Tag Archives: business

Big-N’s Big Year

Since the failure of the Wii U, Nintendo’s future had been in question. Turn to mobile? Sell to Disney? Sell to Apple? Retire Mario?

The question marks and judgement loomed with the 2016 announcement of Nintendo’s new console, the Switch. A console poised to bring the worlds of mobile and set-top gaming together. The dream. But could a company founded on family friendly, under-powered hardware make a dent against the HD twins (PS4 and Xbox One) and a world where seemingly everyone above age 12 carries around a mobile supercomputer?

Questions. Questions. Questions.

In 2017, Nintendo answered.

Switch

The Switch is a literal game changer and its portable/set-top hybrid gimmick is working.

Released world-wide on March 3, 2017, the Switch has sold 7.63 million units as of September 30, 2017, according to Nintendo’s six months financial results briefing for Fiscal Year Ending March 2018. To offer some context, Wii U shipped 3.61 million units in its first 7 months, PS4 sold 7.0 million in its first 5 months; 10 million in 10 months. Microsoft has kept much of the Xbox One’s numbers quiet, but the console sold 3.9 million units in the first 2 months, almost 10 million in 12 months. For the long-game, the PS2 sold 155 million units. The anomalous Wii had lifetime sales of 101.63 million. Xbox 360 sold 84 million units. PS3 sold 80 million.

In the same briefing, Nintendo revealed that over 50% of owners play in both portable and TV modes, 30% play exclusively portable mode, and the remaining 20% play exclusively TV mode.

Compromises notwithstanding, there also seems to be a growing yearning for all games to be brought to the Switch. I’ve unhooked my PS4 and Xbox One. I’ve moved my Switch dock to my nightstand. I’ve gone full handheld. Nintendo has successfully untethered the console gaming experience from the TV, and it’s difficult to go back. The divided worlds of handheld and set-top gaming have coalesced and it’s everything we’d ever dreamed it would be. Without a doubt, this is a future Nintendo has been envisioning since the wildly successful Game Boy.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Launched alongside the Switch in March, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild came out of the gates a scorcher.

To set the stage, the initial teaser for the Wii U (prior to the announcement of the Switch) gave a glimpse of an open-world Hyrule, an art style blending The Wind Waker’s cell-shaded cartoon aesthetic and The Twilight Princess’s realism, and an action-packed cinematic:

But it was still yet to be determined if Nintendo was truly offering the open-world 3D Zelda adventure fans had been dreaming of since the original?

Could Nintendo actually deliver an open-world game on par with the likes of Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto and Bethesda’s Skyrim? If so, how would it innovate? How could it innovative? Would Nintendo’s beloved IP be a fit for an experience of that magnitude? Could Nintendo deliver something of that size and scale?

Nintendo’s 2016 E3 trailer would set imaginations ablaze:

Nintendo seemed to be offering up answers to every question.

Lo and behold, they delivered one of the greatest, most innovative gaming experiences of all time. It not only checked every box and crossed off every worry, it set new standards for open-world games.

From the onset, the player is cast out into the world. There is little in the way of tutorials and much in the way of freedom. Players can roam anywhere and climb anything. The world is a sandbox that encourages invention by utilizing elemental chemistry. Damn near anything is possible. There is no standard way to play the game. Gating is thrown away in lieu of trusting the player to the creation of the designers. Both player and designer are treated with equal importance. In The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, respect is a two-way street.

That’s not to say that I think the game is perfect. I have my gripes. I feel the music is lacking. Aesthetically, it is not a world I’m keen to revisit. The sword delicacy is maligned. Characters — NPCs and enemies — become repetitive. There is a lack of character present in previous Zelda entries — namely A Link Between Worlds. While this list seems like it would break a game, these faults are surprisingly easy to look past. The game is just that good.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the best selling Switch title to date, now exceeding 4.7 million units. During its launch month, Zelda sold at an unprecedented 100% attach rate for the Swtich. The game maintains a 97 Metacritic score and boasts a 170 hour “completionist” play time on HowLongToBeat.com.

