In this week’s TriplePoints of Interest the NBA becomes esports’ greatest ally, indie game Firewatch is heading to movie theaters, and Battlerite is Steam’s current top seller and newest MOBA. Continue reading TriplePoints of Interest – Week of Sept. 26th
Author: Quinn Wageman
We’re proud to say that we’ve been INCREDIBLY busy with the launch of Pokémon GO, an understatement considering the social phenomenon it has become in just a week since launch! The news cycle was dominated by the game, as we’ve outlined below, and all of us at TriplePoint have also been busy exploring the world in search of our favorite Pokémon. Head to our website at www.triplepointpr.com for a little Easter Egg, and input the Konami code for a pleasant surprise. Continue reading TriplePoints of Interest – Week of July 11 – Featuring Pokémon GO!!!
In TPoI this week: Blizzard adds Facebook login and Live integration, Horizon: Zero Dawn gets delayed, and Microsoft nixes the TV DVR feature for the Xbox One.
There’s no doubt that wearable technology has gained widespread acceptance among fitness and health enthusiasts. The simple bracelets track our movement and encourage us to live a more fit lifestyle, a goal most of us aspire to but struggle with when it comes to ongoing engagement. Companies like Nike and Fitbit are making major headway into this category, while other technology giants jump in to tackle the next evolution of wearable tech with the smartwatch.
Yet, skepticism remains about the viability of such devices and their impact on our lives. Is it a necessity? What form will it take before gaining mainstream acceptance? When will form meet function and design before we’re all genuinely excited about it?
I believe that there’s a massive opportunity with wearables, particularly the smartwatch, as devices that will become just as ubiquitous as the smartphone, if not outright replacements. Let’s take a look at some of the players and trends pointing the way.
I recognize it’s strange to lead off with a company that has yet to reveal a smartwatch. Yet, the rumor mill continues to swirl about the company’s plan. The most interesting rumors involve a secret army of engineers working on a “special project” (the TV could be another), and motion sensor “system on chip” manufacturer Invensense tripling its company size to accommodate orders from Apple.
We should also recognize that Apple does a fantastic job of incorporating accessibility and assistive technology into its devices, many features of which will overlap with an advanced UI necessary for tackling problems with smartwatch usability.
The market is also still ripe for innovation when it comes to both form and function. Nailing the look and usability of such a technology is no easy feat, but that’s a challenge that Apple has repeatedly shown to excel at with the personal computer, MP3 player, smartphone, tablet, etc.
Here are a few interesting concepts:
Additionally, Tim Cook sits on the board of Nike and can often be seen wearing a Nike+ FuelBand. He’s a strong and vocal proponent of the FuelBand. You can count Cook among those who believe in the future of wearables, with Nike as the perfect testing ground for his own company’s aspirations and fueling speculation of Apple’s plans in this category even further.
Probably one of the more exciting news in wearable technology of late is Google’s announcement of the Android Wear OS.
Not only are the initial Motorola 360 and other designs revealed with the announcement a great step in the right direction to making an attractive product, but the attention to solving UI challenges should add fuel to the race. With Android continuing to build momentum in the smartphone and tablet space, Wear is a testament to Google’s commitment in the smartwatch category and an important sign that this isn’t going away.
And in case you’re wondering, no, I don’t believe in the future viability of Google Glass, primarily because of its intrusive nature that will never gain social acceptance.
Samsung, Pebble, and others
Pebble is the most notable company to enter this space with a splash, setting the tone for how smartwatch design married with tech can get tech enthusiasts excited. Its move to deploy an SDK and a discovery portal (an Android app containing a library of compatible Pebble apps) is a smart one, which should accelerate developer adoption of the platform as it continues to expand its install base.
Samsung is another major player taking this space seriously, coming out with its own Galaxy Smartwatch line. Most recently, the company revealed a whole slew of new designs at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the Gear Fit receiving the most recognition of the bunch due to its curved screen and attractive look. While Samsung continues to contribute great effort to this space, it’s still not quite enough to solidify the smartwatch as a must-have gadget.
So what’s needed to cross the chasm from tech enthusiasts to mainstream acceptance? What can we expect?
We need to completely change the notion of a smartwatch as an accessory to the smartphone, but a piece of technology that is convenient to use and solves common problems in our everyday lives. We once thought that feature phones were an amazing piece of technology that couldn’t possibly get any better, until color screens with web browsing capabilities, improved data bandwidth, and eventually the iPhone came along to change our perception of cellular phones and becoming a necessity, not a “want.”
I’m personally not satisfied with having to carry an $800 electronic brick in my pocket, and I imagine my 3 year old daughter growing up and wondering in disbelief that we’d use it as the central communications tool. Let’s look at three key areas that have yet to truly materialize — areas of focus that will drive the future of smartwatch adoption and utility.
- Design: Let’s face it; it needs to look good. A curved and/or flexible screen will help makers achieve the perfect balance of form, function, and style, which is no easy feat. While not quite “wearables”, we’re seeing this marriage of technology and design take form in making old and ubiquitous tools “smarter”. Only Nest could really nail it with the thermostat to result in a $3.2 billion acquisition by Google. The Livescribe 3 smartpen (a TriplePoint client) achieves a slimmer form factor and mirrors the style of luxury ink pens, making it a best-selling product for the company. Technology can no longer just work, it also has to look beautiful for today’s consumer.
- Technology: The Android Wear OS will hopefully optimize power consumption, a big challenge facing smartwatches available on the market today. Meanwhile, battery technology continues to advance, and will one day give us a device that can run on a single charge for days. Additionally, improved voice recognition will be necessary to allow for hands-free control of the device strapped to our wrist, something that both Google and Apple continue to work on. Finally, other features are sure to improve the overall utility of a smartwatch, such as the ability to project the screen onto a tabletop or wall for larger visibility, such as maps and websites.
