Nintendo Sells 2.74m Switch Units in First Month (Apr 27, 2017)
Nintendo Kills off NES Mini but May be Working on SNES Mini (Apr 19, 2017)
On the face of it, this could look like the in-app purchase model that so many other games have used so successfully over the last few years, which would look like capitulation on the part of Microsoft to the prevailing model. However, even though the article implies towards the end that that’s what’s happening here, this is actually something different. Whereas the classic IAP model often holds progress in the game hostage to the purchase of various items through the medium of in-app currency, Minecraft has always eschewed that model, instead charging a high up-front fee to purchase the game in the first place, with a small number of in-app purchases for specific items. It is now opening up that latter model to a small number of third parties, and while the use of in-game currency as the medium may carry echoes of the classic IAP model, this is something very different. Given the addictive qualities of the IAP model, that’s a very good thing, given that the game’s audience is largely children. The last thing Microsoft wants is for Minecraft to get a reputation for being a sort of Candy Crush for kids, whereas it’s currently known as a game that has at least some educational qualities.
This is an interesting strategy for Microsoft, which is releasing specs but not many more details for the next generation Xbox, which is codenamed Scorpio. On paper at least, it’ll be more powerful than its major competitor, the Sony Playstation 4 Pro, in several departments, but the consensus among gaming blogs seems to be that what Xbox needs isn’t so much better hardware as better software, or in other words more compelling games. This is where the Sony console has taken the lead in the current generation, and where it continues to do quite a bit better than the Xbox for now. It’s possible that the better hardware might spark better games from developers keen to push the limits, but Microsoft will obviously have to work hard and directly to get more developers and more titles on board. For now, this spec release by itself does little to tell us how the next-generation Xbox will do.
Nintendo to Double Production of Switch Console – WSJ (Mar 17, 2017)
Another sign that the Switch is a hit, despite some fairly mixed initial reviews: Nintendo is reportedly doubling its production run for the console from eight to sixteen million, which would put it on pace to match the initial sales of the Wii, and well ahead of Wii U sales. It should also help prompt more game makers to produce titles for the console, which is a good thing since lack of games was one of the big criticisms at launch. That will, of course, take time, so it’s not an instant fix by any means, but it looks like Nintendo finally has another hardware hit on its hands after a tough few years. Alongside a long-awaited push into mobile gaming, that could mean a good period of growth for Nintendo is coming, assuming they learn the lessons from their Super Mario Run launch.
This feels like a clever little idea from Google – showing people ads for games in which a tiny version of the game itself is embedded, making the ad playable. It could also be part of an eventual path to Progressive Web Apps and other web-app hybrids Google is working on, just as some of these tools are already served up in search results. There are some other clever enhancements here too – it feels like app ads are far from done as a medium.
Nintendo Switch Reviews Suggest Excitement About Model, Less About Actual Performance and Games Available (Mar 1, 2017)
The review embargo for the new Nintendo Switch console seems to have lifted overnight, and the reviews that have resulted are mostly pretty mixed. There’s quite a bit of excitement for the concept and some of the execution, but every review I’ve read so far highlights hardware bugs, performance lags, frustrations with Bluetooth and cramped controllers, and especially a lack of games at launch. It appears that Nintendo mostly allowed reviewers to demo one game – a pretty good new Zelda title – and a package of mini games called 1-2-Switch which seems mostly intended to show off various game modes rather than provide hours of entertainment. As such, this seems like an in-betweener for Nintendo – neither the big hit the Wii and DS were, nor the obvious flop the Wii U was. In time, it’s possible that software updates and more games will push it over into the hit category, but it certainly doesn’t look like it’s there yet. All this is, of course, interesting in the context of Nintendo’s simultaneous push into mobile gaming through smartphones, which has also been a mixed bag so far.
