By 2017, mobile and online games could push worldwide gaming software revenues to $100 billion. That’s according to Digi-Capital’s latest Global Games Investment Review report, which said the mobile/online game market could make up a whopping 60 percent ($60 billion) of that total thanks to a compound annual growth rate of nearly 24 percent since 2011.
The firm found mobile was the main driver of record mergers and acquisitions activity in the last year, accounting for $4.6 billion of a record $12.5 billion in games M&A. The free-to-play MMO market was the next biggest driver with $4 billion in M&A business, followed by tech interests with $2.8 billion.
That total covers the last year, but most of it has come in 2014, with gaming M&A accounting for a record $6.6 billion in the first six months of the year alone. Even if 2014 didn’t see another penny added to that total, it would be a new full-year record as well, having already eclipsed the $5.6 billion in mergers and acquisitions recorded for the entirety of 2013.
Digi-Capital offered a number of reasons for the increase of M&A activity beyond the simple attraction of massive growth in the field. The firm also said some acquirers were interested in “stopping mobile insurgents from eating their lunch,” indicating the Zynga pick-up of Natural Motion would fall under that category. It also said companies established in one region are looking to buy strength in a different part of the world (as with Softbank’s majority stake acquisition of Supercell), and lukewarm or delayed IPOs for a handful of companies in the market have made recent valuations seem like good bargains.
The 3DS stumbled at launch, enduring sluggish sales until Nintendo instituted a drastic price cut on the hardware. While Moffitt noted the impact of the price cut, he said a pair of first-party releases was another key driver in reversing the handheld’s fortunes.
“We had the price cut in August , and then we had Mario Kart 7, Super Mario 3D Land, which really drove sales that first holiday, and on 3DS we haven’t looked back,” Moffitt said. “So we’ve had momentum ever since that first holiday and we’ve got now 260 some games in the library and some of the best, most highest rated, most highest quality content we’ve ever had on that platform. Everything we launched seems to do above forecast and surprises us on the positive side.”
The situation with the Wii U is similar, Moffitt said, adding that the console is about to reach a very similar tipping point.
“As I look at what we have coming this holiday, now with Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros, plus the innovation of Amiibo, I think we are right at that tipping point where we have a lot of great content that is about to be released for that platform that’s going to tempt gamers into buying the system,” Moffitt said. “From the comments I’m reading online, and following gamers’ comments, I think there are a lot of people that are going to have a hard time resisting buying a Wii U once Smash Bros comes out. I think that’s going to be a major hardware driver for us. So that’s the narrative we hope that plays out and that I think we are starting to see play out.”
One avenue that Nintendo won’t be pursuing to spike Wii U sales is an unbundling of the GamePad, Xbox One Kinect-style. Both companies pitched the peripherals as essential components of their visions, but when Xbox One sales lagged, Microsoft found the demands of potential customers more convincing than their original plans. While Moffitt said Nintendo is still working to create gameplay experiences that demonstrate the true benefits of the Wii U GamePad, he said removing it from the hardware bundle is not in consideration.
“We think GamePad is the only innovation that’s come in this new generation of consoles. So we have the only real point of difference. Certainly graphics are faster, graphics are better. This is not a real innovation for gamers. We are fully committed to leveraging the GamePad, to keeping it bundled with the system.”
As for the problem of third-party support for Wii U, Moffitt namechecked the continued efforts of partners like Sega, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, and Activision. While some big companies who have dropped the system, Moffitt understood why that would have happened and acknowledged it was Nintendo’s problem to fix.
“It’s all about driving the install base and so that’s our work to do, right? We need to get to a critical mass where it makes financial sense for them,” he said.
Moffitt added that third-party games don’t all come from the big AAA publishers. He touted the company’s efforts in lowering the barriers to entry for indie developers looking to publish on Nintendo platforms.
“We talked to a lot of them before launching the Wii U and we addressed some of the issues that really were holding some of them back from developing realistic content on our platform,” Moffitt said. “At least for the indie community, we’ve become a lot easier to do business with and we’re seeing a steady flow of content now.”