- Cellular chip: All of these things will lead to the integration of a cellular chip directly into the smartwatch, which will be the ultimate driver of adoption, as long as all other challenges are addressed first. The need for us to continue using a smartphone as the gateway to voice and data connectivity is a problem and the reason why I’ve yet to buy a smartwatch. To become truly functional, it needs to operate independently. Surely we’ll continue to use smartphones or tablets for expanded applications that require a larger screen, but they will become the accessory that displays data transmitted via the smartwatch over direct WiFi, not acting as the cellular gateway itself.
Many events and meetups are sprouting up around the world to discuss topics in wearable technology, which speaks to the real momentum behind the technological movement. I believe it’s going to be just as big, if not more important than, the advent of smartphones and impact our lives in nearly every way imaginable, from fitness to health and just everyday utility.
One such event is being put on by ReadWrite, coming up in San Francisco on April 9th – ReadWriteMix: Grappling With the Future of Wearable Technology with Pebble’s Eric Migicovsky.
View more information about the event and RSVP for free here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/readwritemix-grappling-with-the-future-of-wearable-technology-with-pebbles-eric-migicovsky-tickets-10981442791
It’s sure to provide more insight on this hot topic, and I’m looking forward to participating in the discussion. Look out for me there, or reach out in advance to make sure we connect!
Ask any game developer on iOS and Android today about the challenges they face in succeeding (i.e. turning a profit, making a sustainable living), and chances are there will be expressions of frustration and negativity. Save for companies that have already established themselves in the mobile marketplace and can afford to build and sustain a customer base, an overwhelming majority will never see a penny of profit.
At the same time, the mobile game market is at a crossroads. On one hand, you have casual experiences being churned out that can be monetized through growth hacking, a.k.a. the ability to target, but and convert players into paying customers. On the other hand, unique game experiences with deep and engaging levels of gameplay that can appeal to true “gamers” are finding it incredibly challenging to succeed, experiences that might command an upfront payment for a quality experience, one that such gamers are willing to pay.
Yet, the touchscreen experience doesn’t match the deep level of gameplay that sufficiently satisfies the needs of the average gamer. A few hours of playing a serious shooter, and you’re left with finger burn and a crooked wrist. This is why I adamantly support Nintendo’s strategy to continue building out their own platform with dedicated portable consoles, but that’s best left said in another blog post that I previously wrote.
While these challenges will persist in the near future, there is a bright spot in the mobile industry, steadily growing to help push development of high quality, deep gaming experiences that consumers might be willing to pay for – Bluetooth game controllers. Yes, multiple companies exist that provide such solutions, such as Green Throttle, Nyko, MOGA and others, but the tipping point will come with native integration of controller support by Apple and Google.
We already know about Apple’s controller API released with iOS 7, one that any developer can integrate into their game to support any wireless Bluetooth game controller. Google can’t be far behind, and we can be confident that we’ll see the support in the next year, at the most.
Free-to-play games rule the roost, and likely will for some time to come, if not permanently. This has allowed companies with the most capital to execute “growth hacking” techniques weighed heavily on user acquisition to build and sustain a player base. This has unfortunately led to an incredibly difficult marketplace for less capable developers to navigate and get discovered, especially the indie tier where the best ideas are generated and the least analytical capabilities lie. And we certainly can’t count on a quality game to succeed based on a one-time payment model. Free-to-play becomes even more challenging for the serious gamers, an incredibly difficult balance to manage in avoidance of pay-to-win perceptions.
As for “quality” games following the paid download model, $1.99 is unfortunately the maximum a majority of smartphone gamers will pay, with $9.99 and $19.99 being special price points for console ports – generally not optimal experiences built from the ground up for the touchscreen.
With universal game controller support built into iOS and Android, we can count on gamers playing for longer periods of time. With such higher engagements, developers can build deeper experiences with flexible game mechanics and backstories that have gamers investing tens of hours of time. Such game experiences are why 35 million gamers around the globe own a 3DS, and games that sell for $40 each sell in the millions within several days of release. These are the games, like Grand Theft Auto V and Call of Duty, that smash entertainment sales records, surpassing movies and music. Many of these games just wouldn’t work on a free-to-play model.
We’ve witnessed a variety of companies enter the market to disrupt the console business, most of which have been categorized as “microconsoles”, dedicated set-top box hardware usually build on top of Linux/Android. Yet, I can’t help but think that the last thing developers need to worry about right now is another platform, particularly one with little install base to justify the additional resource investment.
Why the need for a microconsole, when we all already own one, sitting right in our pocket? The smartphone and tablet, both iOS and Android, will quickly displace the need for dedicated microconsoles that offer the same value. Connectivity to the TV an issue? Tap and stream, enabled by Apple TV and, soon, the likes of Chromecast, will eliminate this hurdle for mainstream consumers. Don’t worry about the gamers – they’re savvy enough to make it happen now, as long as they have a reason to.
To summarize why I’m optimistic about the smartphone and tablet gaming space for the future of gaming:
1.) Native integration of controllers accelerating developer adoption into games.
2.) Games built from the ground up with controller support can lean on deeper experiences that please core gamers.
3.) High quality game experiences that can be played for hours (and avoid finger burn) can command premium price points and not rely on free-to-play access and conversion.
4.) Smartphone and tablets significantly increasing in power and capabilities can offer an experience that pleases the core gamer.
5.) One-tap streaming from smartphones/tablets to TV will all but eliminate the need for dedicated consoles tethered to the TV.
