Over 90 million people play Candy Crush Saga every day. Say whatever you like about London- based social game developer King, but its headline game is an unquestionable success. Like many games (most games, perhaps) it iterates upon previously existing formulae rather than being a breakthrough, unseen innovation. Like many games, the real DNA of its success can only be analysed honestly if we first admit that one of the dominant genes involved was luck. Still; 90 million players. About 1.3 per cent of the entire population of the planet try to clear candies and jellies at least once a day. Whether you consider that to be a depressing reflection of the state of humanity or not is entirely subjective; whether you consider it to be a remarkable business success is not. King’s got a touch of magic in its sweet jar.
Now King wants to convert that magic into cold, hard cash, so it’s going to float on the New York Stock Exchange. It’s proposing an initial public offering valued at $500 million, but given that its net income last year was $568 million (on revenues of $1.9 billion), everyone involved will clearly be hoping to make a killing off an early spike in share value.
When any company announces an IPO, it’s reasonable to ask why it’s happening. There are two ways for an entrepreneur to “exit”, cashing in his or her chips on the company that’s been built. One is by being acquired by a bigger firm (like the recent purchase of a major stake in Supercell by Puzzle & Dragons publisher GungHo). The other is an IPO. In both cases, there are two clear reasons for cashing in – the first one, which everyone always claims to be pursuing, is to raise more money to facilitate further growth and make your company bigger and better. The second is shadier but not uncommon. You reckon you’ve taken the business as far as you can – organic growth is looking rocky from here, maybe you sense a change in the market or an oncoming headwind, and you want to grab as much cash as you can while the going is good, before your valuation starts to heavily decline.
“Take the money and run” isn’t an uncommon reason for a sale or an IPO, although none of the parties involved would ever be so gauche as to admit to such a thing. Still, the logic underwriting such a thing is cold and undeniable. If you can sense that your company is facing rocky ground and its valuation has likely peaked, you want to make sure you get as much of a return on your holdings as possible before they become devalued. Laws and rules force lots of disclosure of financial data, of course, so you can’t hide a decline that’s already started – but if your instinct says next year won’t be as good as last year, now’s the right time to sell, and “instinct” doesn’t appear on SEC-mandated documents.
Is King taking the money and running? Yes, I think they are. I think this IPO is actually a little late – it’s going to occur just as King is on a downslope – but it’s far better timed than the easiest comparison, Zynga. Zynga launched on the stock exchange far too late, after it had already become obvious that the company was completely hobbled by the rapid transition from Facebook to smartphones in social gaming. Its IPO was a flop from an investor’s perspective, although plenty of people still made a lot of money from it – it certainly made more money than it would have if they’d waited around until the depths of the company’s troubles became apparent. On its current timeline, King will be IPOing while it’s still within touching distance of Candy Crush Saga’s peak.
“Is King taking the money and running? Yes, I think they are”
I foresee two problems, both of which ought to ring huge alarm bells for investors interested in the company. The first is that Candy Crush Saga’s peak is just that – a monolithic, dramatic peak climbing up out of a landscape of foothills and gentle valleys. There are no other peaks in sight. King’s other games do “okay”, but nearly 80% of its revenue comes from Candy Crush Saga, whose 90 million daily users figure is six times greater than the daily users figure for the firm’s second-place game, Pet Rescue Saga. There is nothing on the horizon which might replace Candy Crush Saga; once you start descending from that peak, the danger is that you end up back in the foothills with no more peaks to ascend. There’s simply no evidence, let alone proof, that King is capable of recreating the lightning-strike success of Candy Crush Saga. Bluntly, I don’t think King believes it can manage that either – because if the firm and its investors genuinely believed that they could repeat the success of Candy Crush, they would IPO after doing so, knowing that a company with a proven ability to turn out enormous hits is vastly, vastly more valuable than a company with one lucky strike and a string of also-rans to its name.
The second problem is Zynga itself. The stock market has already had one market-leading social game company perform absolutely dismally after flotation. Investors now know that this sector, while it’s exciting and interesting and extremely profitable, is also insanely volatile, completely hit- driven and largely subject to the rapidly changing whims of technology. On the surface, the F2P model is far more investor-friendly than the old-fashioned boxed game model, since you actually get a steady revenue stream from your products rather than a single burst of revenue after a couple of years of expensive development. In practice, though, you still need to keep turning out hit titles in order to ensure revenue growth (which is all the stock market gives a damn about). Few studios have shown any capacity for doing that – there are laudable exceptions like Supercell and Nimblebit, but most mobile gaming studios are still dining out on single successes. King has Candy Crush Saga; Rovio has Angry Birds; GungHo has Puzzle & Dragons. None of these companies have managed to create another game as popular as the one that made them famous – lacking a track record, each of them can fairly be considered a one-hit wonder until proven otherwise.
What about recent controversies around King? The company’s aggressive approach to trademarks, its reputed cloning of games and so on have done nothing to endear it to the gaming world and cultivated an atmosphere of negativity around the company. I would caution against reading too much into the likely impact of such stories on an IPO, though. Investors, bluntly, don’t really care if a company stands accused of not being terribly innovative, as long as the results are good. They certainly couldn’t care less about trademark spats with independent developers, I fear. Such issues are important and relevant to those directly involved, but of no consequence to the IPO prospects of a company like King.
