Game Marketing Tips, Analysis, and News


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Nintendo's Switch: Will the Market Take the Bait?


Now we know a little bit more about Nintendo's new console, but really very little – especially when we're only a few months away from the release date. We know it's called the Switch, it's capable of playing as a portable and hooked up to your TV, it uses an Nvidia Tegra chip, and it's going to be released in March 2017. Officially, the only game we know that will be on the Switch from Nintendo is Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Most of what we know comes from this video that Nintendo released a while ago.

There's a lot of excitement over a new console from Nintendo, and fans are already salivating. We know there are a few million hardcore Nintendo fans who will buy pretty much anything the company releases, no matter what issues it may have. The real question here is can Nintendo find a massive audience for this new console – like the 100 million who bought the Wii – or at least one on the scale of the Xbox One (25 million or so so far) or the PlayStation 4 (45 million or so so far)? Or are we looking at another failure of Wii U proportions, with lifetime sales of 13 million to make it Nintendo's worst console ever?

My best guess at this point is that the Nintendo Switch will end up far closer to the Wii U in sales than it will to the Wii's sales. Why am I skeptical? Several reasons, including the software, Nintendo's continuing difficulty in appealing to modern gamers, the overall value of the system – and the fact that it's essentially a mobile device. Let's deal with each one of these reasons, in reverse order.

How Many Pockets Do You Have?
I think Nintendo has made a fundamental error here in trying to make its home console more successful by blending it with their more successful handheld consoles. What they failed to understand is that their handheld lines have already been on a downward slope – the 3DS line is selling in far smaller numbers than the DS line. Why? Smartphones, of course. You can now play terrific games on your smartphone, and nearly everyone who would be part of the target audience for the Switch already has a smartphone. You're always going to take your smartphone with you wherever you go. Would you take a Switch? Sometimes. The bigger question is, why would you even buy a Switch in the first place when you have a better game playing device in your pocket already?

Top-end smartphones will be better than the Switch. They have better screens, more RAM (doubtless), and a better CPU/GPU than a Tegra. If not now, then they certainly will in the next yearly update cycle. You can already put your smartphone games up on your TV (via Chromecast or Airplay). And now you're going to get Nintendo characters on your smartphone... so is a Switch really worth hundreds of dollars to play a few different games? No, I don't think it will be for most people.

What's the Value of a Switch?
It's hard to say until Nintendo announces the price, but you have to figure if the price was going to be low they would have announced this early. Delaying the price announcement means a chance to build up more anticipation, and perhaps less resistance if the price is high. Expect a minimum of $249, and $299 would not be a big surprise. Since it's Nintendo, even higher is possible – they really hate to lose money on every sale. Say the Switch is $299 – which is the same as the basic price for the Xbox One and the PS4. The Switch will certainly be less powerful than either of those consoles, but it will be portable. Is that really enough to sell the Switch?

The overall value of the console has to include what software is available. There will certainly be some Nintendo exclusives, but we don't know how many, how often we'll see them, or how good they are. As for software that you see on other consoles, that's unlikely except for one or two experiments. The Switch is going to be a non-trivial port for games from other consoles. It's likely the Switch will never have most of the popular console games that appear on Xbox One or PS4, so if you're interested in those the Switch becomes a second console to buy. That's a tougher sell, and gives it less value.

Nintendo Doesn't Do Internet Well
One of Nintendo's biggest problems in appealing to a modern gaming audience is that they still don't understand the Internet, multiplayer online gaming, and related issues. There's no reason to believe they'll have this any more figured out with the Switch. Maybe we'll see Friend Codes. Even if we don't see those again, there's not likely to be any great online multiplayer games for the Switch – and those are some of the very most popular games.

The Lack of Compelling Switch Software
Wait, you cry, Nintendo has already announced Zelda: Breath of the Wild for the Switch, and it looks great! True, except now rumor has it that the game may not be ready at launch, but perhaps months after that. While we saw things that looked like Skyrim and NBA 2K17 in the Switch video, Bethesda and TakeTwo have refused to confirm they are releasing those titles (or any titles!) for the Switch. This does not induce confidence in the software lineup.