However, those efforts were largely invisible at E3. Where Microsoft and Sony devoted sections of their booths to indie developers working on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 respectively, there was no such equivalent in Nintendo’s booth.
“With any show, you have choices to make,” Moffitt said. “Every time I go down to our booth floor and see how many people are waiting to play Super Smash Bros, when I look outside at the Best Buys… Last night we had four hours of game play on Super Smash Bros. and we had 1,000 people in line. We had to turn people away. So it’s a tough choice for us as a platform holder. We don’t have enough game stations down there on Smash Bros. We try to feature as much content as we can in the limited space that we have. Right now we just have a lot of demand for Super Smash Bros. We could have used 10 more game stations on that game alone. Choices have to be made.”
Finally, Moffitt weighed in on the VR trend. While Nintendo has a distant history in the field with the Virtual Boy headset, Moffitt suggested Nintendo was taking a wait-and-see approach toward returning to it
“What I’d say is it’s appealing technology,” Moffitt said. “It’s interesting. We’re going to follow it closely to see where it goes. It’s got a lot of advantages. It’s got one disadvantage relative to what we know is often very fun for gamers, which is playing games socially in a living room. This is a very single player solitary gaming experience. Not all of our games are fun to play with multiple people in a living room in front of a game console but it doesn’t lend itself to that kind of an experience as well as what Wii U does now. That would be a disadvantage of going in that direction. Could it be a nice addition to our hardware platform? Sure.”
Mickey Mouse outfit Walt Disney expects global retail sales from its 10-month-old Infinity video game to reach $1 billion.
Disney launched Infinity in August to help turn around its interactive gaming unit, which lost $1.4 billion from fiscal year 2008 to 2013. In an overhaul in March, the division laid off about one-quarter of the workforce, cut the number of games it develops and focused its advertising more on the fast-changing mobile market.
A month ago, Disney reported global retail sales of $550 million for Infinity. Sales of the game helped the interactive unit post a $14 million profit for the quarter that ended in March. Jimmy Pitaro, president of the company’s interactive unit said that Infinity will be a billion-dollar franchise. It is expected to do even better when the game’s next version, “Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes” is launched. Infinity lets users play with characters from Disney and Pixar films such as Anna and Elsa from “Frozen,” Captain Jack Sparrow from “Pirates of the Caribbean” and Lightning McQueen from “Cars.” The 2.0 version that will be launched in the fall brings in Marvel heroes such as Captain America, Iron Man and Spider-Man.
Still Infinity has not done as well as its rival Activision Blizzard “Skylanders” franchise which has made $2 billion in revenue.
It turns out that Dr Strange might not be the only weird thing associated with SHIELD. Recently we had a tremor in the force about a SHIELD tablet, and it turns out that we were right.
A screen capture of Nvidia Tegrazone has confirmed the existence of a SHIELD tablet which has a Tegra K1 at its nerve centre. It also comes in an 8 inch format.
Smart money is that it will have a 5GHz Wireless LAN as this is one of Nvidia requirements to stream the games over the Gamestream. Since the tablet is called SHIELD we expect that streaming of PC games will be a big selling point for this device, but probably with no Marvell tie-ups – sorry Sky fans.
Tech report readers was the one to spot if, and it is a nice catch. We expect to see SHIELD tablet shipping earliest in July.
New Nexon CEO Owen Mahoney said earlier this year that he’d like for his company to be “more successful in the West with the kinds of games that will resonate with Western tastes.” While acquisitions could be on the table to bolster its development talent, the company today took a step in the right direction, revealing to GamesIndustry International that it’s signed a publishing agreement with Brooklyn, New York-based Turbo, a startup with backing from SoftBank Ventures Korea and comprised of veteran talent that has worked at Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, Riot, Rockstar, Zynga and more.