What they do, however, is set mood music around the firm. Being seen as a bit ruthless is no bad thing, but I suspect that investors burned by Zynga will be quick to note the parallels between the sort of behaviour of which King stands accused, and the sort of behaviour in which Zynga engaged. The two companies are, in my mind, very similar both in culture and in approach. Neither was founded out of any attachment to games as a medium, a culture or an artform; both are simply entrepreneurial vehicles to exploit a potential market, and as such, it’s to be expected that both would struggle to adapt and succeed at points where they encounter obstacles that can only be surmounted by creativity rather than by management bullet points or business model refinement.
That’s not entirely a criticism, by the way; in a capitalist economy, there’s no sin to creating a business just to exploit a gap in the market. If the market in question happens to be a creative medium, one has to expect significant blowback to this approach. Moreover, there’s a limited lifespan to such a strategy – a company in a creative sector which is not founded on creative principles cannot expect to significantly outlive the market conditions it was originally designed to exploit.
In summary, I find it hard to view King’s IPO as anything more than Zynga 2.0. It is better-timed, certainly, but the companies involved are similar enterprises facing similar challenges – and thus far, demonstrating a similar lack of capacity to overcome them. Zynga is much, much further down the slope from its peak than King, so of course there remains a reasonable possibility that King can surprise us all with a second title on the scale of Candy Crush – and by doing so, establish itself as a genuine leading light of this new market. For all the negativity poured upon the company of late, I honestly hope King can make lightning strike twice for itself. I don’t like Candy Crush Saga personally, but that’s a subjective view – objectively, I cannot find a trace of the supposed immorality, grasping and nastiness of which the game regularly stands accused, and can’t help but recall all the awful stuff of which Flappy Bird also stood wrongly accused when it dared to be a break-out mobile gaming success. King faces problems down the line and I question whether it represents a good investment opportunity for anyone – but should it overcome those issues and prove itself capable of the creativity required to replicate its Candy Crush success, it would be churlish to call that anything other than a fresh triumph for UK game development. Fingers crossed that it happens.
Walt Disney Co is making plans to lay off several hundred people in its interactive unit, the division that includes gaming products and the Disney.com website, The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week.
The job eliminations are expected to begin after Disney releases its quarterly earnings today, the Journal said. Playdom, a social gaming business Disney acquired in 2010, is one division expected to see cutbacks, the newspaper said.
Disney is trying to turn around the interactive unit, which has about 3,000 employees. Its new Infinity video game enjoyed strong initial sales after its release last August, helping the division report a $16 million profit for the quarter that ended in September, an improvement from the $76 million loss a year earlier.
A Disney spokeswoman had no comment.
Nintendo has issued a detailed and far-reaching response to the pervasive concerns about its future as a business.
In a meeting with investors, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata outlined the company’s strategy in both the short-term and as far ahead as 2016. From changing the fortunes of the Wii U to evolving the way we think about game consoles as a concept, Nintendo displayed striking candour in its attempt to allay the criticisms it has received since it drastically reduced its sales forecasts earlier this month.
However, Iwata was clear about one thing from the outset: regardless of what followed, there are certain aspects of Nintendo’s business that will not change, namely the frequently proposed idea that it should take its IP stable to new platforms.
“Dedicated video game platforms which integrate hardware and software will remain our core business,” he said. “Naturally, we are moving ahead with research and development efforts for future hardware as we have done before, and we are not planning to give up our own hardware systems and shift our axis toward other platforms.
“Dedicated video game platforms which integrate hardware and software will remain our core business… We are not planning to give up our own hardware systems and shift our axis toward other platforms”
“From a medium- to long-term standpoint…we don’t believe that following trends will lead to a positive outcome for Nintendo as an entertainment company. Instead, we should continue to make our best efforts to seek a blue ocean with no rivals and create a new market with innovative offerings.”
Here are the key points from Iwata’s presentation
The Wii U is Nintendo’s top priority
It is no secret that Nintendo has struggled to repeat the success of the Wii with the Wii U, but Iwata reassured investors that it has no intention of abandoning its ailing console. The possibility of a further reduction in price was ruled out immediately, with Iwata instead emphasising the company’s ongoing failure to adequately demonstrate the value of the GamePad controller, and to distinguish the console from its hugely popular predecessor.
“By looking at the current sales situation, I am aware that this is due to our lack of effort,” he said. “Our top priority task this year is to offer software titles that are made possible because of the GamePad… We have managed to offer several of such software titles for occasions when many people gather in one place to play, but we have not been able to offer a decisive software title that enriches the user’s gameplay experience when playing alone with the GamePad. This will be one of the top priorities of Mr. Miyamoto’s software development department this year.”
Iwata offered a strong first-step by setting an official May release date for the release of Mario Kart 8, but he also indicated that Nintendo’s development teams would focus on the GamePad’s near-field communication (NFC) function – the same basic technology as that used in lucrative franchises like Skylanders and Disney Infinity. Iwata promised more details of its plans for NFC at E3 in June.
The end of “device-based relationships”
While many have cited the Wii U as evidence of Nintendo’s failure to respond to the changes in the games industry since the launch of the Wii, Iwata stated that the company has already laid the foundations for a fundamental shift in the way it thinks about its products.
Before now, Nintendo had “device-based relationships” with its customers. This was mitigated somewhat by the strength of its software IP, but fundamentally the link with any given consumer followed the lifecycle of each piece of hardware. “We became disconnected with our consumers with the launch of each new device as we could only form device-based relationships,” he said.
