Articles tagged with nintendo

Posted by James at 09:12
Nintendo CEO, Satoru Iwata, speaking at a Q&A Session on the topic of the recently announced Nintendo-DeNA partnership:

Of course, we have created this alliance with the belief that it will go well. On the other hand, nobody can guarantee that any collaboration like this will result in a win-win situation for both companies. So, we naturally cannot say we will continue doing business this way forever.
This is perhaps obvious, being a response to a question concerning Nintendo's commitment to its alliance and whether it is open to working with other partners in crafting experiences made for smart devices.

However, it further indicates the caution that Iwata is taking with his company's move in utilising Nintendo IP on smart devices. While the alliance between Nintendo and DeNA has the long-term interests of both companies at heart, Iwata doesn't necessarily see the partnership as long-term if things fail to work out as intended.

Indeed, if ties had to be severed it wouldn't be DeNA's first time in a high-profile venture. Their partnership in 2011 with Bandai Namco -- important enough to have the company rebrand itself to "BNDeNA" -- was dissolved last year.

There are a few notable differences, however. Bandai Namco already specialised in developing successful smartphone titles when it formed its partnership with DeNA, indeed, Bandai Namco's stock price rose during the alliance, while DeNA's declined.

In contrast, Nintendo is partnering with DeNA because it understands that DeNA specialises in areas it does not: Things like player analysis, data-driven metrics and expertise in running a smartphone distribution platform. Nintendo, of course, specialises in crafting amazing games loved around the world, having also pioneered and popularised the use of the touchscreen to create new videogame experiences with the Nintendo DS.

Crafting specific touch-based games on smartphones could be seen as coming home for them, with the 'Blue Ocean' audience they once chased migrating to those devices. Nintendo has also been getting to grips with the Free-to-Play business model in interesting ways.

There is also this particular line from the Q&A:
We have just announced this alliance, so we would not consider jointly releasing the first Nintendo smart device game with any other company.

Iwata's careful use of "first" is notable, as it implies Nintendo would be open for other collaborations in the future. Perhaps not with DeNA's fiercest rival GREE, though -- speculated to be one of the factors behind the breakup between Bandai Namco and DeNA.
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Posted by James at 11:34
The markets continue to be delighted by Nintendo's decision to expand their business and make games for smartphones.

At the time of writing, Nintendo's share price is now trading at $23.35, up by just over 25% on yesterday's closing price of $18.22, which itself was just over 25% higher than the previous closing price. Click here for a more detailed look from Yahoo Finance.

That makes for a stock price which is currently at its highest in the last four years of the company's history.

This market behaviour likely owes itself to Jefferies (an investment bank) revising its Nintendo stock rating to "buy". You have to wonder, however, whether some investors are unknowingly holding onto false hope -- false hope that Nintendo and DeNA seek to reap potential short-term gains and profits usually associated with successful Free-to-Play games, when the truth will be quite different.
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Posted by James at 10:47
Satoru Iwata, speaking last month with Japan's Nikkei Business Daily on possible plans to develop smartphone applications:

Some Nintendo game consoles incorporate Mii, which creates a digital avatar to represent players. It would be fun for players to use their Mii characters as icons on social media. We are currently developing an application that will allow users to do that. The app will be announced around the time our full-year results are released.

Many of us scoffed, given the somewhat aimless purpose of such an app, in addition to the fact that the company's previous smartphone apps (for Miiverse and Mario Kart 8) turned out to be mobile-friendly websites, not software published on Google Play and the iOS App Store. Nintendo didn't seem to be seriously engaging smartphone users with their content.

But it all makes sense now. With yesterday's announcements signalling a revamped, all-encompassing Nintendo Network as part of the company's efforts to expand its presence to smartphones and PCs, Nintendo has no choice but to offer the ability to create Miis independently from a Wii U or 3DS.

This was one of many hints that have been dropped by the company. Collectible Badge Center is another. It's a well-tuned Free-to-Play (F2P) game which also operates like a modern smartphone app, fetching new online data daily and serving up seasonal events to its users.

