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Episode 234: Needs More D's

by James Jones, Greg Leahy, Jon Lindemann, Jonathan Metts, and Matt Walker - March 6, 2011, 2:12 pm PST
Total comments: 19

New games, 3DS impressions from Japan, and your Listener Mail -- it's all inside!

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In this, our last episode before PAX East and the live panel foretold in legend, we talk about Nintendo and video games. It starts with New Business, in which Jonny checks out the final Bit.Trip game, a new PixelJunk title, and last year's sleeper hit, Enslaved. James polishes off Radiant Historia, while Greg gives us an update on the Japanese Virtual Console (FFVI is on the way!) and Treasure's import Bleach fighting game for Wii. Jon wraps the segment with very positive tales of playing Killzone 3 with PlayStation Move (just like on the Wii!) and the frustrations of playing a DS FPS online.

After a quick break, we time-warp into the future (and the third dimension!) with a short segment about the 3DS launch and post-launch experiences. Matt Walker, one of our mans in Japans, is the proud owner of a Nintendo 3DS and answers all our questions about that dandy device, as well as one of the biggest launch titles, Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition.

Finally, we return to our regularly scheduled podcast with your very own Listener Mail questions about Satoru Iwata's GDC keynote, more on the F-Zero series, 3DS remakes beyond Ocarina and Star Fox, Chrono Cross, the curiously low barrier of entry to Apple's gaming platforms, and knob-slobbing. Thanks for the great emails -- we'll see YOU in Boston!

This podcast was edited by Greg Leahy.

Music for this episode of Radio Free Nintendo is used with permission from Jason Ricci & New Blood. You can purchase their newest album, Done with the Devil, directly from the record label, Amazon (CD) (MP3), or iTunes, or call your local record store and ask for it!

Additional music for this episode of Radio Free Nintendo is copyrighted to Nintendo, and is included under fair use protection.

Talkback

Kytim89March 06, 2011

What was the guy's name over at Kotaku that did not like the 3DS?

KisakiProjectMarch 07, 2011

@ Johnny.

Glad you played Enslaved.  I greatly enjoyed that title.  I think it was overlooked.  I watched people play Uncharted but I never played it.  Enslaved seems to have been the sci-fi version of that.  So I enjoyed due to its story being more inventive.  I think Andy Serkins really delivered in his preformance.  I can't think of many games that have had an acotr really define it the way he defined that game.

KDR_11kMarch 07, 2011

I enjoyed Brothers in Arms on the DS, that was heavily arcadified. The complexity is what annoys me about Gameloft FPSes on the Ipod as well, there's so many buttons that you need to hit. BiA is much simpler, I think the only aiming down the sights that you do is with the sniper rifle (isn't it silly how many games have aiming down sights these days? Friggin' Bulletstorm has that, for the latter 2/3rds of the campaign I completely forgot that option existed!).

What's not often talked about on the App Store is the sheer number of failures, developers that just went on a mad gold rush and ended up ignored and forgotten. How many games that aren't shown on the front page of the store do people even know? People complain about the lack of marketing for WiiWare but most games on the App Store get zero exposure, not helped by the complete swamping with shovelware. Unlike XBLIG there's no one-game-one-genre policy, most shovelware spammers simply tag their game as being in every genre, flooding the lists. Yes, DSiWare is not competitive with that but there's also pricing expectations hurting aspiring developers, if you charge more than a dollar people wait for pricedrops because they know those will come. The App Store creates a perception of near zero value with its pricing strategy. BTW, there is an equivalent to NSMB on the App Store, it's Giana Sisters, a port fo the DS version. Fortunately for Nintendo Apple's no-button design philosophies make games like that nearly unplayable.