However, the Wii U saw the introduction of “Nintendo Network IDs,” an attempt to create “account-based” customer relationships that could continue across different hardware platforms and generations. In the future, Iwata said, “connecting with our consumers through NNIDs will precisely be our new definition of a Nintendo platform.”
With this in mind, Iwata was able to put an end to the speculation around Nintendo’s strategy for smartphones and tablets. He made it quite clear that Nintendo has no plans to release its games on smart devices, but it does intend to use them as a way to communicate and build relationships with new audiences. Iwata offered few details of how the company intends to accomplish that goal, but he indicated that it would include a mobile app that leveraged Nintendo’s existing IP to raise awareness of its hardware and software.
“I have not given any restrictions to the development team, even not ruling out the possibility of making games or using our game characters. However, if you report that we will release Mario on smart devices, it would be a completely misleading statement. It is our intention to release some application on smart devices this year that is capable of attracting consumer attention and communicating the value of our entertainment offerings.”
Flexible pricing for existing and emerging markets
The existence of NNIDs and account-based relationships will also give Nintendo the ability to alter the way its products are sold. Iwata highlighted the company’s role in establishing the model of selling a console for several hundred dollars and individual games for fifty or sixty dollars, but Nintendo now recognises that this model is no longer viable in the long-term.
The first aspect of this that Nintendo intends to challenge is the fixed price-point of software. Iwata suggested a system where the price of a games could be tailored to individual customers based on their NNIDs: someone who purchased five games in a year might pay less and less for each one, for example, or there might be incentives tied to recommending a game to a friend.
“If we can achieve such a sales mechanism, we can expect to increase the number of players per title, and the players will play our games with more friends. This can help maintain the high usage ratio of a platform… Nintendo aims to work on this brand-new sales mechanism in the medium term, but we would like to start experimenting with Wii U at an early stage.”
“While we will continue to devote our energy to dedicated video game platforms, our first step into a new business area is the theme of ‘Health’”
This flexibility will also extend to emerging markets for gaming across the world. Nintendo is a globally recognised brand, but Iwata conceded that the price of its products has put them beyond the reach of people in certain countries. While Iwata didn’t mention any specific regions, he is likely referring to countries like Brazil and India, where the interest in gaming has increased in concert with the disposable income available to the population.
“To leverage Nintendo’s strength as an integrated hardware-software business, we will not rule out the idea of offering our own hardware for new markets. But for dramatic expansion of the consumer base there, we require a product family of hardware and software with an entirely different price structure from that of the developed markets.
“We aim to connect with consumers who do not own Nintendo’s video game systems yet, which will play an important role in cultivating new markets. Once we can establish such a connection with consumers in these nations, we will be able to use smart devices to share our information as well as important content distribution infrastructure. We plan to take significant steps toward such a new market approach in the year 2015.
Going beyond games
There may be no chance of playing Super Mario World on an iPad anytime soon, Iwata did state Nintendo’s interest in making money from its IP outside of first-party video games. Nintendo has always been very cautious of damaging its iconic characters through excessive merchandising and licensing, but one need only look at Rovio’s Angry Birds to see how much profitable such deals can be. Indeed, Iwata attributed the strength of Nintendo’s IP stable to that very reluctance, but, he said, “we are going to change our policy going forward.”
“To be more precise, we will actively expand our character licensing business, including proactively finding appropriate partners. In fact, we have been actively selling character merchandise for about a year in the U.S. Also, we will be flexible about forming licensing relationships in areas we did not license in the past, such as digital fields, provided we are not in direct competition and we can form win-win relationships.
“By moving forward with such activities globally, we aim to increase consumer exposure to Nintendo characters by making them appear in places other than on video game platforms.”
Nintendo’s new business idea: Health
Iwata closed the presentation with Nintendo’s planned entry into an entirely new area of business, one that will provide the “blue ocean” the company so desperately needs.
“While we will continue to devote our energy to dedicated video game platforms, what I see as our first step into a new business area in our endeavour to improve [quality of life] is the theme of “Health.” Of course, defining a new entertainment business that seeks to improve [quality of life] creates various possibilities for the future such as “learning” and “lifestyle,” but it is our intention to take “health” as our first step.”
Again, exact details of what this focus on health will entail were not provided, but Iwata described the concept as “an integrated hardware-software platform business” that will use the company’s experience making products like Wii Fit, Brain Age and the Touch Generations series as a springboard for a more pervasive and persistent initiative.
“We will be able to provide feedback to our consumers on a continual basis, and our approach will be to redefine the notion of health-consciousness, and eventually increase the fit population… I feel that not only can this [quality of life]-improving platform utilise our know-how and experience about video game platforms, but also we can expect it to interact with games and create a synergistic effect.
“While we feel that this is going to take two to three years after its launch, we expect the [quality of life]-improving platform to provide us with new themes which we can then turn into games that operate on our future video game platforms, too. Once we have established such a cycle, we will see continuous positive interactions between the two platforms that enable us to make unique propositions.”
Iwata promised to announce more details this year, and confirmed that the new business will officially launch during the fiscal year ending March 2016.
Facebook, as part of plans to divvy up its service, is looking to develop a range of new standalone apps to let people connect with others and share content, perhaps in new ways beyond how they do already.
That, in a nutshell, is what CEO Mark Zuckerberg spent a fair amount of time discussing during the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call on Wednesday. It’s an ambitious effort, but it could be a very good thing for the massive social network, which now claims to have more than 1.2 billion monthly active users.