Mr. Iwata also confirmed yesterday that Nintendo will handle the planning processes behind Nintendo-DeNA smartphone output, so it's been preparing behind the scenes to do just that, especially with the alliance's first smartphone games launching as early as this year.
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Posted by James at 11:20
Nintendo has unexpectedly announced plans to take serious strides in breaking into smartphone gaming, and has hinted at a new dedicated videogames system that'll complement it all.

The company hopes to redefine the Nintendo platform. Rather than continue with a purely hardware-based setup -- where customers have traditionally bought a Nintendo system and its complementing software -- Nintendo wants to build long-term relationships with its customers using a multitude of outlets, from its traditional hardware to PCs and smartphones, all encompassed by a wholly cloud-based Nintendo Network.

One of the ways it is achieving this is through a Business and Capital Alliance (where companies buy a share of each other's stock) with DeNA, owner of Mobage, Japan's leading smartphone gaming platform. This is perhaps the most shocking reveal from today's announcements, and sure to Nintendo's highest-profile partnership since it teamed up with Sony to create a certain disc-based console.

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Nintendo will utilise DeNA's expertise in delivering videogame apps and in building their new, virtualised platform. DeNA meanwhile will gain access to all existing Nintendo IP. While worries may revolve around videogame quality, Iwata did state that Nintendo will be handling the planning processes of all software that'll emerge onto smartphones and tablets, and the games themselves will be new experiences, not ports.

Meanwhile, Nintendo hopes to reach a wider audience through its suite of smartphone software, while also offering its dedicated games business through the same global Nintendo platform, hoping its users will also make the jump to premium software on its traditional hardware setups.

Speaking of traditional hardware, the company revealed the existence of Nintendo NX (New Experience?) with more details to follow next year. Iwata did this to stress and make a commitment that their dedicated games business is here to stay, and mentioned that software built in-house for the NX will be distinctly Premium experiences, separate from what will be offered on smartphones.

On the other hand, DeNA hopes to increase its global scale worldwide by leveraging Nintendo IP. One can only suppose that this new, entirely-virtualised Nintendo Network system will sit alongside Mobage in DeNA's portfolio.


As shocking as the news is, it looks like a well calculated move for the long term. Nintendo is going where it knows its audiences are: Firstly on its dedicated game systems today, and secondly the fickle casual audience it once captured on Wii, who left to smart devices. Free-to-Play game Pokémon Shuffle felt odd on 3DS, and it was telling that Nintendo has, in the short run, abandoned its previous strategy using 'Blue Ocean' software to drive the Wii U install base.

With its new long-term strategy, Nintendo gets to dabble in the smartphone market and drive users towards its own platform, while avoiding a lot of the risk associated with abandoning its dedicated games business. That arm of the company still attracts strong software sales and keeps users engaged, even in the face of a relatively tiny Wii U install base and lower-than-expected 3DS sales. Meanwhile, Nintendo continues to build a long-term relationship with Nintendo Network users: Either through bespoke smartphone software based around Nintendo IP, or by traditional games via its dedicated games business. The two aren't mutually exclusive.

It also has the potential to avoid the risk with the sort of games it is publishing through DeNA on smart devices. Given the long-term goals for both companies -- for DeNA to expand globally and for Nintendo to build an all-encompassing online network for its users to engage with -- both aren't in a position to abuse Nintendo IP and make the exploitative kind of Free-to-Play videogame. This relationship and development must be sustainable, and Nintendo realises this when it says it will be utilising DeNA for their online expertise, meanwhile handling the planning processes for smartphones games itself.

Regardless of how you put it, this will be one of the most interesting transformations that Nintendo will undergo in its history. How it all comes together -- their virtualised Nintendo Network platform, the DeNA partnership, Nintendo NX, and health device Quality of Life (QOL) -- will be worth following with intense interest.