Regardless of your standard of measuring a game, one thing can be said — The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a special experience. Nintendo stripped one of their most beloved franchises down to its core and rebuilt it in a way that sets the standard for open-world games going forward.It is a triumph for a myriad of reasons; but most of all, like the Switch, it was reliving on a dream.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

Wii U’s abysmal sales are no indication of the quality of games produced for the console. Arguably, it’s home to some of the greatest Nintendo titles ever — Mario Kart 8, New Super Mario Bros. U, Super Mario 3D World, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Splatoon, Super Mario Maker, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD. The Wii U’s hit to miss ratio is sure to be one of the lowest of any console, yet most potential players missed out on surefire classics. Thankfully, Nintendo bolstered the Switch’s launch year line-up with one of the best.

Mario Kart is a household favorite franchise, and Mario Kart 8 is the best of it’s form. Selling 4.42 million units, porting the greatest Mario Kart game to the Switch so early in its lifecycle was a brilliant move. It allowed Wii U owners to share the experience with the uninitiated and show off the Switch’s built in local multiplayer gimmick. Playing Mario Kart is like riding a bike. With the Switch’s ever-present multiplayer, players can crack off the Joy-Cons and immediately share and experience. Maybe even an office tournament:

On Mario Kart 8 Deluxe‘s release day, I brought my Switch to work. It was the perfect venue to test the Switch’s out-of-the-box local multi-player experience. In fact, it was the first time I’d attempted any multi-player on the device in any of its various forms. As far as I know, I’m the only one in the office with a Switch. Gasps filled the room when I removed the Joy-Con from the display. I handed one over to a colleague, showed him around the tiny controller, and away we went.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe wasn’t much more than Mario Kart 8 + the DLC with a new Battle Mode. Whereit falls short is it’s insistence to unlock everything the original game had to offer. It’s certainly a great value to provide new players with everything there is to offer, but nothing is left for anyone to pursue. I’d have loved to re-race for the cups I’d previously unlocked for the Wii U version. It was truly surprising how demotivating it was to play one of my favorite games when everything had been achieved for me.

However, while I still believe retailing for $60 is a bit high for the title, it can’t be understated how great it is to have the highest-fidelity, local multiplayer ready, greatest Mario Kart game with you at all times.

Splatoon 2

In the vain of Wii U ports, Splatoon 2, the sequel to the Wii U’s Splatoon, sold nearly 75% of the original within 2 months (3.61 compared to 4.87 million units).

Splatoon takes the shooter genre and turns it into a kid-friendly paintball frenzy. Splatoon 2 added tot he experience by offering a single-player campaign. But the addictive core of the game is its short, territory-hording Turf Wars. Two teams do their best to ink as much of a stage’s territory in their color while warding off the opposing team. The bouts are short and weigh-in much like a Mario Kart race. It’s always anybody’s game. Players can feel just as important in supporting roles as they can on offense.

Splatoon 2 was the first game to support Nintendo’s Switch Online iOS and Android app. Though, much ire was drawn by the app’s poor online chat service. (Players are forced to route communications through their smartphone as opposed to the Switch.) I have not had an opportunity to use the app, so I will not comment.

In addition to a problematic smartphone app, my main gripes with Splatoon 2 are the inability to back out of lobbies while waiting for players as well as the near impossible task of playing with folks on your friends list. It’s infuriating.

However, the core game is still a delight and shows off the prowess of the Switch’s online multiplayer — at least once a match is underway. Splatoon 2’s stylistically original and serves as an inviting experience for all next to its gritty wartime counterparts.

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

In August, Ubisoft delivered the first Mario experience on the Switch. Yes. Ubisoft. Not Nintendo. Ubisoft. Trusted with Nintendo’s icon and core franchise, Ubisoft delivered not only a charming title on par with other Mario entries, but a tight, satisfying, and unique strategy game to boot.

In the vain of XCOM, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle plays like cartoon chess. The player selects a team of three (Mario + two other characters, so long as one is a Rabbid) to battle a slew of Rabbid baddies in a series of turn-based bouts across 4 worlds. As players progress, weapons are upgraded and skills are gained. There are plenty of collectibles to keep completionists active. Difficulty spikes are educational rather than infuriating. And the Mushroom Kingdom is more gorgeous than ever.