The project, Zuckerberg said, would address the various ways people take to the Internet today to share content — whether it be photos, events, locations or games — and interact with each other. Zuckerberg said a handful of new apps, or “experiences,” might be developed over the next few years to give people new ways to share content.
“If you think about the overall space of sharing and communicating, there’s not just one thing people are doing,” Zuckerberg said. “People want to share any type of content with any audience.”
The strategy, if it works, could help Facebook keep people inside its ecosystem, attract new users, and allow marketers to serve up ever more targeted ads.
Right now, Facebook operates two mobile apps outside of its core site: Instagram, for photo and video sharing; and Messenger, for peer-to-peer mobile messaging. In some cases, these apps give active Facebook users an alternative service to connect with each other. But they could also serve as standalone mobile hubs for people who are not as active on Facebook.
“Instagram is a different kind of community than Facebook,” Zuckerberg said, perhaps referring to the type of person who wants to see what his or her friends are up to, but without all the other stuff.
One recent tweak to Facebook’s Messenger app shows the company wants to weave more people into its apps: This past November the service was updated to let people message each other even if they aren’t Facebook friends, as long as the sender has the recipient’s phone number. With that change, Facebook sought to better compete against popular messaging apps like WhatsApp, Snapchat and WeChat. The change may have worked too — Facebook reported on Wednesday that it had seen a 70 percent rise over the past few months in the number of people using Messenger.
To provide an example of one type of new app Facebook might be thinking about, Zuckerberg cited a surprising metric during the earnings call: Roughly 500 million people — nearly half of Facebook’s total monthly users — are now using Facebook Groups, a service for setting up customized spaces for interactions and sharing, every month.
Zuckerberg did not say that Groups would be spun off into its own mobile app, but a look at what the service does helps to illuminate Facebook’s thinking in the area of standalone apps. “By creating a group for each of the important parts of your life — family, teammates, coworkers — you decide who sees what you share,” the product’s landing page proclaims.
“Giving experiences like that room to breathe and be their own brand is a really valuable thing,” Zuckerberg said.
Nintendo blew it. That much is clear, and even Satoru Iwata doesn’t debate it – Nintendo blew it. The financials could be much worse, but the unit sales? Way, way below targets, and in the case of Wii U, way below sustainability. Nintendo blew it! Shout it from the rooftops, if you can find space on a rooftop next to all the people who are already shouting it, with altogether too much peculiar jubilance in their snide, told-you-so voices.
Nintendo blew it. Blew what, though? That’s a tougher question. The company’s year has been a lot more complex than anyone is giving it credit for. In 2013, Nintendo was proud owner of the best-selling console in every major territory worldwide, and launched an enviable range of first-party software titles that sold over a million copies each – more than any other publisher out there. The company retained its crown as the biggest platform holder and the biggest software publisher in the business.
Yet, Nintendo blew it, because it also had a platform that utterly under-performed even the most conservative of estimates – a console that, on its current trajectory, is set to undershoot the low bar set by the GameCube and become the firm’s worst performing home console ever. Moreover, Nintendo blew it in a subtle but crucially important way – with startling incompetence for a company of its size, the firm predicted sales figures for both the 3DS and the Wii U which were absolutely ludicrous and then failed to revise them as the year carried on, meaning that even the solidly performing 3DS has undershot its targets, while the Wii U looks even worse than it ought to (which is pretty bad to begin with).
“Nintendo’s stock didn’t tumble too badly after it revised its guidance, largely since nobody with a clue actually thought the firm was going to hit its targets anyway”
This latter aspect has made the coverage of Nintendo’s situation even more negative than it would already have been (and there are plenty of people waiting to pile onto the company at the slightest provocation), since it covers up the success of the 3DS and its software line-up – seriously, 3DS has had an amazing year for software and is now set up with a library that effectively secures the console’s future – in a heavy smearing of corporate incompetence. It has also, understandably, deeply annoyed shareholders, because they rely on companies making accurate predictions to figure out whether or not to pick up stock in a firm. That said, Nintendo’s stock didn’t tumble too badly after it revised its guidance, largely since nobody with a clue actually thought the firm was going to hit its targets anyway. Incidentally, the company’s stock price is about 50% higher today than it was 12 months ago, in line with the rise in the Nikkei 225 index – which means that Japanese investors, at least, are rating the company as broadly neutral rather than actually negative.
Still, Nintendo blew it, and that means lots of people are making angry noises. Iwata must go, say some; Nintendo must exit hardware, say others; time for Mario on smartphones, say still others. The owners of all of those voices are going to be disappointed – not least, I believe, because very few of them actually understand Nintendo as a company or the Japanese corporate environment in which it operates. They don’t understand that activist shareholders don’t mean a tuppenny damn to a company whose shares are largely held by a combination of the founding family, the senior staff and (more significantly still) the complex web of interrelated share- and debt-holdings that connects Nintendo with Japanese banks and other corporations, none of whom have the slightest concern in being “activist” except in the most extreme of circumstances. An earnings miss? Pah! Japanese corporations routinely missed annual earnings every year for decades after the Asian Financial Crisis of the early 1990s, but shareholder pressure to change top management never materialised then, and it won’t materialise now. Iwata is secure until he does something sufficiently wrong to have a taint of scandal around it, and that’s deeply unlikely to happen.