A transcript of today's announcements can be found here.
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Posted by Ben at 15:23
Despite it being a very Sega game, and the WiiU being a very Nintendo console, Freedom Planet on the WiiU makes absolute sense. It's the console that does 'that' kind of game the best, with the likes of Wonderful 101 and a couple of very poor Sonic games, plus the Virtual Console, although I don't think Megadrive games have made it to the WiiU Virtual Console yet (certainly I've not re-bought Streets of Rage 2 and Shining Force yet)

Anyway, if you missed it, Freedom Planet is a very good Sonic inspired action-platformer, that I reviewed and really liked, it even made our Indie Games You Might have Missed feature
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Posted by James at 18:28
Sales figures for indie games across various platforms in 2014 have emerged, by way of a GDC (Game Developers' Conference) panel given by TinyBuild's Mike Rose.

View PlayStation and Xbox One figures here

Steam, Wii U, 3DS, mobile figures are here

Despite coming off a couple of slides, these figures still have an awful lot to tell us. Split into low, medium and upper bounds per platform, we now have a rough guide to how games from independent developers perform on a platform-by-platform, category-by-category basis.

Note: PC sales are based solely on Steam figures, which makes sense given Steam is estimated to account for around 70 to 75 percent of the PC gaming market.

Interestingly but perhaps unsurprisingly, Steam and Mobile platforms played host to the biggest hitters last year, with up to 2.5 million sales for indie games on mobile (that's almost certainly Monument Valley at the top), and up to 3 million on Steam. When games on these platforms go big, they really go big.

Sales at the lower bound on mobile are as low as you'd expect, however, with a tiny 0-2,000 units for games in this category. This perhaps brings into focus the importance of exposure and discovery for even the smallest selling indie titles. Wii U aside, every other platform's lower bound for sales figures started at 1000 units, regardless of perceived quality or promotion.

Indie titles performed similarly across both Microsoft and Sony platforms, though it must be noted that the PlayStation breakdown includes games which are on both PS4 and PS Vita, with figures on Microsoft platforms being Xbox One-only. Producing a Vita port is said to be fairly low cost, so assuming an availability of a Vita port increases sales this could be one of many reasons behind the difference in figures. It's too hard to tell without more details.

Sales of indie games on Wii U didn't perform as well compared with other platforms in 2014. The difference is likely to be more pronounced given that the majority of Wii U indie titles are also ports which are available elsewhere, with the slide itself referring to games as seeing "massive success on other platforms".

The good news is that porting to Wii U tends to be cheap (especially if your game supports Unity), so developers still stand a good chance at recouping their investment. But it's going to hamper the chances of the system receiving unique titles that really take advantage of the two-screen setup provided by the Wii U GamePad, like the upcoming Affordable Space Adventures.

By contrast, indie games on Nintendo 3DS see much healthier sales across the board, with 3DS eShop titles shifting up to five times as many units than those on the Wii U eShop at each sales tier.

There's a dilemma behind this, though. While it's relatively low cost to port to Wii U, the same certainly can't be said for the 3DS, with its specialised hardware. In most cases, a bespoke version of the game has to be made for Nintendo's handheld, which would consume more time, money and resources.

Indeed, it's likely that the majority of games in the upper bound of sales (50,000 to 200,000) were highly tailored to the platform and its audience: Shovel Knight and Retro City Rampage DX were both releases last year which spring to mind.

Sadly we don't have a percentage breakdown for the proportion of titles that make up the lower, medium and upper ends of the sales spectrums. On mobile the proportion of titles which become breakout hit is bound to be more skewed than other platforms. The situation on 3DS is likely to be similar, with output from a few teams potentially making up the bulk of the higher sales boundary alone -- 3DS indie success stories do happen, but they are few and far between.

Being able to compare these figures to equivalent ones from years' past would also tell us a lot more. Steam has done a lot to lower its barriers to entry over the past four years, something likely to change where its users spend their money. Hopefully Mike Rose will publish detailed findings once GDC is over.
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JM: *Clears Throat*:
Amiibo, Whales, and
Nintendo's latest strategy
Feb 25
Posted by James at 06:28

Nintendo of America president Reggie-Fils-Aime was almost obsessed with the idea of "growing the Wii U install base" during interviews at last year's E3. Not that I blame him -- Nintendo's latest console is treading behind the company's lowest-selling home console to date -- but their lineup painted a very different story.