Kytim89March 07, 2011

One thing to keep in mind in regards to the Appstore is cash incentive for developers. Selling a game for $0.99 just is not enough incentive to exspand the quality the quality of games. Heck, even $4.99 for a game is still not enough. Keep in mind that the only reason we get the games we do for te PS3, 360 and Wii is that the prices for the games allow the developers to get enough money to be incentivized to make even more games of that quality. This is why we went from the NES era to the giant high definition gaming of today because the industry evolved because the money was there to pay for it. I do not see the appstore evolving because the prices for its games would have to rise and if not, then people will eventually just keep getting the same **** until the service finally stganates fully. Overall, the appstore is not a threat to the market. 

noname2200March 07, 2011

Regarding the story in the bit.trip games, vudu found this link a month or so ago.

http://www.destructoid.com/death-isn-t-so-bad-in-bit-trip-flux-190400.phtml

"Alex Neuse -- the previously mentioned creator of the Bit.Trip series -- has been forthcoming enough to reveal to us that each Bit.Trip game thus has been a metaphor for a stage of human development. The most recently released Bit.Trip game, Bit.Trip FATE, represents old age and death, while the first game in the series, Bit.Trip BEAT, is about the sperm and the egg getting together."

Pretentious?  You betcha.  Luckily, the game's are still generally quite fun.

Kytim89March 07, 2011

The whole battle between Nintendo and Apple's appstore seems to me to be in a similar fashion to a free market economy versus a planned economy. Apple behaves more like free market where they allow developers to essentially do what they want in terms of development and price for games. Nintendo, on the other hand, behaves like a centralized planned economy when they set prices, distribution and control content for developers.

Quote from: Kytim89

Apple's appstore ... free market

*boggle* *boggle*

Kytim89March 07, 2011

Quote from: MegaByte

Quote from: Kytim89

Apple's appstore ... free market

*boggle* *boggle*


Does not compute.

What Aaron may be getting at is the fact that Apple has no guidelines as to why it will accept or deny games on the service.  Some games have been denied for little to no reason, which hardly constitutes a free market.

I've always been suspicious of the notion of cell phone gaming being a huge threat to the traditional game market.  I'm of the opinion that the people playing games on phones aren't traditional gamers anyways...they're people that would only ever play video games when they're on a cell phone.  I think they're an entirely new market, not one that's going to cut into existing ones.

noname2200March 07, 2011

Quote from: NWR_Lindy

I've always been suspicious of the notion of cell phone gaming being a huge threat to the traditional game market.  I'm of the opinion that the people playing games on phones aren't traditional gamers anyways...they're people that would only ever play video games when they're on a cell phone.  I think they're an entirely new market, not one that's going to cut into existing ones.

But with all the game journalists who rave about iPhone gaming, can we really say that?  I'd also be curious to read the demographics of who own smartphones now, since my inclination is to think it's dominated by geeky young males, i.e. the same demographic that's most into gaming.

I play lots of games on my iPhone, but I still had no doubts about preordering a 3DS. They really are different markets. If smartphone gaming is going to have any impact on traditional handheld gaming, it's going to be positive, at least for us. For one, it will most likely make widespread digital distribution happen a lot more quickly. Sony's already said every NGP game will be available digitally, and I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that Nintendo will experiment with digital releases of retail 3DS games (or at least older DS games).

noname2200March 07, 2011

Quote from: insanolord

I play lots of games on my iPhone, but I still had no doubts about preordering a 3DS. They really are different markets. If smartphone gaming is going to have any impact on traditional handheld gaming, it's going to be positive, at least for us. For one, it will most likely make widespread digital distribution happen a lot more quickly. Sony's already said every NGP game will be available digitally, and I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that Nintendo will experiment with digital releases of retail 3DS games (or at least older DS games).

Long-winded response, feel free to skip.