6.) More freedom and flexibility for gamers – one game file and experience no matter where you are, whether played on the road or on your living room TV.
I truly believe that there’s still a bright future ahead for experiences that gamers can enjoy and would be willing to pay a premium price point for on mobile devices. The hurdles that face development and adoption of such titles is a technology challenge already being solved in the form of native controller support and mobile-to-TV streaming. This is an exciting opportunity for developers to harness and create rich game experiences that meets the behaviors and consumption habits of gamers both casual and core. For all the gamers out there, we get to enjoy great games using the hardware that we own coupled with an affordable controller, anytime, anywhere.
I had the privilege of moderating a panel at this year’s Mobile Gaming USA West, held in San Francisco on May 14-15. The event drew some of the top minds in mobile game development, publishing and services, all sharing their thoughts on the current state of the industry, and offering advice on the immediate challenges we all face.
I usually hone in on topics of marketing and public relations, but this panel was different, titled “Fishing in a Smaller Pond: Evaluating the mobile gaming market outside iOS and Android devices”.
While every discussion and panel preceding mine focused on iOS and Android (obviously, given its majority rule over the other mobile operating systems), my panel consisted of experts finding success on other mobile platforms.
The goal was to plant seeds of interest in an audience with little knowledge of and motivation for serving these alternate audiences, discussing the immediate opportunities, monetization, challenges and best practices.
The panel consisted of:
- Abhinav Gupta, CEO, Game Scorpion
- Charles Huang, CEO, Green Throttle Games
- Chris Mahoney, Director of Emerging Platforms, PlayStation
- Kenny Rosenblatt, CEO, Arkadium
Kicking off, we took a quick audience poll. Of the approximately 100 people in the room:
- 90% working on iOS
- 80% working on Android
- 5% working on Windows Mobile*
- 5% working on BlackBerry*
*It’s worth noting a clear overlap of those working on Windows Mobile and BlackBerry.
Next up was an opportunity to frame the discussion with a few interesting data points, food for thought as we discussed the various platforms:
- There are 6B active cellphones worldwide.
- Smartphones recently overtook feature phone shipments for the first time ever this year. That’s 418M units shipped in Q1 2013, 216M of which are smartphones, and that shift is accelerating.
- Of smartphones, iOS and Android combined make up 91% (4Q 2012) of total market share worldwide.
- Windows rose to 2.6%, BlackBerry fell to 3.2%.
- What’s interesting is that the BlackBerry Q10 was the fastest-selling consumer electronics product ever in the UK (source: Guardian); is this a sign that hard keyboards will live on, and a potential niche for BlackBerry to successfully service?
Digging into the discussion, there were a few key takeaways:
Don’t take anything outside of iOS or Android for granted – money talks
While we’re all focused on chasing the popular thing that’s getting all the press/peer attention, we should take a step back and look to where opportunities might be ripest. Microsoft and RIM are spending millions to attract great content to a marketplace with a healthy install base and lacking attention from massive content players with big marketing budgets (your competitors). Additionally, console manufacturers such as Sony have shifted with the market to reduce barriers to entry, allowing mobile game developers to easily expand to audiences that are already conditioned to liberally spend dollars on a good game. And those of us living in a tech bubble with our shiny new gadgets, constantly looking 10 years into the future, could perhaps look around the world and see that a billion new feature phones will ship this year, generating millions for companies who are actively participating (e.g. Gameloft, vserv.mobi, etc.).
Windows: the agnostic OS
Rosenblatt’s emphasized the emerging importance of Windows, one that will rise to significance over the next several years. Central to this is Microsoft’s efforts for a harmonious OS centralized with Windows 8, not only providing consumers with a familiar experience across all devices, but a platform that developers can easily harness and through which their software/apps can deployed. It’s the only OS on the market with such capabilities and, thus, shouldn’t be ignored, particularly at a time when Microsoft’s deep pockets and massive audience size can provide significant support for great content.
These channels offer prime shelf space
Granted, you’ll need to start with a good game, but the relatively little activity on these alternative platforms means more opportunities for developing a relationship with the channel owners and receiving positive treatment in the form of feature placements. While every developer in the world is knocking on Apple and Google’s door for a feature spot on their respective marketplaces, bringing your great game to these other channels may resonate for preferential treatment.
Develop your content for the audience specific to the platform and/or channel
Sounds obvious, but when was the last time you considered developing for the Nook, or enhancing engagement by allowing mobile games to be played both on the road and on the big-screen TV? When you’re in the early stages of developing a game concept, you should be thinking about the audience it serves and where those audiences consume.
Gupta’s company has seen great success for children’s apps on the Nook and Kindle Fire, which both have audiences mostly comprised of 24+ professionals with children, who are also privy to spending money on an app that might serve an educational purpose for their kids (and of course, keep the kids busy in times of need).
Huang’s company is focusing on the convergence of mobile and TV, following the mantra of harnessing the console that you already own – an Android device in your pocket. Developers can increase engagement and monetization for an existing game by allowing playability in a social environment on the big screen in the living room.
Both Huang and Gupta agree that niche audiences are emerging within the Android ecosystem, which may be viewed simply as the continued fragmentation of the OS, but can be leveraged in a smart way to channel specific efforts into highly targeted audiences.
Also, clearly, Mahoney’s company harnesses the power of the PlayStation brand, creating an entire ecosystem of gaming products that will not only serve core gamers with deep, high-quality game experiences, but also accommodate the great content that the indies and mobile studios are generating in reaching the expanded mainstream audience.