Turbo believes there’s a great opportunity in core titles on mobile and the studio came together in 2013 with a shared “desire to bring AAA ambition to mobile game development.” Nexon will be the exclusive worldwide mobile publisher for Turbo’s first cross-platform title, which is expected in 2015. Turbo founder and CEO Yohei Ishii talked with us about his studio’s goals and ambitions and why Nexon is the right partner.
While Nexon’s portfolio on the PC has something to offer for core gamers, the company’s mobile lineup has been a bit more casual in nature. With Turbo on board, and other deals in place, Ishii noted that Nexon is quickly getting serious about core titles on mobile.
“Every year, the devices get more powerful, developers get smarter, the tools get better, and the quality bar of what a mobile game can achieve is raised. I believe that mobile is the true next generation gaming platform”
“Nexon is dedicated to bringing high quality mobile content to gamers, and you can see how serious they are by their recent partnership announcements with companies like Shiver Entertainment (John Schappert) and SecretNewCo (Brian Reynolds). In terms of Turbo, we aren’t confining our creativity to a specific genre; we are focusing on creating AAA quality games tailored to the pursuits and expectations of the core gamer, a community that we feel hasn’t been properly embraced in mobile. Since we’re gamers ourselves, it’s important for us to not only develop titles that get the community excited, but games that we actually want to play as well. Nexon understands this and is 100 percent in support of what we are trying to accomplish here at Turbo,” Ishii said.
The mobile games market has grown by leaps and bounds in just the past few years, and while PC and consoles are still very much the home of core gaming, Ishii is confident that a greater number of core gamers will be putting more time into playing on mobile. The quality of the titles has been steadily improving, and the price is right for consumers.
“In the past, mobile was never considered a legitimate gaming platform; however that was primarily due to the quality of games that were being offered at the time. Back then, a majority of game offerings were made up of very forgettable, factory processed gameplay experiences. Recently, there’s been a dynamic shift in the mid-to-hardcore gamer demographic within the mobile space, and for the first time, smartphone and tablet gamers now outnumber traditional console gamers,” Ishii noted. “Every year, the devices get more powerful, developers get smarter, the tools get better, and the quality bar of what a mobile game can achieve is raised. I believe that mobile is the true next generation gaming platform, and players’ outlook as it relates to mobile will continue to change as their perceptions and user habits have already started to shift more towards core.”
Needless to say, with Nexon as publisher, you can expect Turbo’s inaugural title to use the free-to-play business model. That, in and of itself, shouldn’t be a deterrent to the core crowd in the long run, Ishii insisted.
“Similar to my previous point about mobile perception and user habits shifting more towards core, this also holds true for the platform’s business models as well. It is important for us to not only create an awesome game that hardcore, articulate gamers will enjoy, but also make it as accessible as possible. The best way to do that is to drop the barrier to entry altogether,” he said. “By making it free-to-play, we understand that we may run the risk of initially alienating the core gamer, whose first reaction might be one of skepticism. But this is one of the reasons I’m so excited about what we are doing at Turbo. Every employee that works here is a gamer. When we’re not making games, we’re playing games, and that sets a stratospherically high bar for ensuring that all our releases provide the fun and depth core gamers come to expect with a AAA quality experience. At Turbo, quality and knowing our community is what matters, not of-the-minute trends.”
Of course, Turbo’s core gaming mission can only be helped by initiatives like Apple’s new Metal API for iOS 8, which should enable console-quality visuals to be rendered much more easily on iPhone and iPad. Ishii is definitely looking forward to leveraging the new technology. “We are super excited about what Apple is doing on the mobile front. Their recent announcements are another great example of how the mobile games platform is always evolving and moving forward. We believe there is a big opportunity for us in this space and are excited to be a part of it,” he said.
Philips is looking to get Nintendo’s Wii U games consoles banned in the US.
Philips has patents in its sights and it said that those patents belong to it and are being used without permission.
The firm has filed a complaint for patent infringement with the US District Court for the District of Delaware, and that has been published on Scribd.