Ideally Nintendo would be releasing major titles (using the best Nintendo characters) for the Switch every couple of months. If they were going to, they'd have already announced that. Nintendo has struggled for years with getting major new software out for HD screens, with constant delays. It's great that they want to release excellent software, but on a corporate level they don't seem to be able to figure out how to do that on a regular schedule. Other major game publishers have mostly figured this out, but Nintendo seems to be incapable of doing that – and honestly, most of the big titles from other publishers are significantly more complex than most of Nintendo's games.

The Switch is going to be ARM-based (using a Tegra CPU), so it's essentially going to be running an Android variation I'd expect. Which means porting from mobile titles should be easy – if Nintendo allows it. Though then you'd just have a title you can already get on a mobile device you already own (your smartphone), so this wouldn't seem to provide much of an incentive to buy the hardware.

Summary
It's true we haven't seen the hardware specs, the software lineup, or the price for the Switch yet. I submit, though, that while those will all be interesting, none of them are sufficient to guarantee the Switch sells in big numbers. Honestly, you'd think if any of those three things were really impressive, Nintendo would have been touting them for months, instead of waiting until the very last minute to make them public.

Perhaps Nintendo has finally figured out that mobile is the future for them, but they were so far along this hardware path they had to continue. Or maybe they really figure the Switch has a chance to generate Wii-like sales. That ship has sailed, though. With literally billions of good gameplaying devices in the hands of people around the world, there's no way to create a hardware market that's even a fraction of that size. With Pokemon GO, we've seen where even a pretty limited title (the game initially didn't have much to it), we could see 500 million downloads and over $600 million in revenue in a couple of months. That shows the power of great IP on the right platform with the right monetization – and it's not even as great a game as it could be (though it's becoming better).


Someday, perhaps, Nintendo will be able to realize its potential on mobile platforms. The Switch, though, just isn't going to be it. Even if the Switch is a huge hit, selling 50 million units in a couple of years, that hardware and all of its software wouldn't generate as much profit as Pokemon GO will in one year. That's the real switch Nintendo should be making – the switch to creating mobile games.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Super Mario Run Pricing Set: Will It Fly?

Nintendo has finally announced when its highly anticipated iOS game Super Mario Run will ship: December 15. And while the game will let you play for free, that apparently only applies to a limited part of the game (though you will be able to check out all three game modes, apparently). You can unlock the entire game for the princely sum of $9.99.

Wow.

Now, if there's any company whose brands could command a high premium price for a mobile game, it would be Nintendo. But $10 for an endless runner game? That seems like a big ask, when there are plenty of free runners out there. Sure, it's a big discount from a 3DS game at $30, but that's not the point of comparison that most mobile gamers will be making. They'll be looking at free games, or maybe something like Minecraft Pocket Edition at $5.99 -- which seems like it packs in far more value than an endless runner, no matter the IP doing the running.

 Of course, we don't actually know how much content there is that you'll get for your $10, nor how many hours of play you'd expect to get. Perhaps the game is a really good value at $10, delivering dozens of hours of game play. That seems unlikely, though, given the genre. It's not like it's a deep strategy game, or an RPG, or even a sophisticated platformer. What we saw demoed looked pretty simple, and not enough to justify the price.

Perhaps Nintendo can indeed command that price, and sell millions of units at $10. That would be great for the industry -- with Nintendo leading the way, we could make premium mobile games a real thing and not just a fluke. Let's hope that is what occurs.

I'm doubtful, though, because I think mobile gamers are less concerned about the brand and more about value. I think Nintendo will easily get millions of downloads, but getting people to drop $10 will be much, much harder. I don't think the problem is $10 per se, though there are few apps of any kind that demand that. It's a value question -- do you really get your money's worth? More than 20 million people have paid for Minecraft Pocket Edition at $5.99, so it can be done. But compare what you get for $6 to what Nintendo is offering for $10, and I don't think Nintendo compares very well.

Now, one of the many great advantages of digital distribution is that price changes are easy. Nintendo could (and should!) experiment with its price point to find the optimum level -- the point at which Nintendo maximizes its revenue for Super Mario Run. (In other words, selling 100,000 units at $10 each is not as good as selling 20 million units at $1 each.) That optimum level may be $10, or it may be $1, or $5. Only testing would reveal that. That said, I'm doubtful Nintendo will actually test various prices, because that's something they are not used to at all. I'd like to be pleasantly surprised, though.