In closing, we all agreed that there are big opportunities out there beyond just iOS and Android, most notably on PlayStation’s expanding line of hardware and distribution, Windows 8’s agnostic platform, BlackBerry’s fight to attract content to its existing base of core customers, and niche channels emerging within Android. I would’ve loved to look at the feature phone business, which globally ships 1m devices annually and has come a long way in terms of device capabilities for games (even with its own app stores!), but we’ll save that for another time. For now, focusing on starting/growing a sustainable business that can continue to feed the development of great games should be everyone’s priority, and these alternative options to iOS and Android just might be the perfect launchpad to future success.
Nintendo has been facing an incredible amount of pressure from existing and new entrants to the gaming space that has led to a decline of its market share. With only so much time in one day to consume media, consumers have a choice between “core” gaming, by way of consoles and PCs, and a more casual experience via browser and on mobile devices; Nintendo has found itself at the service of neither audience.
With the impending launch of Wii U, the company has taken a public stance in support of the core gamer, but is faced with overcoming the challenge of offering a superior online experience to the established leader in the space, Microsoft and its Xbox 360. Its track record with Wii Shop leaves many of us doubtful that it can rebound in this sense. Meanwhile, the mainstream audience that helped propel Nintendo to success in the last decade with the Wii is being abandoned in favor of more costly hardware and complicated controls of the Wii U.
Clearly, Nintendo’s platform is at risk of failure, and investors and Mario fans alike are clamoring for a shift in strategy. Most notable among the call for action lies with the leader and renowned innovator in software and hardware – Apple. Prior to iOS, we had terrible interfaces that were counterintuitive to driving engagement of content and considered a 5% market penetration of games as a success. Since the debut of iOS and the App Store, we’ve seen the market expand to over 600,000 applications and indie developers rising to fame, claiming thousands in revenue, and in some cases millions. Google Play trails closely behind with over 500,000 applications available, although the platform faces piracy issues that leave it second to iOS in terms of developer support.
The new market opportunity is in mobile gaming, as Apple and Google continue to seed global audiences with smartphone devices that spur user engagement with various forms of content, most notably games. Should Nintendo bow to market pressures and take Mario, Zelda and Metroid to mobile devices? Certainly not now, without sacrificing its entire platform and affecting its remaining grip on the game enthusiast market. Let’s analyze the implications of what can be seen as a rash decision in several ways.
Shifts in Revenue
Nintendo’s revenues have taken a hard hit as a result of our shift to mobile platforms. Wii owners are largely content with Wii Sports, and those mainstream consumers have hardly converted into purchasers of additional software, resulting in decreased developer support. The 3DS launched to a cold welcome, but has since slashed prices and achieved moderate success among a stagnant core gaming audience.
The company recorded its first operating loss of $460 million for fiscal year ending March 31st, much of which can be attributed to the struggling Wii console, DS and 3DS, all falling short of sales expectations and incorporating price cuts in response to increased competitive pressures. We can also assume that much of the capital was allocated to continued support for game developers on each platform and R&D towards Wii U.
Meanwhile, Rovio released its 2011 earnings statement, highlighting $67.6 million in profit on $106.3 million in revenues that can be largely attributed to its Angry Birds property, 30% of which came from merchandising and licensing. Based on these numbers, we can estimate that around $70 million was generated by downloads of Angry Birds. Impressive numbers indeed and deserving of praise for the company’s immense success across the various platforms on which Angry Birds can be found.
Yet, Angry Birds is at the top of the food chain, and few (if any) can come close to matching the success that Angry Birds has seen. And in comparison to Nintendo’s current business, it fails to match the numbers of its own game platform business.
For fiscal year beginning April 1, 2012, Nintendo is expected to achieve $500 million in operating profit according to a forecast estimate compiled through a survey of 20 analysts by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. The company controls its own fully integrated platform specifically tailored to gaming, similar to Apple’s hardware/software strategy that spans personal computers and mobile devices, not to mention the impending launch of the rumored iTV. Nintendo sells the hardware and controls the pipeline of software making its way to consumers, consisting of its own popular IP and an ecosystem of developers from which it generates additional revenues with every game purchase.
Let’s take a look at another example, one that would be on the lower end of Nintendo’s sales figures on a platform that is largely characterized as “struggling” – Mario Kart 7 on the 3DS. The title has so far achieved global sales of nearly 5.5 million units, running at $39.99 a pop. That’s nearly $220 million in revenues, over double Rovio’s business. Now, the margin on packaged goods isn’t really as significant, but even if we’re looking at a 20% profit margin, we’re talking about approximately $44 million in profit from a single title that has been on the market for only 6 months and on hardware that isn’t even considered a mainstream success. Looking forward, it’s not a stretch for Nintendo’s hardware to go strictly digital as industry trends indicate and eliminating the packaged goods channel, increasing margins and generating even greater profits (considering a premium price point maintained through “deeper” gaming experiences of Nintendo hardware). Also, this is just for one title – consider all the other games moving through the 3DS, controlled 100% by Nintendo and generating even greater revenues from both 1st and 3rd party games.
For Nintendo to trash its own closed gaming platform for Apple’s in pursuit of revenues that have not publicly achieved the scale that Nintendo currently maintains just doesn’t add up. It’s also understandable that Nintendo derides the thought of having to pay Apple the 30% cut, which would make it an even greater challenge to achieve success on the scale of its current games business. A counter argument to this is that Nintendo can offer games on each platform, which doesn’t come without merit, but let’s take a look at this audience.
Can Mario Wear Different Hats?
For Nintendo to reach the scale of success on Apple’s platform that it currently achieves within the confines of its own closed platform, let’s assume two scenarios: 1) that the game experience is rich enough to sell on the level of Angry Birds (that’s 1 billion downloads!), or 2) that Nintendo sells at a premium with less market penetration. Both situations would have to involve the creation of new games based on its popular IP, rather than a direct port of old games which would only have a minimal impact on Nintendo’s bottom line, not to mention potential disappointment in the controls for some of our most favorite classics that were built for console controls.
