Recently, there seems to be a lot of posts and comments about how Apple, with the iPhone and iPad, are the future of gaming and how Nintendo should be really scared. In fact, recently articles have said Nintendo executives feel that Apple is the “enemy of the future.”. However, the tone of these comments seems overly negative for Nintendo’s future, such as a recent Businessinsider suggestion that Nintendo should port some NES games over to the iPhone.
I’m not a financial guru or analyst, but I think the overall negativity towards Nintendo is far too harsh. Yes, any competition to Nintendo will hurt their revenue, but in the long run, I don’t think they have anything to worry about. That’s not to say that should sit on their laurels and do nothing. As long they continue to do what they does best, they shouldn’t have any problems challenging Apple at all. The following are a few of the reasons why.
Content is King
At the height of the HD DVD vs. Blu-ray war, a journalist I heard online said that Youtube was streaming way more content than people were watching HD content. He had a simple point, if people are willing to watch worse than standard definition content on Youtube, HD isn’t as important to consumers as the industry thinks. While there are easy rebuttals to his point (e.g. HD content not pervasive, Youtube is free, etc.), I consider this a great analogy to why Nintendo doesn’t have to fear Apple. In the end, the consumer will show more interest in better content, not better technology. We’ve already seen this with Nintendo several times. The standard definition Wii has outsold its HD counterparts. Before that, the Gameboy destroyed the sales of its color-screened competitors. Nintendo’s great, and often superior, games will continue to allow them to sell tons of platforms in addition to their games.
Here’s another way to think about it. Nintendo will have a much easier time emulating Apple’s success with interfaces than Apple having Nintendo’s success with games. For example, we’ve already seen Android catch up in sales to the iPhone. Nintendo has regularly created the best games, generation after generation. Even while they were getting their butts handed to them by Sony, they were still able to churn out enough game changers to make people want to buy millions of their N64 and Gamecube consoles.
For fun, I did a count on a recent GameInformer list of the top 200 games of all time. Everyone’s greatest games list is different, but this is a reasonable list to go off of for this discussion. By my count, Nintendo developed and published 25 of the games on the list, and published an additional 5 that were developed outside of Nintendo. (If you want to count the Gameboy Tetris as the version that popularized Tetris, you can add one more notch for Nintendo.) Think about that for a moment. All the games over the last 30+ years put out for Ataris, PCs, Macs, Playstations, Xboxes, Segas, and in arcades too. All the games put out by famed third party developers such as Capcom, Konami, Id, Electronic Arts, Activision, Blizzard, Sierra, and others. Nintendo owns over 1/8th of that list. If we isolate it to mobile gaming, there are only 6 games on that list, of which Nintendo developed or published 5 of them (again, I’m not counting Tetris).
So I believe Nintendo can continue to kick ass by doing what they do best, making the greatest games in the world.
Apple Relies on Third Parties
Following up the previous section, Apple does not do much if any first party game development, they are almost entirely dependent on third party developers for their gaming content. It goes without saying, third parties are not beholden to Apple and can easily jump ship or port. I’ve owned an Android phone for just a short time now. I see more and more iPhone apps being ported to the Android Market. While Nintendo is behind on supporting online downloads and a large developer network, they’ve already got a foothold with DSiware. It wouldn’t be hard for them to attract iPhone/Android developers to port their apps over to a popular Nintendo mobile/handheld device.
I believe Apple already sees this as a concern and has begun instituting policies to try and lock in their third party developers to developing only for the iPhone. The new iPhone OS 4 SDK appears to ban multi-platform development. Apple also recently announced a game network for the iPhone. What better way to tie a game to the iPhone than making sure it doesn’t work with a third party game network.
How could Apple catch up in gaming content? One way is through gaming acquisitions. It would take awhile to catch up, even with the acquisition of a giant such as Electronic Arts. However, I have a hard time believing Apple would spend 5-10 billion dollars on a gaming company that predominantly profits by selling games for Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony platforms.
Gamers need a D-Pad
There’s no question Apple (along w/ Microsoft, Google, and other mobile makers) will capture a fair share of the casual gaming market that had been in the Nintendo DS market. All those folks that bought the Nintendo DS for Tetris and Brain Age now have a new home to play soduko. However, for much of the hardcore game market, I simply don’t see Apple gaining traction. Many games really need an external device for input. There is still that need to have the feel of a controller or a button in your hand for feedback. Many gamers don’t want their thumbs or fingers to take up screen real-estate. In contrast, the Nintendo DS uses a stylus for many of their touchscreen games, which takes up much less screen real estate than your hands. The experience is limited without an external device input.
This issue is more in Apple’s court than Nintendo’s. Apple apparently realizes this is an issue given some patent filings. Personally, it still boggles my mind why Apple will not make a device with a form factor similar to the PSPgo. Basically make an iPhone/iPod Touch with a slide out game controller. Or imagine your typical Android phone w/ a physical keyboard, but replace the physical keyboard with a game controller. The size is nominally larger than the current iPhone/iPod Touch, but would immediately get major third party developers to port their Nintendo DS and PSP games over. All future games could be supported on multiple of these platforms. They can easily market it as a device that is just as good as a Nintendo DS and PSP, but with all the extra wonderfulness of a iPhone/iPod. But I get the feeling Apple will never do this, they aren’t the kind of company to make a device that someone else already has.
So I don’t believe Nintendo needs to be too worried about Apple and their touch screen inputs.
So in summary, if Nintendo continues doing what they do best, making great games and devices for games, and Apple continues doing what they do best, which isn’t games, I don’t think Nintendo has much to fear in the long run. They’ve already beat up Sega, Microsoft, and Sony. There’s no reason to believe Apple won’t be on their list in the future.
Michael Pachter, “Pach-Attack! Episode 104”, GameTrailers
John Gruber, “New iPhone Developer Agreement Bans the Use of Adobe’s Flash-to-iPhone Compiler”, Daring Fireball
RawmeatCowboy, GameInformer – top 200 games of all-time, GoNintendo
iPhoneHacks, “Apple might bring Tactile Feedback to iPhone’s Touchscreen”, iPhoneHacks
Philip Berne, Android Passes iPhone OS in U.S. Purchases, Phonescoop
Darren Murph, “Nintendo CEO: battle with Sony is over, Apple is the ‘enemy of the future'”, Engadget
Brian Crecente, “iPhone Gets Online Gaming Network, Multitasking This Summer”, Kotaku
Brian Crecente, “Apple Admits Gaming is Hard On Their Devices, Patents Solution”, Kotaku
“Hey, Nintendo, We DARE You To Make An iPhone Game”, BusinessInsider
Dan Frommer, “No Way, Apple Should NOT Buy Electronic Arts”, BusinessInsider