While the upside for the $9.99 price is that it may help others in the mobile game business charge more for premium games, there's also a possible downside: Nintendo could create a great deal of ill will towards themselves and their brands if the value isn't there. The company's first mobile "game" Miitomo was a pretty clear failure, though it really wasn't a game per se (another mistake -- why should a game company release something that isn't a game, especially as their first foray into mobile games?). Nintendo might be hurting their future titles like Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem (both announced for mobile, coming sometime next year) if Super Mario Run is a big disappointment.

We'll see. I think Nintendo is trying to create mobile games that are very different from its handheld console games, to avoid cutting into those sales. That's a remarkably shortsighted idea, though. Here's a simple piece of data that should convince you why that is: Pokemon GO has been downloaded or 500 million times. That's an order of magnitude more than any Pokemon game, ever, and more than all of them combined by several times. So why in hell wouldn't Nintendo give up low-margin hardware and just make killer mobile games (with a very high margin)  that can attract an audience at least ten times larger than any they've ever had?

OK, hedge your bets a bit and do one or two mobile games first to demonstrate you can actually do that well before you give up on hardware. I can see that. But Nintendo's Switch is never going to sell more than a tiny fraction of the number of smartphones out there, and therefore any Switch game will be microscopic in sales compared to a good mobile game. There are no multiple mobile games that generate over a billion dollars a year in revenue with a profit margin greater than 50%. No Nintendo game has ever generated that sort of profit, and few indeed have ever created that kind of revenue.

It's going to be a very interesting product launch to watch, and come January we should have some idea of how successful it is.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Death of Game Reviews


While there's no attending physician, and no generally accepted criteria for a cultural phenomenon subsiding into irrelevance, I think we can call it here and now: Game Reviews are dead, at least in terms of cultural influence. Bethesda Softworks' decision this week to stop providing advance copies of games to reviewers signals that reviews, long diminishing in effect, have crossed over into complete uselessness. Or, at least game reviews in the classic sense of being written by professional reviewers for professional web sites or magazines.

Here's what Bethesda said in their press release:

"At Bethesda, we value media reviews. We read them. We watch them. We try to learn from them when they offer critique. And we understand their value to our players.

Earlier this year we released DOOM. We sent review copies to arrive the day before launch, which led to speculation about the quality of the game. Since then DOOM has emerged as a critical and commercial hit, and is now one of the highest-rated shooters of the past few years.

With the upcoming launches of Skyrim Special Edition and Dishonored 2, we will continue our policy of sending media review copies one day before release. While we will continue to work with media, streamers, and YouTubers to support their coverage – both before and after release – we want everyone, including those in the media, to experience our games at the same time.

We also understand that some of you want to read reviews before you make your decision, and if that’s the case we encourage you to wait for your favorite reviewers to share their thoughts."

What's happened to professional game reviews is the rise of social media, the growth of reviews in online stores, the increasing popularity of public betas, and overwhelmingly the huge influence that livestreamers and YouTubers wield. People don't look to professional game reviews to make their buying decisions – they ask their friends, they look at what people have said online, and most of all they look for YouTube videos or a livestream where they can see the actual gameplay and listen to someon's commentary about the game.

Even though reviews don't seem to affect sales so much any more, why would Bethesda stop providing advance copies of games for review? It's very simple: Pre-orders. Bad reviews could hurt pre-orders. Heck, some game writers are even calling for people to stop pre-ordering, because it encourages bad games. While that may or may not be true, what is true is that once you've purchased a console game, you're not really able to get your money back unless you return it unopened. Which is why we see pre-order bonuses becoming more popular – publishers want to lock in your purchase by offering some goodies you can't get if you wait until the game comes out. Or until reviewers have had a chance to tell you if the game is any good or not.

Yes, that's the way the business has worked for decades. True, if a publisher ships a bad game there's going to be some blow back – reduced sales on the next title, perhaps. But it's usually not very substantial compared to all of those lovely sales that aren't refundable. And as game budgets rise, risk rises too – giving publishers even more reason to want to lock in your dollars before you even have a chance to know if you like the game or not.