The hidden message was clear: Nintendo has dropped the 'Blue ocean' strategy that they'd been chasing since the early days of the format with the likes of Wii Fit U, Super Mario 3D Land and Wii Party U. Instead, they've been working on games that will primarily appeal to their core fans, followed by those who'd appreciate the fine qualities of a good, traditional videogame.

There was Smash Bros for Wii U, of course, but when Mario Kart 8 failed to lift Wii U sales in the way they should have (and not enough to bump Nintendo back into profitability at the time), what hope did Smash have? Historically speaking, Smash just hasn't reached out to the masses in the same way that Mario Kart or New Super Mario Bros. did, selling a fraction of the units of those two games on Wii.

But Smash Bros. for Wii U is actually a good indicator of where Nintendo is (re)focusing its efforts. Rather than grow the install base, Nintendo has shifted to feeding the install base. Their lineup of Amiibo figures -- heavily marketed and integrated alongside Smash Bros. at launch -- is a clear attempt to increase the average revenue per Smash player, who would traditionally have paid once and never again until the next generation.

Amiibo unlock all sorts of throwaway trinkets across Nintendo's upcoming lineup of titles too, a way to keep the figures relevant while the company expands into new collections of the figurines. And this slightly aimless approach to integration with the games appears to be working, as this was all enough to give the figures 36% of the Skylanders-Disney Infinity-Amiibo market (according to ConsulGamer estimates) in one of America's biggest retailers, with 5.7 million Amiibo sold worldwide by the end of 2014.

Why were Amiibo such a big success? Launching alongside Smash rather than a true Toys-to-Life is telling: if they aren't heavily integrated with the games themselves, they certainly are from a branding perspective. Smash Bros. is a celebration of all things Nintendo, with ties to nearly every Nintendo game/character/franchise you can think of. As good an excuse if any to release a plethora of Amiibo figures.

Current and upcoming Amiibo are also being tied in with future releases. A glance at the upcoming Super Mario Collection says a lot: Toad Amiibo will be bundled with Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. The new Mario Amiibo? Bundled with Mario Party 10. Combine this heavy link to the company's biggest and best brands and the desire of superfans and collectors to collect all things and it's easy to see the appeal and the genius behind it all.

While some of us might only pick up a couple of Amiibo, they are cheap and novel enough to warrant an impulse buy, especially for the time-constrained of us who would happily buy a new game, but not necessarily have 20 odd hours spare to put into it. Meanwhile the big spenders (Whales) are buying every Amiibo they can get their hands on, fuelled by carefully orchestrated supply constraints and that urge to collect all things.

While Amiibo is the clear leader behind this new strategy, some of Nintendo's newer product lines also paint a similar picture: New 3DS's IP-adorned cover plates, 3DS home menu themes, New 3DS's built-in Amiibo support, this heavily integrated Collectible Badge Center customisation app, the company is well set up to pursue the Collectibles market and chase after the Whales for the rest of this generation.

I think that's fine, a necessary evil at a push. Nintendo needs to keep making a small but tidy profit until the next generation rolls around, and doing this offers them a tidy new revenue stream alongside their core hardware and software sales, while also keeping their marquee titles free of the sorts of things their core fans find unsavoury, like poorly implemented microtransactions and in-game-purchases.

It's also a good way for the company to spread their risk in the event that their venture into the health industry with QOL (Quality of Life, a device that analyses your sleeping pattern and provides helpful input) isn't a successful secondary business in the short run.

The big question is whether Amiibo success will tempt Nintendo towards pushing the things to the point of annoyance. Right now I think they've struck a good balance with them: you certainly don't need the things to play any of their games, and if you have bought into them, there's sprinklings of bonus content here and there to tap into that'll bring a smile to your face. Fire Emblem Amiibo let you play as series characters from the series in the upcoming Codename STEAM. This is neat for Fire Emblem fans, and something that wouldn't have made it in had Amiibo not existed (it'd be like having Fire Emblem units in Advance Wars), so non-buyers aren't feeling left out.

