Digital Convergence and why it matters to gaming and Nintendo

For the last 10 years, the consumer electronics industry has been converging towards mobile.
At one point you would have all your digital devices, your digital camera, your camcorder, your MP3 Player, your Sat Nav, your PDA and your Mobile Phone all connected up to you PC which acted as a Digital hub for all that content and media. 
Not that long ago right? 
In fact I still have all of these devices, i just use them way less now or not at all. 
These of course have been largely replaced by the one device to rule them all, the smartphone.

I have used 4 smartphone platforms, Windows Mobile, Android, Blackberry and most recently iOS.
I've gotta say carrying around one device rather than seven is obviously convenient, but only recently have these devices matured to a level where it's also realistic.
When Apple CEO Steve Jobs was recently asked what the future of the PC was, he used an interesting automotive analogy. 

"When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks. But as people moved more towards urban centers, people started to get into cars. I think PCs are going to be like trucks. Less people will need them. And this is going to make some people uneasy."

He is basically saying that certain tasks will always be better on the P.C. and the P.C. will always be needed for them, but a lot of the other things people do on a them, they can do just fine on a mobile device.
This rings true for some of the devices above. 
I still have a DSLR camera and a camcorder because there are currently physical limitations to how much light a sensor and lens smaller than my finger nail can take in, but i use them way less and find most of my pics and videos come from my iPhone now, and the quality is just fine. If i needed a more professional or higher quality experience I'll go for the dedicated device.
My sat nav still gets hauled out on occasion, despite being the same software running on both devices, there is something to be said for a larger screen and dedicated purpose GPS chip.
But for the most part I use the Tom Tom app on my iPhone as it is convenient and does just fine.
So the next device which i omitted from the above list, is a portable gaming device.

I'm not going to argue that all mobile gaming needs to be is convenient and that Angry Birds or Cut the Rope is all the mobile gaming ambition we have,  Cunzy11 sums it up just fine here 

But what I do believe is that having a digital convergence mobile platform matters and at the very least keeps companies like Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft relevant in a market with massive growth year on year, a market that can potentially introduce non gamers to more serious gaming in turn leading them to the dedicated device.

So lets look at the 3 major console manufacturers and their Mobile Platform.

Microsoft: 


With no dedicated portable gaming device, MS is entirely dependant on it's smartphone OS as a mobile gaming alternative.
Last year Microsoft did what many doubted they could do and made them selves relevant in the mobile space again by throwing out Windows Mobile and completely rewriting the OS from the ground up in the form of Windows Phone 7. The OS though still young and rough around the edges, has a lot to like, not least of which is the Xbox Live integration.
The phenomenon of achievements and Gamerscore and why they even matter can be debated by Richie! another time, however 'Thousanding' is addictive and with Windows Phone 7 comes twohundreding. 
In short you are signed in to XBL on your phone, can manage friends lists, view status, edit your av and more importantly play games and earn achievements. 
There is talk of cooperative play between mobile and console (hopefully more immersive than the Tingle Tuner was in Windwaker), potential seamless continuation of games (leave the console and continue playing on the phone in a different way) and shared XBLA purchases playable on both devices all under one harmonious ecosystem.
Lots of potential for sure, MS has a lot riding on it if it wants a piece of mobile (it does) however WP7 still has a lot to prove as a phone platform, as a developer platform and as a brand and with sales and market share down year on year (despite Windows Phone 7 launch) it certainly isn't certain to succeed. However MS isn't a company short of cash and like it or not, brands can be bought with enough advertising and product placement.
As a gaming platform it is very early days, the XBL integration is pretty amazing, however it now needs some pretty amazing games and experiences worthy of the Xbox name.

Sony: 
As much as it's easy to criticise the PSP, they have sold 62 Million of them worldwide (that's more PSP sales than SNES, NES, PS3 or 360) so it's not like they are lost in this market.
They have also just announced the next Playstation Portable due end of 2011 (in at least one market) codenamed NGP for now, which is a bit of a brute: 4x resolution of the current PSP, quadcore A9 Processor, dual analogue, reverse trackpad (which despite forcing you to make pedophile gestures, looks awesome) etc etc, spec wise it's a beast and whether the content will be there and the price will be right can be debated another day.

There is also the fabled Playstation Phone, the Xperia Play (announcing Feb 13th), which for many mobile gamers will be a match made in heaven, a fully functioning Sony Ericsson Android smartphone with slide out Playstation Controls to be used with existing Android games (not many) and the newly introduced and arguably more exciting than the NGP, Playstation Suite. 


Playstation Suite is a software framework for Android smartphones and tablets, essentially bringing a hardware neutral (Yup a Samsung Playstation Phone is happening) game store to Android, initially starting with PSone games.
This is huge for so many reasons.

It's huge for Google as it will finally give Android a gaming presence in the Smartphone war and a brand that customers already know. 
It's huge for Sony as it will leverage it's own Xperia Play (the Playstation Phone) as an instant mobile gaming platform digital convergence device.
It's huge for NGP as it means at launch, there will likely be a large catalogue of games on PS Suite in addition to dedicated games and a breadcrumb trail for users to the NGP should users love getting their portable playstation on and want a more dedicated system.
There are a lot of questions still to answered though, as, since most phones wont have dedicated controls, will games designed for PSSuite be compelling enough for 'hardcore users'
Will phones in 2012 be powerful enough for NGP games?
Will the games be subject to the same fragmentation issues that currently plague Android?
However one thing is for sure, Sony has it's ducks in a row, it has the home console, the dedicated mobile console and soon will have the Xperia Play convergence device to bridge the gap, all of which are living under the same Playstation Suite ecosystem, smart.