Part of the reason free-to-play games have done so well is that they turn this model on its head. You don't pay anything unless you've found the game worth playing, and want to get more out of the game by spending some money. Now, the problem for developers is that all too often there aren't enough paying players to make the game profitable.

Ultimately the problem gets resolved, as good quality games rise to profitability and low-quality ones can kill off a franchise or even a developer. Players now have plenty of fine gaming choices all around, and if they really feel they are getting a raw deal by pre-ordering they'll stop.


Still, the professional game review matters very little these days – unless you can deliver it engagingly during a livestream or in a cleverly crafted video. It's bad news for traditional game reviews, but good news for streamers and YouTubers.  

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Value Is The Key to In-App Purchases

Many games are free-to-play these days -- the majority of mobile titles are F2P, some of the leading PC games are F2P, and now even some console games. Usually, that means the games monetize through in-app purchasing (the sale of virtual goods or services inside of the game, usually abbreviated IAP) or advertising. Surveys show that many gamers feel in-app purchases detract from their enjoyment of the game -- according to an Ipsos survey, 47% of UK gamers feel that way. Why? And is this a problem that game designers need to tackle, or game marketers?

It's useful to take a look at some examples of games with in-app purchases that are doing very well, like League of Legends, World of Tanks, Clash of Clans, and others. Those games don't have a problem with players; their players seem pretty happy to have the opportunity to purchase things for the game. (The image of DJ Sona above from League of Legends is an example of an extremely popular in-app purchase.) Those who don't buy in-app purchases enjoy playing the game, or at least don't seem put off by the fact that you can buy things in the game. At least, we can infer that from the tens of millions of people playing these games on a regular basis.

What is it about some games that makes IAP annoying, and tolerable or even appreciated in other games? There are two factors, I believe. One is the game design: Games that annoy you with purchase requests (intruding during the game play), games that require purchases to speed up play (time-gating), games that let you buy your way to victory (though this depends on the culture, as its a desirable thing in China), those types of game design make IAP into something annoying. The other factor is value: Games that offer a good value in IAP don't annoy the players.

The important part of this value determination is that what constitutes value comes from the player's point of view, not the designer or marketer's idea. The fact that you can buy 100 game tokens for only $7 instead of $20 doesn't mean it's a good value to the player. Sure, maybe it's a deal compared to is usually charged for game tokens, but that may not connect directly to value in the mind of the player. What can you get for those game tokens? Are they readily usable for things that players definitely find useful or enjoyable? The determination of value comes from using a player's point of view to look at things.

You may not really know what is valuable to players at the outset of the game design, but game testing should reveal that if you ask the right questions. You could even run some tests with different groups of players to see what they like, and what they think is a good deal for an in-app purchase. Sure, start with some assumptions, but test them out and verify them. You can also test the effectiveness of different price points, too.

The ideal F2P game lets you have fun with the free version, for as much time as you like. Then it allows you to pay something to increase your enjoyment, but in a way that doesn't leave you feeling annoyed if you don't buy it. Doing this well requires both good game design and good marketing input.


Sunday, September 11, 2016

The 4K HDR Console Wars Begin

Yes, 4K/UHD (Ultra High Definition) and HDR (High Dynamic Range) consoles are here, and the marketing battle is beginning. One major player has left the battle, and a major new weapon is yet to arrive, but it already looms large in strategy calculations. Let's survey the order of battle, and try to predict the outcome.

First, Microsoft introduced the Xbox One S, a smaller, lighter Xbox One that retails for $299 in its basic version. It's also about 15% more powerful than the original Xbox One; supports HDR output for games; supports 4K/UHD output for streaming video; and includes a 4K/UHD Blu-Ray player. The list of games with HDR output is short right now (Forza Horizon 3, Gears of War 4, NBA 2K17, and Scalebound) but you can bet it will grow. HDR support is usually quite easy to add, according to developers. The console will not support 4K gaming.

Now Sony has introduced its competitor: the PlayStation 4 Pro, with over twice the power of a PS4 (4.2 teraflops as opposed to 1.8 teraflops), support for 4K/UHD and HDR output for games as well as streaming video, for $399. Oddly, while the PS4 Pro includes a Blu-ray player, it is not a 4K/UHD Blu-ray player. The PS4 Pro, which has a 1 TB hard drive, will ship November 10. Meanwhile, the PS4 has been revised to the PS4 Slim, a smaller and lighter box with essentially the same capabilities as a PS4, retailing for $299 and shipping September 15.