I'm not as convinced about either of these things, although I admit I'm equally unconvinced that Iwata is correct (basically, I'm undecided).  But I do have to question some common assertions.  For example, I'm not convinced that the two really are separate markets; they're both portable videogames that demand your time and money, two very finite resources, and while it's true that the two are not automatically catering to the same demographic at this moment ("disposable games" is a common description of iPhone games), it seems to me that this may simply be an early stage of small, cheap games disrupting the traditional handheld market.  Many of the signs are certainly there, anyways.  And if that's true, it becomes quite likely that somewhere down the line these small, cheap games will morph into something that directly challenges traditional handheld games.  It doesn't automatically mean that's a bad thing for gamers, of course.

I also have to wonder what damage this shift will cause in the short run.  The number of mobile developers doubled in just one year, and was at 25% last year: it's probably higher today.  This indicates mobile gaming is likely leeching development talent away from other games.  Again, that's not necessarily bad, but it can be worrisome if the spread of free or $1 games means that many developers are not making a return on their investment: I read somewhere that the average iPhone game only brings in $400 in revenue for the developer, and if that's true (I'm not sure if it is), it makes it hard to think that mobile games will be able to foster the more in-depth games that many of us love.  We all know about the success of Angry Birds, but it seems to me that for every success there's hundreds, if not thousands, of mobile games that lost money.  And since the app store has essentially bred the expectation that games will sell for pennies, it seems like commercial success is unlikely for most developers to find in the short run.  In spite of that, mobile games are attracting an increasing number of developers; EA even created a studio specifically dedicated to making cheap mobile games.  That doesn't strike me as being necessarily good for gaming as a whole.

I'll be the first to admit that there are a lot of ifs outlined above, and that I could be way off the mark.  But I do think there's a chance that mobile games really might harm the game industry, at least in the short term.  Moreover, I have a ton of respect for Iwata's business acumen; he's certainly earned it.  While his speech certainly contained a lot of self-interest, I have to remember that this is the same man who was perfectly willing to yank a handful of talented developers from other projects and force them to make Brain Training in just a few months, while also giving them nearly no resources.  He's also the man behind the idea of making an underpowered home console that's driven primarily by Blue Ocean games.  Iwata's shown that he's not completely faithful to the traditional method of making games.  He's also shown that he likes making money.  So if he truly thought that the mobile-market style of games would be profitable, wouldn't he have done more to try to cash in?

To answer that last point, Nintendo won't do that because they can't really do it. The majority of people who play those games do so because they're available on a device they already own for other, unrelated reasons. Nintendo has made it very clear that they don't want to make games for other companies' hardware, and Nintendo's not going to design and release a multi-purpose smartphone/tablet type of device. Nintendo makes dedicated game systems, and that type of hardware sells primarily to gamers.

The iPhone and similar devices may steal away some of the "casual" gamers Nintendo brought in with the DS, and that may be why Nintendo seems to be trying to appeal more to "hardcore" gamers with the 3DS. For the foreseeable future, though, there will still be a significant audience that won't be satisfied with what can be done on a smartphone (this is assuming smartphones remain predominantly touch screen-based; I know that's not going to change on Apple's devices, and it would have to become popular across a wide range of Android/WP7 phones to have any kind of traction). For those people, the iPhone won't be in the same discussion as "real" game systems.

Like I said, smartphone gaming is good for people like us, so long as Nintendo takes the right message from it. As long as they don't go chasing the casual market, which would be tough to get away from Apple and not that rewarding, and instead focus more on gamers, as they seem to be doing right now, I think, from a software perspective, the 3DS will likely be even better than the greatness of the DS.

The impact on the gaming industry that iphone apps/phone games will have is a very intriguing argument.  On one hand, you can understand the concerns that Iwata has regarding iphone apps, because the sales of these 0.99 apps are impressive to say the least, and like Johnny said on the podcast, in a certain extent, it does cut into Nintendo's ability to peddle things like Brain Age for $20-$30 when the iphone sells the same item for 0.99 cents.  I mean, just recently there was a review for Plants vs Zombies, an iphone game that costs about 2 or 3 bucks that sells on Nintendo DS for ten times as much!  When you lower the barrier to entry on some of these video games that much, it makes it much more difficult for a larger operation like Nintendo to compete on some levels. 