The complaint accuses Nintendo of infringing two Philips patents, and Philips said that they are used in the Wii console and its peripherals. It is pushing for a US sales ban.
The patent numbers at issue end in 379 and 231. Philips claims that it alerted Nintendo to its infringing use of 379 as early as 2011. It registered patent 231 last year and the patent covers interactive device pointing, which is rather a key element of the Wii experience.
Philips is asking for a ban on Wii U sales in the US and monetary damages. The impact on Nintendo could be significant if a sales ban in put in place. So far we have not been able to get a response from the company.
The Philips complaint identifies a long list of infringing hardware. “The infringing interactive virtual modeling products of Nintendo include but are not limited to motion-controlled gaming consoles and motion-detecting devices such as the Wii video gaming systems and related software and accessories including, for example, the Wii console, Wii Remote Plus Controller, Wii Remote Controller, Wii Nunchuk Controller, Wii MotionPlus, Wii Balance Board, Wii U console, Wii U GamePad, and Wii Mini,” it says. “The infringement by Nintendo has been deliberate and willful.”
Philips has requested a jury trial.
We got some fresh information about Nvidia’s Tegra plans. The company is working on a new tablet based on the Tegra K1 processor. This is nothing new and could be easily predicted, but this time we have confirmation that the project is known as Shield tablet.
Alongside the Tegra K1, or TK1 as Nvidia refers to this chip internally, you can bet that there is 5GHz WiFi support in the latest tablet. Last time we heard talk of a Tegra Note 7 successor we were told that there would be an 8-inch version, but we cannot confirm whether or not the Shield tablet is an 8-incher.
Nvidia Mocha tablet getting Shield branding?
We already wrote about the Mocha 8-inch tablet powered by a 2.1GHz TK1 chip, 2GB of memory, 7.9-inch 2048×1536 resolution screen and 16GB of storage. We can only hope that this will be the specification of Shield tablet. In case you didn’t notice, the 7.9-inch 2048×1536 resolution is what you get from Apple in the iPad mini and it is no coincidence that Nvidia chose this form factor and this resolution. If it works for Apple it should work for Nvidia, too.
Since Nvidia managed to excite quite a few fans with the Shield gaming console, it was just a matter of time before it offered a Shield tablet. We know that Tegra Note 7 was lacking 5GHz WiFi, something that Nvidia requires for Gamestream technology and with the new Shield tablet this problem has been addressed.
A Shield tablet with Gamestream support will give Nvidia what it needs – clear differentiation from hundreds of Android tablets available today. This was not the case with the Tegra Note 7, although it ships with a neat stylus which is not common on affordable Android tablets.
Second screen for gamers
With a Shield tablet Nvidia can target a niche audience that would like the ability to play some PC games via Gamestream on their beloved tablet. People complained about the resolution of the Tegra Note 7 and with the larger version Nvidia will definitely increase the resolution to 1080p or more. However, a 1920×1080 or 2048×1535 tablet won’t cost $199, it will be a bit pricier than the Tegra Note 7. It will be based on a more elaborate SoC, it needs more RAM, more storage and of course a pricier screen.
The LG G Pad 8.3 Google Play Edition tablet is currently selling for $349 which can give you an idea of the price. Nvidia’s 8-inch gaming specced tablet will probably cost between $299 and $349. Apple charges $399 for the iPad Mini with Retina. We can only speculate, but this is just something that makes sense to us considering to approximate BOM and Nvidia’s traditional margin in this space.
We expect to see the new Shield tablet in the next few months, probably around Google I/O if not at Google I/O which takes place in the last week of June.
Nvidia has released a few updates for its in-house Android devices. The company definitely understands that the higher end Android market really likes regular updates, so Nvidia tends to deliver them frequently.
As usual the updates bring some new features and fixing bugs and security issues. The Tegra Note 7 got the OTA 2.3 update. It is not a major one, but it will fix localization and translation issues for various regions, it brings improved touch responsiveness, updates the stock apps, fixes miscellaneous bugs and security issues.