Just to make matters more interesting, Sony also announced that a firmware patch would be pushed out to ALL existing PS4's that will allow them to output HDR to suitable TVs – that is, if you have any PS4 and a 4K/UHD HDR TV (virtually all 4K/UHD TVs support HDR), you'll be able to run games in HDR mode – provided the publisher of the game has provided a patch for that capability. Supposedly that's pretty easy to do for most games, but we'll see.

Looming on the horizon for launch in the fall of 2017 is Microsoft's Xbox 'Scorpio', a far more powerful Xbox One that has 6 teraflops of processing power. That should support true 4K gaming output. As of now, the exact specs and price are unknown – we probably won't know that until June 2017 (E3) at the earliest. This gives Microsoft plenty of time to decide its strategy based on the reception for the PS4 Pro.

The response so far to this news has been mixed. Some feel Sony is going to do very well with this strategy, expanding their lead in the market. Others think the PS4 Pro won't do all that well due to the fairly low number of 4K/UHD TVs installed, though it's worth knowing that Sony promises you can see visual benefits to games on a PS4 Pro even through a standard HDTV set. Assuming, once again, that the publisher of the game has provided some sort of patch to let the PS4 Pro show its power.

We're really in unknown territory here. Apparently the PS4 Pro does a pretty good job of making 4K games look very nice, even though it doesn't have the raw horsepower to drive true 4K games, but instead relies on some clever tricks to upscale lower resolution output to 4K and make it look pretty dar good. All observers seem to agree, though, that HDR color makes a big, noticeable improvement in games. The interesting thing with that is that soon all PS4's will be able to play HDR games, and so will the Xbox One S – but not older Xbox Ones.

So how many of the existing 40 million PS4 owners will upgrade (through selling their PS4 to GameStop or someone else) to the PS4 Pro? No one knows. Will Sony ever break out PS4 Pro sales from PS4 sales? Doubtful. And while the number of 4K/UHD TVs right now isn't large, the price on them has dropped to where HDTVs were last year. We should expect the bulk of TV sales going forward to be 4K TVs, so the installed base should be pretty good by next Christmas... about the time Microsoft ships the Xbox One Scorpio.

Microsoft is giving Sony a free year to build up some PS4 Pro momentum before the Xbox One Scorpio arrives with significantly more horsepower. Will Microsoft price the Scorpio aggressively? They could easily meet whatever PS4 Pro price Sony sets, even if means losing money... if Microsoft wants to capture market share. They haven't done that lately, but who knows what they will decide in a year?

Add to all of this is Nintendo launching its NX system in March. Odds are it won't have 4K output of any kind, so the Nintendo NX will be left out of the 4K Console Wars entirely. Which is probably fine by Nintendo, but it does make you wonder how well they will do. Will the NX be more like the Wii or the Wii U when it comes to sales? I don't know. Now that Nintendo is doing mobile games, will that help the NX somehow? Is this somehow an end run around Sony and Microsoft? Who knows?


The only thing I know for sure about the next year is it's going to be a lot of fun to watch the battle unfold.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Dangers of Vague Marketing

No Man's Sky recently released for the PlayStation 4 and PC, and it's been getting mixed reviews – some fairly negative, like Polygon's rating of 6. What's interesting is how negative some of the social media reaction has been, and I think part of that is due to the sky-high expectations that had been set for the game. Kyle Orland over at Ars Technica summed up the situation pretty well in this article: "After years of vague marketing, this might not be the game you imagined."

Ever since the teaser video for No Man's Sky dropped at the VGX awards in 2013, people have been waiting breathlessly for the game. A dedicated fan base developed even before release, and there were many times in the media that praise was lavished on the game for its immense size and procedural techniques for generating huge numbers of worlds.

On release, though, many have been disappointed with No Man's Sky. The gameplay has been criticized as rather dull and repetitive, the procedural generation may generate lots of different visuals but planets feel very similar in the resources and other aspects. Numerous bugs with the initial Windows release added to the criticisms.