I see the concept of iphone app purchasers and potential Nintendo DS/3DS purchasers in terms of those venn diagrams you see in math class.  There will always be groups of people who won't bother with one or the other, but there will also be that middle point of consumer who owns a Nintendo DS but buys an iphone/ipod touch/ipad and uses it to buy angry birds.  There will also be a segment of the market who owns an iphone who plays angry birds, wants something more, and sees the Nintendo DS as a good expansion on this new form of entertainment that they've discovered.  Neither side can be fully converted, but there is a middling ground for market cross-over.

Instead of Iwata and Nintendo warning of the dangers of low barriers to entry, why couldn't they capitalize on this opportunity by supporting it the entire way.  Either compete with apple directly by offering these phone developers their own spot on the 3DS store for comparable prices, or play the Sony game where you tell these iphone game players "Hey, you know those Angry Birds/Plants vs Zombie games?  Those are fun for 15-20 minutes, but we have something that can keep you entertained for hours upon hours, and will give you much more entertainment value for your money".  You would think this isn't the same company that released an underpowered video game system with simple controls that spread like wildfire because they brought non-gamers into a video game ecosystem that they otherwise would never have invested in.

I would also submit that there are millions of people who would never and will never be interested in a video game that is meant to be played for hours at a time. Those people are part of the "blue ocean" being reached by these cheap/free smart phone games. Honestly, I think Nintendo is more concerned about the loss of developers to this market, rather than consumers. When you look at the difficulty many companies have had selling games on Wii and DS, especially due to piracy but also due to not understanding the platform very well, these low-risk, huge-audience phone markets are very appealing. It becomes harder to convince third-parties why they should spend $5 million producing a high-quality 3DS game that may not sell due to distribution, marketing, demographics, etc.

Kytim89March 08, 2011

Quote from: Jonnyboy117

I would also submit that there are millions of people who would never and will never be interested in a video game that is meant to be played for hours at a time. Those people are part of the "blue ocean" being reached by these cheap/free smart phone games. Honestly, I think Nintendo is more concerned about the loss of developers to this market, rather than consumers. When you look at the difficulty many companies have had selling games on Wii and DS, especially due to piracy but also due to not understanding the platform very well, these low-risk, huge-audience phone markets are very appealing. It becomes harder to convince third-parties why they should spend $5 million producing a high-quality 3DS game that may not sell due to distribution, marketing, demographics, etc.


Look at Epic developing Infinity Blade and EA making that Dead Space game for the iphone. Both of those games could have easily been ported to the DS, Wii or 3DS, but they put it on the IOS system. Both of these developers have either not worked with Nintendo or have been burned for making games on their system that they turning towards the blue ocean crowd for refuge.

What worries me is if Apple makes the Ipad 2 as powerful as the Wii and then brings over of its failed third party games and charges maybe $8.99 to $9.99 and I think this might harm Nintendo. As ludicrus as it sounds, if Apple could capture Nintendo quality games for that price then I would be truelly worried.

I forsee Apple releasing a type of Iphone that has a d-pad and buttons and more powerful battery for $99.99 and then pulling a "Gameboy" on Nintendo themselves. Most of the DS touch screen games are not that good on the iphone and Chinatown Wars is a clear indication of that. So is the recent Dead Space game for the Iphone. So, with this new device Apple would then go on to capture third party exclusive from the DS, and possibly the 3DS, and then offer the games much cheaper than they are on Nintendo's system.

This is why Nintendo is going to have to wroll up their sleeves and get into the mud with Apple in regards to digital distribution with 3DSware. This means that they WILL have to set aside their pride  and offer games in the price scale of $0.99 to $19.99. Jonny, you alluded to this a few episodes ago and I agreed with you.

noname2200March 08, 2011

Quote from: insanolord

To answer that last point, Nintendo won't do that because they can't really do it. The majority of people who play those games do so because they're available on a device they already own for other, unrelated reasons. Nintendo has made it very clear that they don't want to make games for other companies' hardware, and Nintendo's not going to design and release a multi-purpose smartphone/tablet type of device. Nintendo makes dedicated game systems, and that type of hardware sells primarily to gamers.