Exiting hardware? Absolutely no chance. Nintendo’s primary view of itself is as a toy company and its core business model is selling hardware (generally profitably) and then selling software that runs on that hardware (extremely profitably). The synergy between the company’s hardware side and its software side is legendary, as is the extent to which each Nintendo platform is designed with the requirements of planned first-party software in mind. For that reason alone, it’s likely that the Wii U will eventually have a clutch of startlingly excellent games, matching last year’s critically acclaimed Super Mario 3D World in quality – although whether that will actually do anything to resuscitate sales is another question entirely. The point is that this approach isn’t going to change; the inertia behind Nintendo as a hardware company is immense, and moreover, despite this year’s earnings miss, it’s largely working. Nintendo is, pretty much every year, the largest and most successful game software company in the world. Would it retain that crown on someone else’s hardware? If you rush to answer “yes!” to that question, either your crystal ball gazing skills are excellent or you haven’t thought about it hard enough; I don’t think there is a good answer to that question right now, and I know Nintendo will be eyeing Sega’s post-hardware decline and thinking about its own potential fortunes as one-among-many on a smartphone app store. Right now, Nintendo has around 40 million 3DS owners who are keenly anticipating future first-party releases from the company – keenly enough that they start to agitate and make noise if there’s ever a gap in the release schedule. Would that be true on iOS, or Android, or even on a competitor’s console platform?
“one of the company’s failings, in some regards, is that it still doesn’t really have a global outlook, with Nintendo of America and Nintendo Europe being rather stunted”
How about a limited engagement with smartphones, then, even if they wouldn’t make the leap entirely? That’s plausible. Nintendo’s primary point of reference for its product decisions is Japan – one of the company’s failings, in some regards, is that it still doesn’t really have a global outlook, with Nintendo of America and (even more so) Nintendo Europe being rather stunted local offshoots whose actual contribution to the firm’s planning and success is pretty obviously minimal. In Japan, smartphone games are a huge sector, and interestingly, there’s seemingly more of a market for premium-priced games than there is in the west, where free-to-play is increasingly the only show in town (although premium-priced games are carving out an interesting niche there too). There is, I believe, some potential for Nintendo to start putting Virtual Console titles on smartphones, perhaps initially through a tie-up with one of Japan’s carriers. However, I’d expect this roll-out to be slow and careful, with Nintendo incredibly mindful of the possibility of damaging its core brands by launching Mario or Zelda games tainted by emulation problems or crap touchscreen controls. Still – it could happen, and is by far the most likely of the “demands” being made of the firm to actually be met in some limited form.
If Iwata isn’t going to go (he’s not), Nintendo isn’t going to exit hardware (they’re not) and the company’s future isn’t on smartphones (it’s not, although some cautious toes in that water may be seen in time), then what is Nintendo’s reaction to its present situation going to be?
I’ve stated this before, but it bears repeating – Nintendo has incredibly, insanely deep pockets. The firm has set aside a vast war chest over the course of its successful years, and it can easily ride out even the complete failure of a console platform, supporting that platform sufficiently to satisfy consumers while quietly working on a replacement. That’s what Satoru Iwata told me Nintendo would do if the Wii failed completely – they’d make something else and try that instead – and I see no reason why that logic would have changed. If anything, the firm’s financial position is even stronger now than it was then.
What will Nintendo make? There’s a lot of speculation around that, but most of it is evolutionary. A faster, more powerful DS / 3DS style handheld. A Nintendo tablet, capable of handheld gaming and being hooked up to a TV. A full-spec next-gen console built to rival the PS4. All of these are options for the company – the tablet computer one is even an interesting one, combining as it does the handheld market (which Nintendo always dominates) with the home console market (where it’s hit and miss). However, they all miss the crucial ingredient which Nintendo actually requires to bring itself back to success – surprise.
“Nintendo needs the element of surprise. It surprised the hell out of everyone with the DS, it surprised everyone with the Wii”
Nintendo needs the element of surprise. It surprised the hell out of everyone with the DS, a daft, stupid idea for a handheld console that everyone expected to be trounced by the much more comprehensible PSP. It surprised everyone with the Wii, a weird, tiny, underpowered system with a controller that looked nothing like we expected – so odd that it led me to rather bluntly ask Iwata what he planned to do if everyone hated it and the system flopped, hence his comment above. The DS is the best-selling console in history (or at least, tied for that honour with the PS2); the Wii trounced the Xbox 360 and PS3 in the last generation of hardware. Nintendo does exceptionally well when it surprises people. It creates a clear gap between itself and the competition and makes “the Nintendo Difference” into more than just a silly slogan. Even those who own a more “mainstream” console end up wanting a Nintendo one too, because it’s so interesting and different, while those from outside the core gamer market find themselves intrigued by the very peculiarity and curiosity of the devices and their software.
3DS and Wii U fail the surprise test. They’re practically indistinguishable from their predecessors, both in appearance and in branding. 3DS suffered terribly from being mistaken for a new version of the original DS hardware; the Wii U, I suspect, is doing even worse, with many consumers not realising that it’s a new console entirely and not a new controller for the Wii. There’s been a disastrous failure of communication, branding and marketing, which has compounded the more basic error – assuming that the success of the Wii meant people wanted more of that kind of thing. Nintendo’s strength is providing people will surprises, things that look daft to begin with and then turn out to be precisely what we always wanted and never realised. If it’s to successfully come back from its present mess, it needs to do so by surprising us, not by following along the dull path analysts would now demand of it.