Often, the complaints seemed to be that the game was not what the player expected. I suspect that this was the result of players getting excited about the game from limited information, and then projecting their own desires onto what was essentially a tabula rasa. Hello Games talked about the procedural generation algorithms, and showed some beautiful planetary scenes, and threw around numbers like 18 quadrillion planets. As far as describing the game play went, though, the information was pretty sparse up until right before the release. It seemed like there would be exploration, and some crafting, and some combat, but exactly how these worked and what players would actually spend their time doing was not at all clear.

Here's a very revealing quote from Orland's article, talking about a post by Hello Games' Sean Murray, made right before the launch: "Murray clearly and concisely laid out the four key pieces of No Man's Sky's gameplay loop: exploring, trading with NPCs, combat, and survival/crafting. He also acknowledged, however, that the game exists in quite another form in many potential players' heads.
"That means this maybe isn’t the game you *imagined* from those trailers. If you hoped for things like PvP multiplayer or city building, piloting freighters, or building civilisations… that isn’t what NMS is. Over time it might become some of those things through updates. For instance, freighters and building bases *are* coming!... At launch though, it’s an infinite procedural sci-fi-space-survival-sandbox unlike anything you have ever played before" [emphasis added]

Basically, by keeping very quiet for a long time about what the game actually had you do, Hello Games allowed people to spin their own ideas of what would be in the game. It became some sort of Minecraft/EVE Online/Destiny mashup... a far cry from what it actually is.

So what's the result of all this hype? Right now, it seems like the game is selling very well on Steam. The game hit 212,620 people playing it concurrently on launch day, which is the biggest Steam game this year. It compares well with 2011's Skyrim, which went on to sell 3.5 million copies.

Is the message then that vague marketing and hype is a good thing? If your interest is a short-term one, it would seem so. It may well be that in the long run, Hello Games will make more from the game because of this early hype than if they had been more restrained about marketing it. Or, perhaps, the game may fizzle out quickly, with people not sticking around to see improvements made to bring it closer to what they had imagined it to be. Right now, it certainly seems like the added hype has paid off.


That's something I'm uncomfortable with, though. I'd rather let the audience generate enthusiasm based on how good the game actually is for them, not based on how good I was at igniting expectations. I suppose it means that at heart, I'm more comfortable as a game designer than as a marketer. At some level, though, I'd like to believe that in the long run I'd make more money by honestly marketing great products than I would by promoting them in ways that the games don't really live up to. Or, at least, I'll sleep better at night.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

How Nintendo NX Will Fail... or Could Succeed

An NX mockup
Let's take a closer look at Nintendo's NX at what its strategy may look like. Does this new console have any chance for success? Many industry insiders have been saying for years that the console is dying – that is, before the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One came out and blew away console sales figures, both outselling the previous generation in the same time period from launch. Then insiders starting saying "Well, this is probably the last generation of consoles..." and now we've got the Xbox One S coming out (the first console redesign where it's not just smaller and cheaper, but actually better in several ways), and soon the PlayStation 'Neo' and next year the Xbox One Scorpio. Now, those new consoles may or may not set sales records, but at least we're seeing more new consoles with at least a fair chance of good sales.

Now we come to Nintendo. After the 100 million unit sales of the Wii, some at Nintendo felt they could repeat that with the Wii U. Instead, the Wii U is ending its lifespan this year with perhaps 13 million units sold, earning it the Worst Selling Nintendo Console of All Time award (not counting the Virtual Boy, which was strangled in its crib). Now, slated for March 2017, Nintendo has announced the Nintendo NX, about which we officially know – nothing. Well, aside from the fact that Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wind will be coming out for it (perhaps at launch, you'd think, but Nintendo hasn't even confirmed that). As for the Nintendo NX features and price, Nintendo remains quiet. We'll probably get the reveal in the next couple of months, since the supposed launch date is fast approaching.

Instead of official news, we have a rumor (confirmed by multiple sources, according to Eurogamer) that the NX will be a portable device that you can plug into your TV, with a pair of detachable shoulder controls, powered by an Nvidia Tegra chip of some sort (K1? X1? Or a custom version? No one is sure). Games would come on cartridges (!), though you could also download them. The NX would not be Android based, but instead run a custom OS designed by Nintendo. No backwards compatibility with previous Nintendo devices, we assume. No word on NX price, of course, or the actual graphics power – though based on what we have seen of Tegra chips, the NX should be around Xbox 360/PS3 level, with perhaps higher resolution output and some better 3D shading.