The first scenario would be largely targeted at the expanded mainstream audience, one that Nintendo did a great job of penetrating with the Wii and DS. Yet, we have to ask ourselves if the casual gamer of an older demographic and one that skews female would be willing to purchase a Nintendo device if Mario could be had on an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad. Facing limited time in one’s day, chances are that this gamer would skip the purchase of a game-dedicated device and invest $0.99 on a more casual Mario experience. Asking my wife and her 21 year old sister if they’d purchase a new Mario for Wii if they had Super Mario World on their mobile device, they both confidently answered “no way, the app would be good enough”. This would affect the purchasing decision of millions of consumers and cannibalize Nintendo’s gaming platform at a much more significant loss than what it can possibly recover in $0.99 downloads. This isn’t a risk that Nintendo can afford to make, at least not right now.
The second scenario involves a very challenging balancing act of pricing games at a premium, say $9.99, and selling through enough downloads to generate a return on development costs. This would carry an even greater risk of cannibalizing Nintendo’s own platform as these premium games would also come with a deeper and richer gaming experience that could potentially directly compete with Wii U, DS and 3DS game quality. If I have a great Mario title on my mobile devices at $9.99, chances are that I’ll skip the dedicated hardware and $50 price tag for the game.
Additionally, either decision would send a very negative signal to the remaining developers who still believe in Nintendo’s gaming platform, causing additional speculation about those consoles’ impending demise, an even further loss of support in game development, and all but hammering the final nail in the coffin of Nintendo’s platform.
Finally, do we really want an innovator in the gaming space to drop what it does to hop on the iOS bandwagon and solely rely on a touchscreen interface? Is the future of gaming really only about the touchscreen, perhaps with gesture and voice recognition integrated within? Imagine where gaming would be now if Nintendo bowed down to economic pressures back when the GameCube was being labeled as a failure and the Wii and DS never happened. All those Wine, Cheese and Wii parties would have never happened, and one could fairly assume that the Kinect and Move gaming experiences may not have been inspired into market release, perhaps confined to TV integration and never having impacted the games we play.
“Tiiiime Is On My Side, Yes It Is”
Mick Jagger’s voice resonates in my head as I read that Nintendo is sitting on a pile of cash amounting to $14 billion. Not only is Nintendo expected to turn a profit for fiscal year 2012/13, but it has a war chest to conceive and define the “next generation of gaming” through a fully integrated hardware and software platform, one that’s made exclusively for gamers and consumers seeking a good time. Even though the new Wii U doesn’t spur much hope with industry analysts and other market players, such efforts would be completely lost if confined solely to the hardware and interface design choices of Apple, a company whose business is far greater than the games sector to justify a focus on giving us new ways to experience video games.
But how much time does Nintendo really have to make a decision? Even with $14 billion to cover years of operating costs, Nintendo can’t afford to sit around forever. A fair guess at the amount of time that Nintendo has to evaluate the marketplace and give a shot at maintaining a unique gaming experience lies perhaps in the 5-10 year range. Most everyone will understandably argue that this is too much time, but Mario, Zelda and Metroid aren’t going anywhere, and if Nintendo’s own platform faces a demise there will always be an audience ready to pounce on these titles when made available on iOS, Android or any other platform outside the company’s own walls.
Atari, who is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, has hit a milestone of 10 million downloads just a year after releasing a number of classic and new games based on its renowned IP. Even decades after spending my hard earned weekly allowance in the arcades on Missile Command, Asteroids and Super Breakout, I can count myself among the millions that are downloading these games on iOS and Android (disclaimer: Atari is a TriplePoint client). You can bet that team Mario will have a lasting impact on consumers and maintain brand recognition that results in downloads 5-10 years down the road.
Losing Share to Angry Birds
Kids everywhere are wearing Angry Birds shirts and socks, while plushies continue to fill the rooms of children around the world. The ~$30 million merchandising/licensing business around this IP is a strong indicator that the property is capturing the mindshare of consumers, certainly at a loss for Mario. This perhaps is the greatest challenge facing Nintendo the longer it waits to nail down and execute a strategy for distribution on iOS and Android. Yet, the company has a history of bringing fans of its various 1st party IP a reason to buy back into the franchises, and the continued power of those brands will no doubt ensure that it continues to sell hardware and games, and that the expanded audiences take notice as well, even if these casual audiences may no longer be willing to purchase a Nintendo gaming device.
When all is said and done, nothing can sway Nintendo from sitting on its bankroll to continue attempts at innovating gaming fun as we know it, not as long as the market opportunities in mobile fall short of the rewards of maintaining its own closed gaming platform. A company that has over 120 years of history shouldn’t be swayed so easily by market pressures to ditch its game-focused platform for a new market that has been hot during the past 4 years (App Store launched in 2008). A survivor of the turbulent gaming market in the 90s and one that has stood up to Microsoft and Sony, we should be cheering on Nintendo to come up with a fresh gaming experience that takes us beyond a simple touchscreen interface dominated by a company that (understandably) deprioritizes gaming among all forms of digital media. Mario and team may one day land on our mobile devices, but considerations for its existing business should be taken into account, and we’ll always be ready to download Nintendo’s games years down the road.
13 million people, 844 square miles, the epitome of modern Japanese culture and the world’s leader in technological innovation—this is Tokyo. For decades, this fascinating city filled with vending machines and delicious ramen restaurants has been the epicenter for console gaming on both sides of the ocean, since giving birth to the Famicom (known here in the states as our beloved NES), so it comes as no surprise that Tokyo Game Show is the premier event in the East that Westerners look forward to each year. TriplePoint was in attendance at this year’s monumental show to experience the event firsthand, meet with fellow colleagues and clients in the gaming space, and note new trends in the gaming world. Continue reading To Tokyo We Go!