That, I earnestly hope, is what the company is working hard on in Kyoto right now. I don’t want Nintendo to abandon the Wii U, and I don’t think that will happen. The installed base is small, but big enough to be worth caring about, and the console still has the makings of a profitable platform, albeit a niche one. However, alongside continued support for the Wii U (and hopefully, a drastic change in marketing and branding), Nintendo is hopefully also working on something else; something more important and simply more Nintendo; its next big surprise.
Nintendo reportedly is looking to mobile devices to save its struggling business, after it admitted last week that the Wii U isn’t selling.
On Thursday, Nintendo slashed its Wii U sales forecast, acknowledging that despite previously expecting to shift nine million units between April 2013 and March this year, it now expects sales of just 2.8 million. Nintendo’s 3DS console isn’t selling well either, leading the firm to admit that it expects to post a $240m annual loss.
These clearly are signs that Nintendo is losing its appeal in the gaming market, and although there are still many dedicated Wii U gamers out there, the firm is struggling to compete against the Sony Playstation 4 (PS4) and Microsoft Xbox One games consoles.
It seems that Nintendo is starting to realize this too, and it admitted over the weekend that it might look to mobiles and tablets to save the future of the company, following rumors that the firm may be planning its own Android tablet for educational use.
Although the company had previous said that you’re unlikely to ever see Mario Kart running on an iPhone, Nintendo president Satoru Itawa hinted that the firm’s stance on mobile devices has changed, with the company exploring the possibility of bringing its titles to smartphones and tablets.
“We are thinking about a new business structure. Given the expansion of smart devices, we are naturally studying how smart devices can be used to grow the game-player business,” Itawa said.
“The way people use their time, their lifestyles, who they are have changed. If we stay in one place, we will become outdated.”
However, Itawa admitted, “It’s not as simple as enabling Mario to move on a smartphone,” hinting that the firm will develop dedicated games for mobile devices, rather than porting those it already has.
By 2017, the same year that IDC forecasts digital PC/Mac revenues to reach $24 billion, the entire global games business could be worth more than $100 billion, according to the new Global Games Investment Review from Digi-Capital. The research firm says that mobile and online gaming is becoming such a huge force worldwide that it could grow at a compound annual growth rate of 23.6 percent, ultimately accounting for about 60 percent of software market share in 2017 while generating $60 billion of the predicted $100 billion for the overall industry.
While North America remains important, Digi-Capital expects Asia and Europe combined to represent about 80 percent of the mobile and online gaming sectors. Asia, in particular, continues to show its muscle when it comes to mobile and online gaming.
“Asia is becoming the biggest growth driver of economic value in mobile/online games, with the best games companies’ revenue growth and profit margins being the envy of foreign competitors,” said Tim Merel, managing director at Digi-Capital. “…9 of the top 10 games M&As of 2013 had Asian buyers, continuing the trend from 8 out of 10 in 2012. Global and pan-regional M&A deals were significant in 2013, and pan-regional relationships and profile remain critical for entrepreneurs selling via trade exits and for major corporate buying games companies. 13 out of 15 games IPOs in 2011-2013 were by Chinese, Japanese or South Korean companies, although there are also attractive IPO prospects in Western markets. Everyone is searching for the next Unicorn.”
The Asian gaming boom helped drive games M&A up 29 percent from 2012 to a record $5.6 billion in 2013, excluding $2.3 billion from the management-led portion of the Activision Blizzard/Vivendi spinout. The good news for companies seeking investments is that business seems to be on the rise, as investment levels rose back to 2010 levels, up 16 percent from 2012 to $1 billion – mobile, tech and gamification dominated investments in 2013.
While much of the industry is focused on mobile and online, consoles are making a recovery from their last few sluggish years. “The 8th generation console cycle is beginning to address the decline of recent years, but questions remain about potential new installed bases, transition from the 7th generation and mobile cannibalization,” Merel noted.
“Where 2013 was a year of transition, we anticipate 2014 to be a year of both growth and disruption for the games market.”
For more details, you can check out the full Digi-Capital report on the firm’s website.
With the Xbox One and PS4 fighting over the core gaming crowd this holiday season, Nintendo is targeting its Wii U marketing elsewhere. In an interview with Seattle NBC affiliate King-5, Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime said the system is enjoying strong holiday momentum, thanks in part to a renewed and refocused marketing push.
“The marketing has tremendously ramped up,” Fils-Aime said. “And really where it comes down to is being crystal clear in who’s your target. For us, this holiday with the Wii U, the target is parents and their kids. So if you’re watching primetime family entertainment, you’re seeing our marketing. If you’re a parent watching morning or daytime media, you’re seeing our content.”
Fils-Aime declined to give specifics about Nintendo’s marketing spend, but did expound on the company’s overall strategy.
“More than just the dollars, we’re putting our product where the consumer can see it, touch it, and feel it,” Fils-Aime said. “We’re in over 20 malls across the country. We’re creating an opportunity for consumers to see the product, because that, for Nintendo, is where the ‘wow’ happens. It’s not when you talk about specs or technology.”
Fils-Aime also addressed continued calls for Nintendo to begin making games for smartphones and tablets. While he stressed a corporate philosophy that Nintendo games are best played on Nintendo devices, Fils-Aime said the company has been doing “experimentation” on mobile platforms. However, he cautioned that experimentation is “largely going to be much more marketing activity oriented,” and designed to push users to experiences on the 3DS or Wii U rather than serve as stand-alone experiences in themselves.