Nintendo's treading a fine line, then. If they do want to heavily integrate the things without losing the faith of the loyal fans who are buying them in droves, I'd like to see a killer game which is appropriately tied to the figures in ways which make sense to the player -- like Skylanders and Disney Infinity. Perhaps these Amiibo/NFC cards that Iwata keeps hinting at will do that, but they're also telling that Nintendo might be working on a more portable-friendly Amiibo title for the 3DS.

There is also uncertainty around whether Nintendo is only pursuing this strategy to weather the storm of lower-than-expected hardware and software sales this generation, or if it will continue on in the next generation. Here's hoping it strikes the right balance from here on out.
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Posted by James at 11:40
The Q&A from Nintendo's investor meeting this month was recently translated into English, and there are a few nuggets of information within. Iwata talking about Amiibo production costs standing is one worth bringing to light:

I think you can easily tell just by looking at several amiibo figures that production costs vary for each one of them; some amiibo have a more complex structure and a greater number of colors, which means they cost more to produce than others. Nevertheless, since setting different price points could be misinterpreted as the company valuing certain characters more than others, we came to the decision to set an MSRP that would return a profit from the amiibo platform as a whole.

It would appear that Nintendo might be losing money on those Amiibo which have more detailed facial features or Amiibo of characters with more elaborate clothes and poses, like Captain Falcon.

Conveniently, these tend to be the characters that are relatively less popular and in lower supply, so Nintendo's able to turn a profit on their Nintendo Figurine Platform business with all those hot selling Link and Mario Amiibo.

Speaking of Link, this might also explain why the Link Amiibo featured workmanship that is a bit...suspect. Its 'urine-yellow' stand (sorry) looks decidedly worse than the one which holds up Rosalina's floating Luma star, and selling millions of Link Amiibo at a loss just wouldn't be sustainable.
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Feb 18
Posted by James at 13:27

Pokémon Shuffle is an interesting release. Not only is it a high profile F2P (free-to-play) game on the 3DS, but it utilises modern business models. So there's quite a lot of insight to be had behind how developer Genius Sonority has designed the game, and the implications in how it plays as a result.

Surprisingly, this isn't a retooled version of last year's Pokémon Link Battle, a slightly inventive take on the match-three puzzler. Gone is the Link box, a playing field of Pokémon-themed blocks spanning both screens. The finite nature of the puzzle blocks in Link Battle encouraged you to clear the lot by smartly rearranging them on the fly. Pokémon Shuffle instead assigns the playing field to a single screen, the field itself now being infinite, every cleared chain being replaced by more blocks from above.

At its core, Pokémon Shuffle revolves around matching similar-type blocks to weaken an encountered Pokémon, all done within a strict move limit. Each match of three-or-more blocks deals damage to the opposing critter, depending on type matchups and your party's level.

With a set number of moves to finish each stage, there's now a big emphasis on utilising combos for big damage dealing. You'll be partly relying on luck to achieve this, though, since the playing field hides away all those blocks above -- blocks that fall down when you make a combo -- when you make your move.

This isn't necessarily bad, but it makes for a more boring and less engaging game than its predecessor, one that's also less satisfying to master. Even when it extends the formula to include cool things like garbage and ice blocks, your overall success will still largely be determined by luck or whether you've amassed the right set of Pokémon (more on that later). Shuffle's move limit means you're forced to wait and watch mid-combo, rather than slide a few blocks here and there to keep things going, Panel de Pon style.

What, then, of its monetisation and in-game purchases?

Pokémon Shuffle employs a common trick, that of the premium currency. These have the effect of reducing the number of psychological barriers between the purchase and the player. What has more weight to you: using up one gem to continue past the game over screen, or paying its equivalent value of Ł0.89/$0.99?

Your gems can then be used to purchase even more abstract currency, such as hearts or coins. Hearts are used as energy to attempt each stage, and coins buy powerups and help items, which have a distinct air of 'Pay-to-Win' about them.

Meanwhile, the game will dispense a small amount of currency your way for free. Gems are awarded at key progress points. Hearts regenerate over time, one every thirty minutes. And you'll get a 100 coins for clearing stages as a general rule of thumb.