Shanghai – a city in the distant corner of my imagination, a vision in my brain formed by the generally negative press China receives from US news organizations. It was the destination for this year’s ChinaJoy video game conference, a consumer and B2B show taking place in the dead heat of summer, featuring the top Chinese online game companies with select international players looking to make additional headway into the country. TriplePoint attended to see what the growing market has in store for us, and why a Google search for ChinaJoy images yields nothing but showgirls. We joined a list of our clients in attendance on the show floor and off, including Snail Games, SmileGate (SG Interactive), Papaya Mobile, Sollmo (Company 100), and GUNNAR Optiks, whose Chinese distributor had a small but dedicated presence in the business area.
Shanghai’s Financial District in Pudong
Shanghai’s Nanpu Bridge
The innards of Super Brand Mall
Joe and Quinn at the entrance to ChinaJoy
The line to get inside (in the dead heat of Summer)
…and the crowd once you get inside
Snail Games’ booth in the B2B area
Snail Games’ booth in the B2C area. Go big or go home.
TriplePoint client GUNNAR Optiks with distribution in China
TriplePoint client SmileGate in the B2B area
TriplePoint client Papaya Mobile in the B2B area
Showgirls, and the photographers that harass them
…and lots of McDonald’s
As console gaming remains absent from the market and PC games continue to dominate, various mobile platforms can be seen making a strong presence at the show, particularly those with support for iOS and Android. With the rise of mobile comes a wave of casual experiences that seem to complement the typically hardcore PC market, catering to consumers of different tastes. Yet, a close relationship between PC and mobile can be seen in free-to-play experiences, much like markets worldwide are experiencing. As fixed broadband and smartphone penetration continues to progress in the 1+ billion populated country, we can count on seeing those brands rise to leadership around the globe in revenues and innovation.
Everything is big and new in Shanghai, and things were no different on the show floor. What was once a rice paddy 15 years ago is now a financial district of skyscrapers, anticipated to double in size over the next 10 years. Head to the expo center and walk the consumer floor to witness towering exhibit booths from every major player in China, from Tencent to Blizzard and TriplePoint client Snail Games.
Though the console business remains absent, the popularity of PC and mobile games driven by an immense and prospering population fueled the size of exhibits. Imagine the usual exhibitions that we’d expect from the likes of Sony, Microsoft, EA and Nintendo every year at E3, and now imagine 25 companies with booths just as large, the majority of which belong to companies that are unknown in North America. It’s a sign of the scale of China’s growing video game industry, and of its growing economic prosperity and power.
Ever heard of ’em?
Baiyou attracting a crowd with a cosplay performance
Regulation, Showgirls, and Regulation
Not only are the show’s exhibition booths mammoth in size and scale, but the show has gained a reputation for staffing them with hundreds of showgirls. Perform a Google image search for “ChinaJoy” and you’ll quickly find that the showgirls serve as the main front for all but a select few companies participating in the show.
This year’s ChinaJoy was no different, with one rumor pegging Tencent’s showgirl staffing at 1,000+ and “showgirls” stealing many of the headlines related to the event, albeit for an unexpected reason. The Chinese government issued a clear mandate to exhibiting companies in an effort to crack down on “vulgarity” and prevent “pornography” in the online games space. The newly issued policy prohibits showgirls from wearing outfits that show more than two-thirds of one’s back, and bans the application of printed logos on “sensitive positions” of the body. Still, that didn’t stop exhibitors from parading scantily clad showgirls in front of thousands of spectators, but with a little less visible skin being shown.
It’s a showgirl’s show
A showgirl wedding
Attending the show also gave us a new level of insight on the regulation that video game companies face while operating in the country – regulating time spent in-game and fighting “addiction”. We’ve heard whispers before, but faced the reality while speaking with others at the show – developers must reduce rewards earned in an online game by 50% upon hitting the 3 hour mark within a 24 hour period, and 100% at the 5 hour playtime mark. It’s inconceivable for a Western developer to imagine operating under these constraints, as the “whales” are publicly and clearly identified for spending the most amount of money over extended daily gaming sessions (see Zynga’s Quest for Big-Spending Whales, Daily Forex and Stock). Yet, despite these hurdles, Chinese online game developers continue to thrive and find ways to monetize, perhaps moving faster and innovating how a game converts more people to pay in free-to-play games.
In closing, our time spent in Shanghai was an exciting opportunity to view a rising superpower not only in economic activity but in the technology and video game sector as well. The city’s busy development and growing skyline is met by the rising technology and video game companies fueling the jobs and prosperity. One must see it to believe it, and you can count on us making a return to Shanghai next year.
The Los Angeles Games Conference took place April 26th at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills, gathering executives from all sides of the games industry and covering topics ranging from the latest trends to Facebook, smartphones, monetization and marketing. Yes, this post is long overdue, but I’d like to take the opportunity to reflect on the event as we watch our industry evolve on a daily basis.
While no particular focus was given to any one platform, one common theme was evident as I sat through each session – free-to-play is a significant force that is changing game distribution and our consumption habits forever.
Riding on the wave of digital distribution, games being offered for free and operating on connected monetization models has impacted the way developers are engaging and retaining consumers. Let’s take a look at how this shift is occurring across multiple platforms.
WoW – there, I said it. Let’s get that out of the way. Nobody is taking it down, and it will continue to be successful on a subscription model until it keels over and dies from growing old (is it possible?). With this realization, we’ve seen hives of developers forming to establish a freemium model in an effort to attract gamers to their title, while smartly executed monetization strategies create positive experiences for a growing audience of consumers and generate recurring revenue streams for the developer.