“What drives us is creating fantastic experiences for consumers that in the end we’re able to monetize as a for-profit company,” Fils-Aime said. “The issue is that if you have games out there on all of these smart devices for very small amounts of money, it’s very difficult to monetize. And if you look at all of these companies who are trying to do it, there aren’t many that are doing it long-term, profitably.”
It is starting to look like the Wii is destined to go the way of the Dodo.
Estimated sales figures seem to indicate that 222,700 Wii U consoles were sold in the United States in November and 4.3 million Wii U consoles worldwide to date. This is not to be sneezed at, but given that Nintendo wanted to sell Nine million Wii Us worldwide during its 2014 fiscal year that is disappointing.
Nintendo flogged 160,000 systems in the first quarter and 300,000 units in the second quarter. Added to this new 222,000, this means Nintendo would need to sell an additional 8.3 million Wii Us before the end of March in order to reach its goal, or between 2.0-2.1 million consoles per month in December, January, February and March.
Analysts have already predicted that Nintendo “will likely miss” its profit goals for Wii U. Nintendo is trying to talk up the figures saying that sales of Wii U hardware increased by more than 340 percent over sales in October. Meanwhile sales of Microsoft’s and Sony’s new consoles are going through the roof.
Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter spoke at the Game Monetization USA Summit in San Francisco, and once again made some bold predictions about the future of the game industry. He pulled no punches as he evaluated the current state of affairs in the business, and he had some hard advice for a number of companies.
Pachter noted that more people are playing games on more devices than ever before, but he doesn’t think the console market will be growing. “I don’t think you’re ever going to see 500 million consoles out there,” Pachter said. For lifetime sales, Pachter expects the Wii U will ultimately sell 30 million “or fewer” units, the PS4 will sell 100 to 120 million units, and the Xbox One will sell 90 to 110 million units.
“The reason Sony beats Microsoft is solely the price,” Pachter noted. “Microsoft loses the next generation unless they cut price. If Microsoft drops its price to $399, I expect the sales to be equal to the PS4.”
The lifetime sales Pachter predicts compare to current sales of the PS3 and the Xbox 360 at about 80 million units apiece, but it’s far below some estimates of hundreds of millions of next-gen consoles. “I don’t know where they get those numbers,” Pachter said. He feels that at several hundred dollars, with games costing $60 or more, consoles are just too pricey to ever sell hundreds of millions of units.
The Wii U’s performance so far Pachter characterized as “underwhelming,” but noted it’s possible “but unlikely” that exciting new titles will reinvigorate growth. He believes that Nintendo is missing a huge opportunity to bring new gamers into their brands: Nintendo should put old GameBoy Advance content on phones and tablets for free, and charge $3 to $5 for more recent titles from the DS. Pachter feels this would generate enormous revenue for Nintendo and bring millions of new fans into their brands, and give them a strong way to sell newer titles on the 3DS and Wii U that use those brands.
“I don’t know why Iwata is still employed,” Pachter said, given that he refuses to take advantage of this opportunity while the handheld market continues to shrink and the Wii U has failed so far to catch on in a big way.
Pachter is more positive on the PlayStation 4 – “Sony thrives, Nintendo doesn’t” – saying it’s impressive as a game playing device. “The graphics are phenomenal, and the huge RAM makes future innovation likely,” Pachter pointed out. He noted that the multimedia features remain unclear, but the CPU power of the PS4 allows the potential for huge improvement in the future. As for the Xbox One, Pachter noted it’s impressive as a multimedia device, and the added features of Kinect and Skype give it additional value. “We’re sticking with our prediction of a built-in TV tuner” for the Xbox One, Pachter said, which would simplify the ability of the Xbox One to control your television viewing.
“The next generation of consoles is probably the last,” Pachter said. “We expect frequent model updates instead of new consoles.” Moreover, there’s going to be renewed interest in the PC, he predicted. “I think the PC is going to make a comeback, the PC will be the hub of all this stuff,” he stated. He feels Smart TVs are a dumb idea, noting that you don’t have a smart monitor connected to your computer. He envisions there will be a number of screens around the home, perhaps controlled by a tablet, being driven by a supercomputer in your pocket that we call a smartphone.
The Wii U gets a new system update from Nintendo. While details are a bit vague on what all the new system updates actually does, Nintendo says it “improves overall system stability” and also includes minor adjustments “to enhance the user experience”.
The update comes ahead of a planned Nintendo update for the 3DS that is scheduled to arrive next month. The 3DS update will bring the Miiverse to the 3DS as well as adds the ability to combine eShop balances on both the 3DS and Wii U systems. In addition it will add Network IDs to the 3DS to access the eShop. Apparently 3DS owners will not have to take advantage of using a NNID to combine their eShop purchases and will still be allowed to download software from the eShop without a NNID.
Rumors suggest that another system update for the Wii U is just around the corner, but will likely not arrive till early next year, unless Nintendo has a reason to release it sooner. On the software front, the Wii U is still struggling, but the recent sales boost has helped, but Nintendo needs strong sales for the Wii U this holiday season in order to help get published and developers re-engaged in developing for the console. Whispers suggest that Nintendo expects supplies of the Wii U to be plentiful this holiday season and does not foresee shortages like what has plagued the Wii consoles of the past. The problem is however that the lack of software will likely keep many buyers away.