True, but that was why I tried to emphasize that Nintendo would try to emulate the model if they thought it'd work.  By model, I mean releasing hundreds of small, super-cheap games made by miniscule teams in brief amounts of development time.  Right now Nintendo is essentially hostile to that very idea; even their DSiWare service, which I believe was developed specifically to counter the app store, generally features higher prices and, worst yet, it only sees three to five new releases on a once-per-week basis.  Considering how their current process requires more time and energy on their part, I have to believe that Iwata honestly thinks that the app-store model of gaming is unsustainable.

And yes, Nintendo is primarily targeting gamers.  But as the last seven years and countless powerpoint snoozefests have shown, Nintendo's staked its future on creating gamers out of new people.  They centered an entire E3 on a bathroom scale!  And they've invested literally millions of dollars into market research to figure out what is creating new gamers and what is not.  If it were true that the app store is making new, profitable gamers, I have zero doubt that Nintendo would be going all out to get on the gravy train.

Quote from: insanolord

The iPhone and similar devices may steal away some of the "casual" gamers Nintendo brought in with the DS, and that may be why Nintendo seems to be trying to appeal more to "hardcore" gamers with the 3DS.


This requires us to think that Nintendo is willing to surrender without a fight the very audience it spent half a decade trying to acquire, and that it's new strategy is to focus on the same group who by and large abandoned it a decade ago and who it antagonized in its attempt to reach the expanded audience to begin with.  Nintendo's repeatedly made a point of saying that it does not think gaming is sustainable without a steady influx of new customers, i.e. without going far beyond the hardcore.  I can't believe Iwata would be willing to pursue that business strategy.  This is the same man who was willing to go super-casual in E3 2008 to combat the rumors that Microsoft and Sony were about to introduce motion controls to their systems.  If he thought that the "casuals" who made the DS the best-selling system of all time were being leeched away by an alternative profitable business model, he wouldn't just throw the white flag up and surrender. 

Quote from: Jonnyboy117

I would also submit that there are millions of people who would never and will never be interested in a video game that is meant to be played for hours at a time. Those people are part of the "blue ocean" being reached by these cheap/free smart phone games.


This is certainly true, but Nintendo has been making a concerted effort to reach those people as well.  "Pick up and play" has seen somewhat more emphasis recently, and I submit that's due in large part to Nintendo pushing it.  Nintendo's charts are certainly fond of fellating themselves over how awesome Nintendo's been at creating new gamers; can anything but the short-burst games really be responsible for that?

You may be right that the loss of developers is a bigger concern than the loss of consumers.  But if the flow of games dries up, so will the gamers.  And with ever-increasing amounts of talent and resources flowing to mobile gaming, there's obviously fewer and fewer of each going into other types of gaming.  That wouldn't necessarily be bad for gaming, since it would just mean shifting resources from one area to another, but if mobile gaming isn't generally profitable for the developers, it follows that this shift is actually a loss for gaming, and that non-mobile gaming will suffer fewere games, and thus fewer consumers, for as long as this loss lasts.  It's not an irreversible process, of course, but momentum is important in businesses, and if things take a while to correct themselves, it will take some time for gaming to claw back to its original position.

SundoulosMarch 10, 2011

From a gameplay perspective, I always found Chrono Cross to have a lot in common with Final Fantasy IX (moreso than VII), mostly because the battles seemed to be similarly paced, both featured weapon synthesis, and Zidane and Serge had very similar weapons.  In general, aside from the magic system, Cross played much like a Final Fantasy game of that era.  Either way, when compared to many of the PS1 Final Fantasy games, Cross had aged much more gracefully, mostly because of the character models and bright colors.  Beautiful game!

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