Energy systems and wait timers in stage-based games are generally okay, since the game has to be upfront about what you're getting into, whereas pay-to-win items have all sorts of implications on not only whether the game's one of skill, but how the game tries to nudge you towards using the items in the first place.

Sadly, Pokémon Shuffle is great at implementing both in smart ways, even if the overall result is still far from the worst examples in the F2P space.

Want to simply plough through the game? If you don't mind putting the game down for the odd hour here and there, you'll probably be alright in the long run. Each stage costs you one heart, and every five stages (which soon becomes every ten) you're rewarded with a gem that can be converted into five hearts. Progress is fairly speedy this way, and you'll probably end up thanking the energy timers for letting you put the game down.

The problems emerge if you want to excel at the game or get everything. If you're the sort of player who cares about catching every Pokémon, or turning up to each battle with a smartly chosen party, then you'll probably feel more pressured to top up your gem balance.

There's a theory within the field of behavioural economics called loss aversion, which refers to how humans value potential losses more than gains.Pokémon Shuffle is pretty adept at exploiting that.

Picture this: every time you weaken a Pokémon and clear a stage, its capture isn't guaranteed, and you only have one Pokéball. So if you wanted that Togepi which is super effective against Absol, you've got one chance to capture it. Your odds of success are partly determined by how well you do, so scraping by with the minimum of combos or few remaining moves yields low chances. Fail to catch the Pokémon and you're offered a Great Ball, doubling your chances of success.

Here's where the loss aversion comes in. This level attempt just cost you one heart and 30 minutes' waiting time, as well as what you could have been doing with the currency -- you might have wanted to play a different stage instead. If you fail to catch the Pokémon, you've not only got to wait 30 minutes to try again if that was your last heart, but you've got to clear that stage once more, and even then you might not succeed. Suddenly that Great Ball at 2500 coins seems a bit more tempting, and Pokémon Shuffle just managed to turn those previously unobtrusive wait timers into a liability.

You're likely to come across situations like this a fair few times, and if you value the freedom to play when you want, the easiest way around it all is to just shell out some money in return for some gems to convert back to hearts and/or coins. But doing this sometimes leaves a game which feels awkward to excel at, especially when your enemy tends to be the unpredictability of luck.

Sure, you could go out and purchase that 75 gem pack for around the same price as a retail Nintendo title, and have a stress-free experience. In fact, Serebii's website owner has been doing just that, and has been able to conquer a fair portion of the game already.

But Pokémon Shuffle doesn't exist in a vaccuum. Its fellow eShop puzzler, Pokémon Link Battle is a one off purchase and does nearly everything better -- you don't get the same feeling that the game and its mechanics have been designed around that currency system.

So there's Pokémon Shuffle. It's a mechanically solid puzzle game, let down by awkward balancing that opens up a rift between different types of players. Those who want to catch every critter or play the game in more exacting ways are being nudged towards buying up currency far more than those who won't be overly fussed about that sort of thing.
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Posted by James at 10:22
Sega, who also collaborated with Nintendo in making Rhythm Tengoku and F Zero AX for the arcade, has taken Luigi's Mansion in new directions for its arcade adaptation.

A particularly exciting new direction, too. Developed by Capcom, Luigi's Mansion Arcade adapts the 3DS's Luigi's Mansion 2 and turns it into a lightgun game of sorts, viewed through the eyes of green 'tache.

One thing Luigi's Mansion has always done well is its combat, which never feels less than great. It admirably captures the tension - both figuratively and literally speaking - that comes with fishing those pesky ghosts into your vacuum cleaner.

A first person adaptation of the game, with an emphasis on the game's combat, should do an even better job at replicating this feeling. You even play the game with a sizeable vacuum cleaner controller, complete with strobe torch button to blind your ghost foes.

Whether there'll be a Wii U port of this - much like the question everyone's asking about Namco's Pokken Tournament - is yet to be known. Though the Wii U GamePad certainly would make for a good vacuum cleaner controller...
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