This is a 79 MB update that takes a while to install and after a reboot we didn’t notice any major change in the device but it made us happy that there was an update.
Nvidia Shield also got a new Software update (77). This one contains important enhancements and bug fixes. It will fix the bug that prevents moving app files to SD card in certain cases when using the Settings ? Apps ? ‘Move to SD card’ function and ability to use bumpers to adjust volume; enable option from Settings ? Controller ? Volume Control. Furthermore in conjunction with the latest GeForce Experience 2.0.1 update, improves security and audio latency for GameStream. This is a minor update compared to the latest software update 72 from 7th of April 2014 that brought a lot of new features and enhancements.
Nvidia is currently delivering an update once a month, which is definitely faster than most of the competition. It is good to know that the company is listening to the community and that it tries to improve its products with new features. In case you didn’t get the notification about these updates just hit Settings ? About SHIELD ? System updates and they should be there.
Facebook wants to create an in-house digital currency system that its members can spend and trade on its website.
The Irish Times reports that the Irish central bank has been approached by the social network and is rather close to approving its request.
Those aims include the creation of Facebook currency that Facebook members will be able to use to pay for things within the social network and, presumably, its associated properties.
“Facebook wants to become a utility in the developing world, and remittances are a gateway drug to financial inclusion,” said a person close to Facebook’s plans.
We have asked Facebook and the Irish central bank about the proposals and have yet to receive any responses. The report said that the deal could be announced within as few as three weeks.
Facebook already has the right to make some in-house transactions in the US, and according to the Irish Times it facilitated $2.1bn worth of transactions in 2013.
The report said that the social network has already chatted with three companies in the field, and named them as Transferwise, Moni Technologies and Azimo. Again we have asked the firms to confirm or deny this.
Facebook has danced with digital currency before, but abandoned the idea in 2012. It used Facebook credits for in-app payments, but was accused of forcing developers to use it. Then Facebook was taking a 30 percent cut of transactions.
In 2012 the firm announced micro transactions on mobile phones, saying that they would simplify everything.
“The payment flow is simple,” Jessi Xu, a Facebook software engineer said in a blog post at the time. “Users who want to pay for a virtual or digital good in a mobile web app open the payment dialog and confirm their purchase.”
Nvidia certainly did one thing right with the Shield gaming console. It has learned that users of such devices really like continuous and regular updates that add features and functionality to their devices.
The effort probably would not be worth it, given the limited number of Shield consoles in the wild, but it demonstrates that Nvidia is committed to the concept. Shield today sells for a rather attractive $199 and offers Gamstream support on your home network as long as you have a 5GHz capable router.
With the latest April Update, Nvidia is offering remote Gamestream support. This is good news but we still have to try this in the field in order to make some conclusion about it. Let’s not forget that Nvidia lets you use the Shield in console mode, playing your games on a big screen TV as long as you have the necessary Bluetooth controller. Grid gaming works for some users depending on the region, with California as the epicentre, but this functionality was enabled before the April update. It is required that your ping stays below 150ms and Nvidia will let you try out a dozen games for free. We tried it and it works nice, as long as you don’t get too far away from the 5G router.
The Shield April update also brings mouse and keyboard support in console mode, and it will make your life easier playing Civilisation V, World of Warcraft and similar games from your couch. Nvidia also updated Game touch mapper making it easier to map your favourite touch based games. You can also download predefined settings from the community profiles. The full support for Android 4.4.2 KitKat is certainly a nice addition. Andrew Conrad, Nvidia tech guy and gaming nerd, the face of Nvidia gaming for the new generation also confirms that Gamestream on the go will work via WiFi, tether, MiFi or Hotspot internet connection.
As we already pointed out, Nvidia is clearly putting a lot of effort into Shield on the software front. This is not always the case with niche products, but Shield is part of a much wider strategy that revolves around streaming, blurring the lines between different platforms. Whether or not upcoming generations of the console can gain a mainstream following remains to be seen.
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.