VGChartz puts the game at 0.51 million units sold, which doesn’t seem like a huge disappointment, but for a game that I thoroughly enjoyed, I’d like to see it bump up a bit this holiday season. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is an absolute delight.

Nindies

Say nothing of big third-party titles like Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, Skyrim, or Doom, the growing selection of top-notch indie — or “Nindie” — titles is nothing to scoff at.

One of the biggest concerns of Nintendo is their seeming inability to attract third-parties to their consoles since the SNES. The Switch is no different. It is the “second console”. But, boy has it attracted grade-A titles. The current #Nindie Hits roster looks a little something like this:

  • Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove
  • Rocket League
  • Stardew Valley
  • Overcooked
  • Axiom Verge
  • Retro City Rampage DX
  • Cave Story
  • Severed
  • SteamWold Dig 2
  • Golf Story
  • TumbleSeed
  • Thumper
  • and more!

While Nintendo has been quiet on first-party titles for 2018, the plethora of indies (and major third-parties) porting to the console provides Switch owners a stable of great games for months, nay, years to come.

SNES Classic

Boy howdy, get the nostalgia intoxicated ready. On the heels of Nintendo’s wildly… successful(?) NES Classic came the SNES Classic. With a library of 21 classic — arguably essential — games, the SNES Classic was/is the hot item of 2017.

Launching on September 29, 2017, retail lines and online pre-orders were a mess. I’d imagined Nintendo had learned from the missteps of the NES Classic, but seemingly, no. Initially, it may have been easier to stumble across one, but it has again turned into a frenzy for the little throwback.

Whatever the issue, be it awful channel supply or manufacturing woes, the Classic series is another fortune in Nintendo’s pocket — if not monetarily, for the press coverage.

Super Mario Odyssey

Super Mario. The pinnacle of Nintendo’s franchises.

A new Mario title is something special. The best video game maker does not squander its resources on Mario. Nintendo uses Mario to define console generations, gameplay innovation, artistic direction, and design standards. Mario is as much an icon as he is a vision.

Super Mario Odyssey launched on October 27, 2017 — 7+ months into the Switch’s lifecycle. It is a reimagining of the Mario series, with a series of worlds outside of the Mushroom Kingdom in a play-style similar to arguably the most important Super Mario game of all time — Super Mario 64. (If that last sentence gives you pause, just wait until you beat the game.)

Like Zelda, I have my qualms with Super Mario Odyssey. The world design is too disjointed without a cohesive story. The move-set is over-the-top. The inability to distinguish what Cappy (Mario’s new hat-companion) can and can’t possess is frustrating. The music sides cinematic over thematic. The main storyline is… odd, if not gross. Overall, little outside of New Donk City is memorable.

My misgivings aside, numbers speak for themselves. Like Zelda, Super Mario Odyssey boasts a 97 Metacritic score. “Within three days of its release, the game had sold over two million copies worldwide.” (Wikipedia) Nintendo of Europe claimed that Super Mario “Odyssey is both the fastest-selling Mario game and Switch game ever in the region.”

Super Mario Odyssey is without a doubt a change of pace for the franchise. While I do wish the execution was a bit tighter, I am likely in the minority. Through and through, it is a quintessential Mario game. It is undoubtedly fun and innovative; charming and warm. It is the perfect nightcap to Nintendo’s fantastic year.

Game of the Year

From the launches of the Switch and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in March, the announcement of a Nintendo theme park, frenzied and flawed retailing of the SNES Classic in September, to the heralded Super Mario Odyssey in October and stable 3DS sales throughout, 2017 was Nintendo’s year.

Nintendo has established that great gaming experiences should not be limited to TVs. It’s hard to imagine the Switch wasn’t always the company’s vision. The Game Boy sold 118.69 million units. The DS: 154.02 million. The 3DS: 68.98 million and remaining stable. The Wii U, while a flop, put the writing on the wall. Porting gameplay to the GamePad was a now obvious sneak peek at the future we’d all been dreaming of.

