Can console gaming companies (Nintendo, Sony) succeed in the mobile market?

Thomas Curtis thinks that Sony has the option to create three new pathways for the consumer with new convergence devices in the pipeline it has the means to deliver it, but in order for it to succeed it needs to leave devices such as the PS Vita behind.

Sony PS Vita

I’ve been a gamer since as long as I could remember and since the early nineties I’ve also been fortunate to have number of different handheld consoles to keep me entertained on the move, such as the Original Gameboy, an Atari Lynx 2, Gameboy Advance and a White Nintendo DS. However as I’ve got older I began to turn away from dedicated gaming devices, the last being that white DS that I important from Japan at launch.

Now I know what you’re thinking, “well duh, of course you’ve been using your smartphone!” but you would be wrong.

Mobile gaming on a smartphone has always been a busted flush in my opinion for anything other than quick fix score attack style games, because there is only so far you can go with accelerometers and the like before the developer needs to overlay a virtual D-Pad or similar on screen interface. It just feels like a fudge, simply put: either create a game that doesn’t require a controller paradigm or don’t bother and whilst that may seem harsh, I believe it negatively affects the gaming experience. As soon as you overlay a D-pad and associated buttons you start to lose screen real estate because instead of being just a display the screen becomes the controller as well and your hands get in the way of the action (which is why I love my Xperia Play as it gives you a lovely 4 inch screen and  hardware controls, a D-Pad, four face buttons, two capacitive touch pads and two triggers on the back, heaven).

I know I am in the minority though, as the sector has exploded over the last few years and has firmly crushed former industry leaders such as Nintendo (sales down 36%) and Sony (down 32%). Both are struggling to adapt to changes in consumer consumption and the new App economy, this summer Nintendo investors called for them to start developing for iOS which Nintendos Reggie Fils-Amie rebuked in a recent interview with AOL“…the concept of having our core franchises on other systems really flies in the face of what we believe in”. Now if you’ve followed Nintendo for any length of time you would not be surprised at that response but their attempts at digital distribution have struggled to gain traction and has left them open to risk. Federico Viticci from MacStories.net describes how after just a few years of gaming on iOS has made the transition to 3DS difficult, one of the his main bugbears is the hallmark of portable gaining, the  venerable game cartridge:

It’s about those cards that you have to swap, carry around, physically manage and remember not to lose. Because Nintendo isn’t giving me a free replacement if I can’t find my DS game anymore. But I can re-download from the App Store at any time. “

Nintendo 3DS

With flash storage getting cheaper than ever and more importantly smaller than ever, the business case for cartridges being the primary distribution model for content seems questionable at best. However that’s not to say Nintendo is stubbornly sticking to the past, as it has launched an eShop to enable digital downloads. Sadly it appears to be paying lip service to the concept, Federico once again highlights main issues:

“Nintendo’s eShop, on the other hand, is this weird hybrid that’s got some old games remastered for 3D, some original 3D games, a couple of apps and videos of games. But you can’t buy the latest Mario or Zelda on it. So what’s the point? Nintendo sees the online “store” as an option, an addition to the regular physical game business, not an ecosystem’s feature. “

It is a shame to see Nintendo miss the mark so widely, as its massive back catalogue combined with a fresh content from independent third party developers and most importantly current 3DS titles could be a massive earner for them. Sadly they seem content and considering their other digital offerings on platforms such as the Wii, I do not hold out much hope for them, but what about Sony? Once the dynamic newcomer to the industry hailed for innovative ad campaigns such as the S.A.P.S and its slogan ‘Don’t underestimate the power of the Playstation’:

Can it react quicker? Yes….. and no.

I was fortunate enough to be speaking at a recent TIGA event in London and was lucky enough to be able to see some of the other speakers, one of which was from Sony and demonstrating the new PS Vita:

The speaker was clearly impressed with the device, it fixes the issues of its predecessor PSP,  its very powerful and can enable a “new level of immersion” (aka the usual hyperbole that you hear with any new launch from Sony, remember the Emotion Engine of the PS2….). After his talk and demonstration video, which all looked very impressive he took some questions, one of which was something along the lines of: “How do you see yourself competing with mobile gaming on platforms such as Android or iOS?” His response was unsurprisingly that the PS Vita offers a greater experience that that of other platforms, it was a lot cheaper (just £275) and that demographic Sony was targeting wasn’t interested in “quick fix” mobile gaming.

This worried me, as essentially Sony was saying it was ignoring the casual market (even though this interview with Andrew House states otherwise) and betting it all on the hardcore gamer, a recipe for disaster if history teaches us anything. The casual gamer has not changed in the minds of Sony, but the concept of it has radically shifted in the consumers, no longer do they want to buy a dedicated gaming device, when their phones offer a much better overall experience and is significantly cheaper.

Sony does have a way out and is in a significantly better position than Nintendo to not only weather this storm but actually come out ahead.

It has a phone division, not only that it has begun to make steps into bringing its IP into that sector, I am not just talking about the Xperia Play but the PStore as well. The PStore is a distribution platform for ‘Playstation Certified’ Android devices like the Play and the recently released Tablet S that allows them to buy Playstation games:

This is the key for Sony’s long term health, as it can become the defacto market leader on Android by bringing classic gaming that the customer may remember fondly alongside brand new games by independent developers that Sony can help get consumer eyeballs onto. At the same time it needs to continue development of gaming phones like the Xperia Play and perhaps create a video distribution platform based on its Sony Pictures back catalogue.

Sony has the option to create three new pathways for the consumer with new convergence devices in the pipeline it has the means to deliver it, but in order for it to succeed it needs to leave devices such as the PS Vita behind.

Thomas Curtis is a tech devotee and former web developer  in education now running his own marketing company. He’s honest, passionate, hypercritical and expects the best, now. 

What do you think of the PS Vita? Is Sony ignoring the casual gaming market? Is Sony in a better position than Nintendo right now? Can console companies make it in the mobile sector?