Let's assume for the moment that the NX does indeed look a lot like this device. What are its chances in the marketplace? The answer really comes down to the software situation. The launch title should be Zelda, of course, though if they don't release it for months after the hardware launches, that may be enough to kill the device. Look, regardless of the NX price, whether it's $299 or $499, there will be at least a million people who would buy one so they could get a new Zelda title. Really, continuing sales of the NX will depend to a large extent on how many quality titles Nintendo can publish for it, and how quickly they come out. If we have to wait six months for a good Mario title, and then another six months for a new Smash Bros., then six more months for Mario Kart... the NX is dead. Even hit software only every three months would be pushing it – if Nintendo really wants the NX to sell, their top brands should be coming out for the NX every two months or faster.

Third-party software support would be very helpful indeed, but it seems doubtful that Nintendo would get much support from the likes of EA or Activision. They've got much more certain places to invest their development money, at least until Nintendo shows some significant market numbers.

One thing about the NX seems likely – battery life will be a problem. You may only get two or three hours before you need to find an outlet. Will this affect sales and usage? Perhaps, but if the software is there people will just be external battery packs and move on.

There are a few things we can deduce from this (rumored) NX configuration. One is that Nintendo is opting out of the horsepower race with Sony and Microsoft, remaining well behind the capability of the competing consoles. That has an immediate consequence – almost none of the AAA titles from major publishers would be available for the NX, due to the sheer difficulty of porting (not to mention whether or not the publishers would even want to). So, the NX software would be limited to what Nintendo could produce, along with perhaps a handful of Japanese publishers and some daring indies (if Nintendo even decides to allow indies to publish on the NX). The NX, therefore, is likely to suffer from a severe lack of games compared to every other platform. If Nintendo can't produce key titles quickly enough (as has been the case with the Wii U), the NX will fail.

The other thing that's obvious is that even if the NX is a hit, selling tens of millions of units in its first year, that will be perhaps two orders of magnitude less than the number of smartphones and tablets out there (now around 2 billion). So the 75 million downloads Pokemon Go has already seen, with a likely $1 billion or more in annual revenue (of which more than half will be profit), is not even remotely possible for the NX. Nintendo has said it now sees 2 million units of software sales as a hit. Compared to what mobile software can do, that's pathetic.

Look, Pokemon Go all by itself could generate more profit (for Niantic, not Nintendo – Nintendo only owns 32% of The Pokemon Co., which gets a royalty from Niantic – though both TPC and Nintendo have investments in Niantic) in one year than Nintendo has generated in the last three years. Think of the profits Nintendo could generate if it invested in high-margin mobile game development instead of low-margin hardware development.

Sure, Nintendo has mobile games coming from its partnership with DeNA – but if Miitomo is any example, these mobile games will sink like rocks. If Nintendo was smart, it would ditch the NX, buy the rest of DeNA, The Pokemon Company, and maybe a couple of other mobile studios, and plunge headlong into mobile games with its library of iconic brands.

I'm pretty sure they won't, though. They will launch the NX, and there will be plenty of talk about it, and the software will be late in arriving and new titles won't come out all that often... and the NX will perhaps sell 20 or 30 million units in its lifetime. That's what seems most likely given Nintendo's track record.

Sure, it's possible the NX could be a success. How? Make sure the price is low to start with, like $199. Use Android as its base so you can get an enormous number of developers on board. Add GPS and a version of Pokemon Go that's better than the one on smartphones, because then every Pokemon Go player will want an NX. Give it a good name that doesn't have "Wii" in it anywhere. Spend a couple of hundred million dollars on savvy marketing, and pay a few hundred million to get several top game studios working on hot titles for the NX. How much of that will Nintendo actually do? Probably none of it, as they amble along hoping to eke out a couple of hundred million in annual profits, maybe sweetened by an occasional payout from The Pokemon Company or from licensing Nintendo characters to theme parks or beach towel makers.


Anyone care to argue that the NX will be a huge hit? Let's hear some good reasons.