The firm’s CEO Jen-Hsun Huang talked up Gamestream at an event titled “The Way It’s Meant to be Played” in Montreal on Friday, announcing that Nvidia will “put the Geforce gaming experience in the palm of your hands”. Essentially, Gamestream combines Geforce GTX graphics card technology with WiFi for smoother, low-latency wireless gaming from a PC.
Nvidia launched Shield in the US this summer. The games console runs Google’s Android mobile operating system and combines a games controller that has a small, touch sensitive screen with a Tegra 4 system-on-chip (SoC) processor. The rollout of Gamestream to the device will support 50 video games when launched, including upcoming 2013 releases Batman: Arkham Origins and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.
“Along with the release of GameStream comes expanded streaming support, including: super smooth and fast performance at 60 frames per second,” Hsun said. This will include better quality WiFi support with Gamestream ready routers from network partners such as Asus, Buffalo, D-Link, and Netgear, and improved onscreen navigation and controls.
Although initially, GameStream will only be available for local PC streaming, Nvidia said that in the longer term, it will also support Nvidia’s Grid cloud gaming services.
Gamestream has been in beta testing for some time, so the update is a welcome addition for Shield owners. However, it’s no use for users here in the UK, as Shield is still not available to buy in Blighty. The portable gaming console launched in the US in July, but frustratingly for UK users, we’re still experiencing delays in shipping across the pond.
Along with the announcement of Gamestream, Nvidia also touted a new display technology over the weekend called G-Sync, an innovation that Nvidia touted as “groundbreaking”, and which “casts aside decades-old thinking to create the smoothest, most responsive computer displays ever”.
The technology is supposed to minimize the effects of screen tearing, Vsync input lag, and stutter by synchronizing the monitor to the output of the GPU instead of the GPU to the monitor. This is expected to make games display faster and smoother.
G-Sync requires a GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost or better GPU and an Nvidia G-Sync enabled monitor to work. The technology will be available as a monitor module that you can install yourself, or you’ll be able to buy it pre-installed in monitors as well. There’s no news on European availability yet.
The Delaware Supreme Court has overturned a preliminary injunction preventing Activision Blizzard from buying Vivendi’s stake in the company. In September, the Delaware Court of Chancery blocked the sale due to a lawsuit filed against Activision by shareholder Douglas Hayes. Hayes argues that the sale requires the approval of shareholders to proceed. Vivendi filed an emergency appeal against the ruling in late September, attempting to remove the injunction before the October 15 termination date on the agreement.
The Delaware Supreme Court agreed with Activision’s assertion that the sale was a stock repurchase and did not require the approval of minority shareholders.
With the injunction gone, Vivendi and Activision expect the deal to close by October 15. The deal will have ASAC II, an investment group led by Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, buying 172 million shares from Vivendi for $2.34 billion and Activision Blizzard buying 429 million shares for $5.83 billion. The two transactions would give Activision control over Vivendi’s 61 percent stake.
Wedbush Securities expects Activision’s stock to outperform once the deal is completed, with a 12-month price target of $22 per share.
“While some investors may have concerns about declines for the company’s core businesses, we remain fans of Activision Blizzard. The company communicates clearly, executes well, and its management appears to truly understand how to make money,” said Wedbush is a recently released note.
King.com Ltd, the British mobile gaming firm best known for its popular puzzle game ‘Candy Crush Saga’, has filed confidentially for an initial public offering (IPO) in the United States, a person familiar with the matter said on Sunday.
Online technology companies are rushing to the stock market on the backs of Twitter Inc’s announcement earlier this month that it plans to go public in the most eagerly anticipated IPO since last year’s flotation ofFacebook Inc.
Emerging growth companies such as King can use a secretive IPO registration process in the U.S. thanks to the Jumpstart Our BusinessStartups (JOBS) Act, which loosened a number of federal securities regulations in hopes of boosting capital raising and thereby increasing job growth.
King has hired Bank of America Merrill Lynch Corp, Credit Suisse Group AG and JPMorgan Chase & Co to lead the offering, said the person, confirming an earlier report by the Daily Telegraph and asking not to be identified because the information is confidential.
Representatives for King and the banks either declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment.
King offers 150 games in 14 languages through mobile phones, Facebook and its website. It boasts more than 1 billion gameplays per day from its users.
The company’s games appeal to a growing trend for players to play puzzles with their friends in short bursts, especially as games are increasingly played on the move on phones or tablets to kill spare minutes.
Rival Zynga Inc went public two years ago in a high-profile IPO that raised $1 billion. Since then, Zynga has suffered from sagging morale during several quarters of worsening performance and repeated waves of layoffs.
Founded in 2003, King has been profitable since 2005 and has not had a funding round since September of that year, when it raised 34 million euros ($46.04 million) from investment firms Apax Partners and Index Ventures.
Activision Blizzard’s moves to separate from its parent company Vivendi has been put on hold. The move, which surprised many, angered one shareholder that he sued to prevent this from happening.
Delaware Chancery Court was told that the whole move is a huge waste meant to cover a power grab. But now the court has put the move on hold until it can be argued in court. In order for the separation to continue, either the injunction must be modified on appeal or a majority vote by non-Vivendi stockholders must come down in favor of continuing the process.
Activision Blizzard said it was exploring options to ensure it still takes place. Vivendi has been trying to get rid of Activision Blizzard for nearly a year now in hopes of boosting its shares.