Larger publishers are even shifting to the freemium model, as we’ve seen with Cryptic’s Champions Online and Turbine’s LOTRO – both publicly announcing immense successes after doing so. Michael Cai, VP of Games with Interpret, quoted the late chairman Mao in his analyst presentation on 2011 gaming trends that signifies what we’re seeing in the MMO market today – “Let hundreds of flowers bloom”, referring to the developers sprouting around WoW to offer a freemium experience, gain a huge customer base, and eventually overthrow the status quo.
iOS is the obvious opportunity that developers small and large will continue to pursue, and all agree that the platform cannot be ignored. Android is equally important in the eyes of the developer, although the obvious issues of fragmentation have held back their initial efforts.
With the rise of these mobile marketplaces driving games adoption, we’re seeing thousands of new apps launching on a monthly basis. A common theme in any discussion involving opportunities in the mobile market lead to issues with discovery and being found amongst the noise, driving developers to lower the cost of their apps and even begin looking to freemium as a model for user acquisition, engagement and long-term revenue generation. Subsidizing apps with advertising has proven effective form some that have already gained brand recognition and achieved large install bases, but for others mobile advertising will never generate a significant enough return to operate a business. Ultimately, in-app payments and microtransactions will grow to dominance on the mobile platform much like its connected PC and console counterparts.
Consoles and Retail
I’m combining consoles with retail for one big reason – the console as a hardware model that is facing increased competition from other multimedia devices battling for control of the living room, and digital distribution as an increasingly competitive means to delivering games to these devices (TVs, set-top boxes, etc.).
Presenters unanimously agree that retail box products will continue to lose market share to digital distribution models – some saying in as little as 5 years, others with a more realistic view of 20 or so years. Buying a game for $60 to offer a limited timeframe of experiences will give way to “games as a service”, meaning the option to buy in to a game for little to no investment or the ability to continue investing for an improved experience over a longer period of time. It’s telling when EA publicly decrees that it will begin focusing on ARPU instead of unit sales, reinforcing the attention to lifetime value rather than a one-off sale of packaged goods. DLC expansions are only the beginning…
From a business standpoint, we’re already seeing a push for DLC expansions post-launch, which is a clear indication that the shift is occurring on consoles and it’s only a matter of time before we see a complete transition to the rise of completely free-to-play titles. Sony has kicked off its effort with Free Realms, and we’ll no doubt see more prominent titles make their way to the forefront as new delivery mechanisms rise to feed the living room and mobile screens.
So, what does all this mean?
Digital distribution, eliminating the need to feed physical media to hardware, competition, the pressure to acquire new users, and an emphasis on ARPU are among many factors that will continue to make the case for free-to-play games as the industry matures. Games across all platforms are feeling the impact of this shift, and the discussions across most of the panels witnessed during the LA Games Conference reinforce this trend.
Riot Games was purchased by Tencent for an amazing RTS that will only rise in popularity with publishing support for Chinese and other global audiences. $400mln for 1+mln players (publicly known at the time) just yells how important the free-to-play space is in the grand scheme of games and its potential in the future. I’ve also began playing League of Legends and can attest to the addictive quality of playing a quality game for “free” (i.e. time invested) and the lure of purchasing small amounts of in-game currencies for personalization and fun. With the barrier of entry reduced to “free”, you’re sure to get millions willing to spend for an improved experience, and it will only be a matter of years before a free-to-play contender surpasses the revenues generated by Blizzard.
To learn more about the LA Games Conference, visit: http://www.lagamesconference.com/
The buzz surrounding CES 2010 in January was all about 3D technology – new TV sets, new Blu-ray players, games, mobile phones…. the list goes on and on. Also contributing to the 3D hysteria, films adopting the 3D format (one in particular that involved blue aliens and told a cliché storybook tale of love, courage and rebellion) are captivating moviegoers around the globe. While heavy tech addicts are drooling over 3D technology, the jury is still out on whether the mass market will be willing to spend their hard-earned clams on rigging the home with 3D. I attended the 3D Gaming Summit seeking answers on whether the world was truly ready for 3D.
The 3D Gaming Summit took place April 21-22, here in Los Angeles at the Hilton – Universal City (link). The inaugural year placed focus on games as the key driver for the future success of 3D technology. While there was a clear general consensus that 3D is great in the movie theaters, many in attendance asserted that for the technology to truly take off, gamers are pivotal in driving adoption and securing market penetration. Not only did leading members of the interactive entertainment industry speak on the subject, Hollywood heavy hitters including John Landau and Paul W.S. Anderson shared their thoughts as well. Across the board, everyone seemed to agree that the immersive experience of a videogame and 3D are the perfect couple that will usher in the new era of home entertainment.
But are consumers ready? This was the central topic to Michael Cai’s presentation, a block of time that I devoted my attention to like a hawk. The VP of Research, Videogames, with Interpret LLC (link) disclosed figures that encouraged a cautious approach in the future of 3D. Of the 1,400 surveyed (ages 12-65), theatrical awareness of the technology is high, but awareness for 3D in the home is very low. Satisfaction for 3D is high, but the lack of awareness for capabilities in the home exhibits a huge desire for market education.