The company is projecting nearly double operating profit from the previous fiscal year, forecasting 960 billion yen ($8.6 billion), up from 489 billion ($4.39 billion). While it seems obvious that the 3DS line will eventually spin down, they’ve just released the new 2DS XL line as well as decent stream of games. Meanwhile, the Switch is just getting started on what appears to be a very bright future.

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How Does Game Length Affect Other Developers?

Ben Kuchera in an accompanying piece on Polygon, emphasis my own:

People like to say that games are getting shorter, and this is a bad thing, but the data doesn’t support that view of the industry. A shorter game can be made for less money which leads to lower prices which means more people buy it … and so on. But it’s also tricky to assume you know what other people want out of their games. Maybe they want to buy one or two games a year that will last nearly forever. In that situation, long games are the best.

My comment originally posted on said accompanying Polygon article, edited:

How does game length affect game sales of other publishers? I have yet to purchase Dragon Age: Inquisition because I haven’t yet completed Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. Developers and publishers must see a hit in sales due to the fact that their potential audience is still wrapped up in a competitor’s (would you consider them competitors?) product.

I’d certainly love to experience more games that developers pour their souls into, I just don’t have the time. And when I’m spending $40-60 on a game, you can bet I want to finish it.

Game length must certainly cut into competing game sales. I’d love to see some investigation into this topic.

Need to know:

  • What is the market size? (Total video game consumers? How many of those own PS4/Xbox One/both?)
  • How many consumers eligible to purchase both Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and Dragon Age: Inquisition purchased both/one of these titles?
  • How many consumers are interested in both titles? (Past data might include consumers who purchased both a Batman: Arkham title and Mass Effect/Dragon Age title)
  • How many purchasers completed one/both title(s)?
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‘New Video Games Shouldn’t Be So Broken’

Luke Plunkett, Kotaku:

I get that making games is hard. That publishers force deadlines on teams, that accounting for millions of players is rough work, that a myriad of technical complexities mean completely eradicating bugs is an impossible task.

As a paying customer, though, I just don’t care anymore. Why? Because right now, the blockbuster video game industry is taking more than it’s giving back.

Another good read about the growing trend of broken games, the need for bigger testing budgets, and the call not to pre-order games.

Plunkett continues:

If a car, or DVD, or rice-cooker, or phone, or basically anything else launched with significant parts not working, or not working as well as advertised, it’d be slammed. People would demand their money back, and they would get it, because there is an expectation that when you pay money for something, it works.

My similar thoughts from November 11, 2014 below:

This does not, however, address the problem of protection from broken product. This is not film or music— botched playback would never escape manufacturing; a bad bounce would never escape the studio. Pre-orders for products so deeply rooted in real-time mechanics and engineering, notoriously subjected to time crunches and annual release dates, cannot wisely be considered for pre-order without subjection to reviews. While I implore patiently waiting for reviews on this type of product, release date and post-release date embargo lifts, as Kuchera implies, are cowardly and bullshit.

Hat tip to Brett Batesole.

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A $60 Gamble

Host of the DLC podcast Jeff Cannata to co-host Christian Spicer regarding the Driveclub launch:

I think you brought up a really interesting point in saying, “we should be able to return these games.” The idea that this industry as a whole has figured out a way to convince the public that they can’t return broken products, that you buy it and you’re screwed, that there’s no lemon law for software, is a little bit ridiculous.

After hearing this, I was immediately reminded of why I continue to base my video game purchases on reviews. If a return policy and/or less expensive price-tag was put in place, would I be willing to take more chances? I’m not entirely sure. But as it stands, I am not willing to take, as DLC guest Brian Brushwood put it, “a $60 gamble.”

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Hacking, puzzle-boxes and company culture

Lucy Boyes on her Boyes Club blog:

The second example of hacking – the magical shortcut approach – is a whole different problem. It’s fine for inanimate objects and codebases, assuming the “magic” does actually work, but in the context of human beings it’s an appalling way to operate. The idea that you can “hack” human things – people, culture, communications, you name it – is at least somewhat predicated on the puzzle box mentality. The linked example describes a particular way of perceiving women which can lead men (assuming this is a cis, hetero scenario) to believe that there’s a magic combination of words, actions and/or behaviours which will convince a woman to give up the “prize” of sex to men who figure out the puzzle. It’s a mentality which keeps pickup artist in lucrative business selling books and lecture dates. And this leads to all kinds of not-okay behaviours, like persistent stalking, harassment, creeping, etc., because the dude’s entire framework of belief tells him that if he just keeps trying hard enough he will eventually unlock the magic sex box.