Amazon’s Twitch acquisition was one of the most interesting it’s made, and one of the few big ones it’s made which weren’t in the e-commerce space. Since the acquisition, it’s pursued two separate tracks with Twitch, one focused on the core gamer space it’s always served, and the second broadening its reach and appeal beyond gaming and becoming something of a YouTube clone. This announcement belongs in that first strand, though it also ties in the online sales angle by putting a buy button next to video game video encouraging viewers to buy the game being played in the video. This is a unique take on the ad revenue sharing model YouTube popularized, and could be pretty lucrative for at least some channel owners over time. It’s also a great way to provide very relevant advertising around a video platform, something that’s often tough to do beyond broad demographic profiling.
via The Verge
U.S. iPhone users are spending more on apps – Axios (Feb 22, 2017)
Here’s the second item on apps from Axios today. Whereas the first was about Pokemon Go, this one is about App Store performance in general, and shows that average spending on the App Store continues to rise in the US. That spending is dominated by games, a long-standing trend, and the game spending is likely in turn dominated by in-app purchases. For now, this is great for Apple and its partners: IAP is growing, and that in turn is driving App Store and Services segment growth, something that’s critical to Apple’s growth narrative. However, I continue to find the IAP model troubling – it exhibits characteristics of addiction and relies on a very small number of players paying huge amounts per month. That works as a business model, but it feels predatory and I’d love to see game developers come up and popularize new ways to pay for games – so far, we’ve seen one or two companies do this successfully including UsTwo’s Monument Valley, but Nintendo’s attempt to find a different model with Super Mario Run has been disappointing from a revenue perspective. Still lots of work to be done here.
This is one of two quick pieces from Axios on apps that I’m going to cover this morning. This one shows that Pokemon Go has had a little resurgence off the back of the new characters it released recently, making it a top app again on iOS. To my mind, that again reinforces the point that Nintendo has done far better with the app it only owns a minority share in than with the app it owns outright (Super Mario Run) and likely even makes more money from Pokemon Go despite that minority share. That’s something it’s going to have to think hard about as it prepares to launch additional mobile games in the coming months.
Sony Reports Results for December 2016 Quarter (Feb 2, 2017)
Sony’s been such an interesting company to watch over recent years, because almost every aspect of its hardware business has been challenged, and it’s even exited some, like PCs. However, it’s had something of a renaissance in the gaming space, with the Playstation outperforming the Xbox in the current cycle, and actually growing year on year in the December quarter. The other interesting hardware business to watch at Sony its smartphones, because it’s taken a unique approach for an Android vendor, which appears to be paying off. That approach has involved focusing the smartphone business on the premium segment, resulting in a smaller but more profitable business. Sony’s smartphone shipments have dropped by about half from 2015 to 2016, but its margin rose to over 8% in Q4, well above the low single digit or negative margins most consumer electronics businesses generate. There’s an interesting signal here for other Android vendors about what it could take to find success, though there probably isn’t room for more than one or two vendors pursuing this premium strategy.
via Sony (PDF)
I’m including this today mostly because it’s an interesting counterpoint to the Nintendo results and related data about Super Mario Run from earlier. There’s such an interesting juxtaposition between the $53 million Nintendo has generated from Super Mario Run so far, and this billion-dollar gross figure from Sensor Tower for Pokemon Go since it launched. On the one hand, Nintendo only owns a minority stake in Pokemon Go, but the game has probably still generated more revenue overall for Nintendo than Super Mario Run, which it owns outright. And of course Pokemon Go’s business model is much more along the lines of the fairly standard in-app purchase model. It’s still early days for Super Mario Run, but it’s interesting for Nintendo that the game which appears to have been a far bigger success on mobile is the one it doesn’t own outright, and which adopted the standard IAP model rather than something different.
via Sensor Tower
This is the first real indication we’ve had directly from the source of how Super Mario Run has performed for Nintendo since it was released in mid-December, and it came in the context of Nintendo reporting its results for the December quarter. Overall revenue for the quarter was 174 billion Yen, or around $1.5 billion, while total revenue from Super Mario Run so far (including January) is around 6 billion Yen, or $53 million. So even though Super Mario Run has done well in its own right, it’s a drop in the bucket in terms of Nintendo’s overall business. The other key number is that around 5% of those who have downloaded the game have paid $10 to unlock the full functionality. As a frame of reference, King (maker of Candy Crush) reports that around 2% of its monthly users make some kind of payment, with the average paying user spending a lot more than $10 per month. Zynga sees a conversion rate of just under 2% and again sees spending per paying user per month well above $10. So although a 5% conversion rate may seem high, that’s a one-off payment, whereas competing game maker’s smaller number of paying users pay repeatedly over a period of time for a much larger total amount. So far, Nintendo’s business model, which attempted to buck the usual IAP model for games, has both annoyed some users while delivering a lower payout than competing games. I’m not convinced it’s done figuring out the right business model for its mobile offerings.