For their 3D fill, among core gamers in the group, 23% preferred a PC/monitor, 16% PC/TV, and 61% preferring to game on a console/TV setup. In terms of content, FPS and racing games were noted as the most desirable 3D experience. This puts Sony in a unique position with its latest PS3 firmware upgrade that enables 3D. Interpret’s research indicated that the PS3 will help to drive 3D adoption in the home, with 10% of those polled who do not own a console fully intending to purchase a PS3 regardless of 3D, and 13% citing that they would purchase with 3D (a 3% increase because of 3D alone). With the impending Sony Move release, and an on-stage demo by SCEA’s Platform Research Manager – Developer Support, David Coombes, showcasing how the technology might work in a 3D environment, it is clear that the PS3 just grew a third leg in the console race with a boost from 3D technology.
What are the reasons cited for not purchasing 3D technology in the near future? “Too expensive” said 74% of the group surveyed, with 43% discouraged by the uncomfortable glasses, and 30% believing the technology is still too nascent. This is a major indicator that the technology is still in its infancy and consumers are reluctant to invest and adopt in 3D for the home.
There are many hurdles to overcome before we see true widespread adoption of the technology, but some of the primary and most basic of challenges discussed can be wrapped up in a few simple points.
Just to watch 3D movies, you’ll need a 3D TV complete with compatible glasses (ships together), which automatically demands hundreds of dollars more investment. Add to this the fact that many consumers only recently upgraded to HD in the last several years. In addition, having to purchase a compatible 3D-capable Blu-ray player and the additional cost of the discs to provide content, and it becomes apparent that there are high cost barriers to mass market penetration. All this just for movies?
We’ll see a different story with core gamers. This audience tends to invest heavily in new technologies that improve the experience – a $600 hi-def console, 1080p television sets that reach well over 50 inches, multiple purchases of $60 games throughout the year – and that’s just the console market. PC hardware easily runs in the thousands of dollars, including annual upgrades to keep up with processing demands. Should the consumer be asked to make an additional $1,000 investment for an even more immersive videogame experience through 3D? They sure will be tempted to, as one gamer after another experiences high quality 3D games built from the ground up. To echo much of what was being said on the show floor and my own personal experience at the NVIDIA booth, “ya gotta see it to believe it.”
Standardization and Fragmentation
It’s the same old song – new technologies debut, the major players claim their stake with proprietary formats, and products ship without regard for compatibility. Go to the movies and you’ll use polarized glasses that work with what you’re viewing, as long as they’re compatible with the technology provider – e.g. works with RealD (75% theater market share), but not at the IMAX theater. Take those glasses home, they won’t work with Samsung’s 3D sets. TV manufacturers use Active Shutter technology, which communicate with the TV set to move in sync and present 3D images. However, Samsung’s active shutter glasses won’t work with Sony’s Bravia line because of the different radio frequency that they communicate over. Nor will these active shutter glasses work with NVIDIA’s solution for the PC. The list goes on and on…
We always experience this with new technologies, but with 3D, to be blunt, it’s a real mess. Attendees unanimously agreed and echoed the sentiment that 2010 is the year of confusion for 3D. Hopes remain that standards will sweep across the board in 2011, while consumer fears of outdated technology and lost investments (e.g. HD-DVD) will continue over the next 5-10 years as the industry shakes out.
Build quality content and the consumers will come… Apple is experiencing tremendous success because of the developer support they’ve been able to garner for the easy creation of apps on the content ecosystem. This is similar with 3D – there are good and bad forms of content depending on the execution. Some movies were created from the ground up in 3D (Avatar), using 3D cameras and 3D tools in production. Others were converted into 3D after the fact using special software. Amazingly, consumers are noticing the difference in quality and critics are calling the latter out…
Particularly in games, the core audience isn’t one to be fooled. For a quality 3D experience, games will need to be built from the ground up in 3D, which unfortunately requires quite an additional investment. Yet, without a market ready to purchase and experience the game in 3D, developers will be reluctant to take on the project, especially in the case of big publishers. We’ll be seeing games come out over the next several years that were converted into 3D in post-production, which won’t help to drive adoption because of the average quality. Yet, as people invest in 3D technology over time and the market grows, we’ll see more developers putting some sweat into the development of the game, creating something truly unique and fascinating.
For 3D technology to reach mass adoption levels in the home, gamers will need to prove that value exists in the experience. Current confusion surrounding the technology will surely hamper the speed at which 3D technology enters the household, particularly with the general consumer market. High costs and standardization issues will limit the potential for 3D technology in the short term, but 5-10 years from now we may all be singing to a different tune as one gamer at a time drives adoption. Until then, it’ll be an interesting ride to watch the industry move in real-life 3D without any special glasses on.
For a complete look into the summit and the state of the 3D industry, head on over to Tom’s Guide for a story by James Pikover: http://www.tomsguide.com/us/3DTV-Gaming-Summit,review-1540.html
Our client, GUNNAR Optiks (www.gunnars.com), will be releasing a new line of digital performance 3D eyewear this summer, which will work at all RealD cinemas and with linear polarization 3D technology for PC gaming. Head on over to their site and keep an eye out for the release!
Some Fun Facts:
- Los Angeles is comprised of 5 counties and 20 million residents – Los Angeles, Ventura, Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange counties.
- When founded in 1781, Los Angeles was originally known to its 44 residents as “El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles de la Porciuncula” (Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angeles of the Small Portion).
- Los Angeles receives an annual rainfall of only 15 inches (38 cm). This year, thanks to El Nino, LA has already received over 9 inches to date. Who says it never rains in Southern California!
- Its residents are often referred to as “Angelenos” (rhymes with casinos).
- Some common nicknames include L.A., City of Angels, Southland and Lalaland.
- The Los Angeles area is home to many well known digital lifestyle companies, including Activision, EA, THQ, Naughty Dog, Image Metrics, Hands-On, and many others.
- Santa Monica is now home to TriplePoint’s LA office!
Welcome to 530 Wilshire Blvd, Suite 203, in sunny Santa Monica!