Awesome, and it gets better…

This pertains to hacking culture thusly: the myth of the incredible founder, while it exists, legitimises doing fucking stupid shit to your people in the name of culture. The guy in charge thinks he’s in charge because he’s The Best. He succeeded by being The Best. And the most obvious way to make the company more successful as a whole is for everyone to be More Like Him. Which is why so many startups have crippling long-hours cultures (and lionise said crippling cultures even as everyone is balls-deep in the business of burning out), and why the culture and how the company relates to people is allowed to be run according to the whimsy of someone who hasn’t spent long enough thinking about how the world works to realise the unlikelihood, the tenuousness, of their own success. They drink their own Kool-Aid, and then they make everyone else drink it too.

Terrific read. Worth every word. Follow up with Klei.

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Game of Games

Author Blake J. Harris on his new book, Console Wars, as quoted by Polygon:

My biggest influences on business writing are Ben Mezrich and and Michael Lewis. But the actual greatest influence on the narrative style has to be Game of Thrones. Because, really, that’s what this story is. It’s all these different families or corporations and entities competing for this one seat at the top of the table that they all think they deserve for a variety of different reasons. Or that they believe that they should inherit — because it’s their God-given right or because they have the right strategy, and they deserve it.

I’ve been extremely excited for this read. I might have to shelve Catmull and Swift in lieu of Console Wars, or Game of Games.

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Video games crash course

Keith Stuart, The Guardian:

For people who don’t play video games, they can seem like a strange and vaguely threatening interloper into the household.

These noisy yet seemingly seductive things are on computers, on smartphones and tablets, and on expensive consoles that your kids will tell you everyone else has. And if you’re not buying them for your children, your children are probably playing them elsewhere.

Even if you never intend to play a game in your life, you should probably know about them – if only to understand what it is that drags other people in.

Stuart continues to churn out great work over at The Guardian. As stated, this piece is a must for parents and (honestly) everyone else. The piece highlights everything from free-to-play to the state of major developers, financials to education; plus some Hearthstone, Monument Valley, and Mario Kart 8 love. Good to the last sentence.

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Journey dev raises $7 million

thatgamecompany:

We are proud to share the news today that our studio has entered the next phase of development on our upcoming project and has raised an additional $7 million in funding. We are happy to partner with Capital Today and a team of other investors who share our vision in making meaningful interactive experiences that inspire, connect, and emotionally touch the hearts of players around the world.

With this new investment, our studio is able to scale up development efforts to focus on making the best game possible in the same spirit as flOw, Flower, and Journey. We’ll also begin laying the infrastructure to self-publish, market, and distribute on our own terms for this next project and beyond.

Cannot wait.

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Nintendo x YouTube Affiliate Program

Mike Futter, Game Informer:

Nintendo is taking a step in the right direction here, but it is far from the open policy taken by publishers of all sizes, including Devolver Digital, Deep Silver, and Ubisoft. Based on what little we understand right now, it appears that YouTube creators will need to be part of the affiliate program in order to monetize. This would give Nintendo some control over content, and it could choose to remove those creators it later disapproves of for whatever reason.

I see others following suit.

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NYT: ‘Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball Video Game Tests Haggling Skills’

Stephen Totilo, The New York Times:

This is where Nintendo toys with convention. You’re supposed to haggle with Rusty, who, remember, is a virtual dog, not a living person. You’re supposed to get him to lower his price for the rest of Bat and Switch and for his other nine games. According to the plot, Rusty is stressed. His wife has left him. He’s overwhelmed by his 10 kids. He’ll bend to make a sale. One of his kids even coaches you about how to haggle with his dad, how to flatter, cajole or hardball your way to a lower price. Press Rusty well enough, and each game can be had for less than $2.

After playing along with Nintendo for a moment, I saw myself buying up every mini-game in this entry. Every hook seems perfect. This game will be a hit.

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