Super Mario Run was an iPhone exclusive when it first launched, and as such was featured in Apple’s Fall 2016 keynote. However, that exclusive won’t last forever, and it appears that the game will be coming to Android in March, despite the criticism of the business model and other features of the game. What’s not clear is whether the business model will be the same – while getting people to pay for iPhone games is hard, getting Android users to pay up is much harder still, so I wonder whether the additional investment will be worth it if Nintendo sticks with the $10 unlock model. More broadly, there will be additional games for both iOS and Android later this year, so Nintendo is clearly still committed to its smartphone game strategy. However, we still haven’t seen the symbolically important release by Nintendo of any of its highly popular original games for smartphones, something almost every observer seems to think it should do, but which it chooses for some reason to resist for now. It’s also worth noting that Super Mario Run (though not the next game) is another example of iOS first, Android later – a trend that continues to be one of the biggest hits against Google’s Play Store and Android in general.
Minecraft Pocket Edition will no longer receive updates for Windows mobile devices | Windows Central (Jan 19, 2017)
It’s becoming ever clearer that Microsoft is going to go through yet another revamp of its smartphone OS strategy, on top of Windows Mobile and Windows Phone (you could argue Windows 10 Mobile as it currently stands is already a third, but it was very much an update to Windows Phone in reality). Other developers have been abandoning their Windows Phone apps for some time now, but for Microsoft itself to do it is the clearest sign yet that there’s no meaningful future for Windows on consumer mobile devices as it currently stands. The article holds out hope for the full Windows on ARM strategy Microsoft is working on, but it still seems very likely that this will end up being a marginal and enterprise-centric play rather than something that gets Microsoft back into the consumer smartphone market.
This early review pours some cold water on the enthusiasm that’s generally met the launch of the Switch. The lack of games, controllers which are awkward in some configurations and games, underpowered hardware for the console mode, and other issues are highlighted here. It feels as though Nintendo decided to get the Switch out the door as quickly as possible rather than waiting the usual long period from launch to release so as to allow more games to be ready – so far, the reaction I’m seeing to that paucity of games is pretty negative, so we’ll see how this works out for Nintendo over time. There seems to have been decent pre-order interest, but we’ll have to see how those early buyers actually like the devices when they get them.
The Nintendo Switch was unveiled a while back with a very effective promo video and a few other details, but price and some other details were not announced at that time. We now have price, specs, and a few other tidbits from Nintendo, and it looks like it’s going to be by far Nintendo’s most popular gaming device in quite some time. It has some weird quirks – relatively low resolution on the screen, very short controller cables, and so on – but most users will put up with those. This device is also another flavor of mobile gaming from Nintendo alongside its recent mobile app releases, so in some ways Nintendo is hedging its bets here, which is a smart move – its mobile apps have been popular, but it’s not clear yet that they’re the basis for a long-term sustainable business for Nintendo.
Why Super Mario’s Run Was Short – WSJ (Jan 2, 2017)
The headline is overstating things – it’s not like Super Mario Run is done. But there are some good numbers in here – notably that 3% of the estimated 90 million downloads have converted to being paying users. At $10, that’s actually pretty high, and Nintendo will do just fine if it can keep converting new users at that rate. However, the poor reviews – many driven by the IAP model – may prevent Nintendo from continuously filling its funnel. Definitely some lessons here for future Nintendo mobile games.
Microsoft might add ‘game mode’ to Windows 10 for maximum gaming performance – The Verge (Dec 28, 2016)
This isn’t coming out of left field – one of the big consumer features of Windows 10 has been its gaming emphasis, so this is a natural evolution. Gaming has been one of the big consumer success points for Microsoft amid broader questions about its strategy and especially monetization among consumers going forward.