could be its price. “Price pretty much depends on specs, and success depends on both price and specs. If the specs are close to PS4, I think they can price around the same ($249), and at most $299. If specs are weaker, price could be lower,” noted Wedbush Securities’ Michael Pachter.
“Assuming they are close to PS4, they are making porting of games easy for developers (and inexpensive), and I think they will get a lot of third party support. If the specs are weaker, porting will be costly and less likely to occur. So my ‘prediction’ is that if specs and pricing are similar to PS4, the Switch will get a lot of third party support and will be immensely successful. If specs are weaker or if pricing is too high, sales will suffer because of lack of third-party support or because of uncompetitive pricing.”
Analysts agreed that $299 really is the highest Nintendo could acceptably go. “They must find a way to release the Switch at US$299 to stand a chance, that’s the threshold,” said Toto. “It’s not impossible by offering the device in multiple versions, i.e. without the home dock. ‘Hardcore’ video game fans can, at US$299, already get fantastic devices from Sony and Microsoft. The portable gaming use case, at scale, has been taken over by smart devices.”
SuperData’s van Dreunen added that a high profile bundle, like Zelda, which we know is a launch title, could play an important role in incentivizing consumers. “I’m hoping they’ll keep it under $300, ideally bundled with a Zelda or Mario Kart. Anything over that will severely limit its market potential,” he said.
Harding-Rolls sees $300 as the max as well, commenting, “The reveal suggests it is competing more significantly with traditional home consoles, but with the edge of mobility. Pricing will need to be competitive in this context and anything over $300 may not be a convincing proposition.” He pointed to similarities with Nvidia’s Shield as evidence that Nintendo may very well end up in that price range.
“The new console shares a number of design, positioning and component similarities with Nvidia’s Shield tablet. As such it is likely that Switch will be capable of displaying 4K video content and judging by the pricing of the original Shield tablet is likely to sit in the $250-$300 range,” he said.
Excitement is currently sky high for the Switch. In fact, as noted by Bloomberg yesterday, right after Nintendo said it would unveil the console, its shares climbed almost 5% leading to a market value gain of $1 billion (the stock is up 3.34% as of this writing today). The company’s stock is up more than 50% in 2016 in large part because of its embrace of smartphone gaming, but how Nintendo balances its portfolio and its message on mobile and Switch will be fascinating to watch in the next 6-12 months and it will reveal a lot about the future of the firm.