Nintendo:
Ah the DS, 144 million devices sold second only to the PS2 and in just 2 short months the latest greatest 3DS will be with us convincing the non-believers that 3D is in fact the future (unless you flick the off switch)
Personally I'm not convinced about 3D in general, but I really like Nintendo for making it happen without the ridiculous 'deal breaker' glasses. It feels like an early adopter move, the kind of moves Sony used to make, the kind of moves Apple currently make. I do tend to see Nintendo's differentiating moves a bit gimmicky; I didn't like the 2 screens on the DS, i thought the Wii motion controlling was stupid and you could argue forcing 3D Ocarina of Time on someone with a free headache is the latest gimmick. That said, they do sell a lot of stuff on the back of these gimmicks, so what do i know? and hat's off to them for trying to bring a unique feature to market.
I'm sure they will sell a tonne of these device, however i'm sure they would have sold them regardless of the headache inducing 3D screen.
What concerns me though is that Nintendo doesn't have any convergence device or platform and no apparent plans to support one. 
Nintendo themselves have identified Apple as "the enemy of the future" and that "they can hurt us more than Microsoft"
So what is it about the iPhone/iPod touch that makes it an enemy that can potentially take a Nintendo customer away?
The games? Unlikely.
The gaming experience? No way
The social experience? God no (Game Center sucks)
So what is it? 
It's the fact people already have/need phones and if they can get one cool device from an iconic brand that does everything they need that fits in their pocket, they want it and they will start to use it more and more just like they do vs the camcorder and the digital camera.
The 3DS is not the answer to the iPhone, it's another truck, purpose built for doing one task well. So if the market tells them that people want digital convergence and they see Apple as their biggest threat, what are they doing about it??
Now as it stands, i think people need their trucks on the gaming landscape, but for a company that thrives on the casual gamer, this is surely a missed opportunity to show them what a great company they still are and entice them from Mobile to Portable to Home console.
So assuming Nintendo did want to get a piece of this emerging market and make a Gameboy Phone or DSPhone, they would need a software platform, so what are the options?

1. Android, it's free and it's spreading like a rash. However while Nintendo could make a locked down DRM DSPhone (it wouldn't have 2 screens but DSPhone rolls off the tongue better than GameboyPhone) it seems unlikely given Sony's strong connections to Android and the recent announcements.

2. iOS, put this in the fanboy dream category. The idea that Nintendo would license their back catalogue to play on iOS devices seems awesome and would give them a strong platform to leverage their other assets on. Unfortunately I think both companies are too stubborn (Apple in particular) to admitting they need either company. Although Apple could cross license iOS to run on future home consoles giving them the much needed answer to the growing Android army. Like I say it's a dream.


3. Build their own OS. Madness, there is no room for another mobile platform in the market with Apple, Microsoft, Google, Nokia, RIM and HP already pushing the limits on what is acceptable for consumer choice.

4. HP/Palm Web OS. Nintendo should have bought Palm, this would have given them arguably the best mobile OS around and a ready made entry in to this market. They didn't, though, HP did, but it's still a possible option and here's why.
It makes sense!
They need each other and are different enough that business politics and pride wont get in the way.
HP has a media event tomorrow (Feb 9th) and I would love to see Nintendo's Reggie jog on stage at some point and announce a cross licensing deal.
HP desperately need to win the public over and convince them that their OS is cool, unique and has more USP's than just an intuitive GUI. Having Nintendo games baked in to their App store would give them instant credibility with consumers, solve their gaming issue and would help convince developers Web OS is a platform worth their time. 
Nintendo could also choose to make their own DSPhone running Web OS with a Nintendo skin. Imagine a device with back catalogue of Nintendo games, a powerful advanced mobile OS, app store and full browsing experience that fits in your pocket (and makes calls)

You may believe that Nintendo's portable strategy is working (and you'd be right) you may believe that devices like Apple's iPhone don't give a true gaming experience for people that know the difference between 'Cut the Rope' and Zelda (you'd be right again) however you can't ignore the fact that consumers are buying these digital convergence devices like crazy. You also cant ignore the fact the top free and paid apps on these devices are predominantly 'games' and you certainly cant ignore the fact that both Microsoft and now Sony have embraced this and are poised to capitalise on it in 2011.
As Sony has demonstrated with the Xperia Play and NGP, there is room for the dedicated and convergence device to satisfy both casual and hardcore mobile gamers alike.
The real question is why wouldn't Nintendo want a piece of that market?


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Comments

Cunzy11 said…
Interesting post but not written for me I'm afraid.

"a market that can potentially introduce non gamers to more serious gaming in turn leading them to the dedicated device." This is a key point and one I think you've got wrong.

Firstly, as Nintendo demonstrated with the Wii and as Kinect will no doubt demonstrate, even on the same device playing a spot of Wii Play or Wii Fit doesn't translate into turning non gamers into the couch potato, twitch reflexing or RPG addict. Not only can this be observed by looking at the top Wii games all time and losing yourself in the gap between 10 million plus selling games and the rest but I've not even heard much anecdotal evidence of a successful 'conversion'.

Secondly, "I thought the Wii motion controlling was stupid" is like writing off every Xbox 360 game because you didn't like it when fire was mapped to RB rather than RT in Call of Halos 4. It's your opinion, you are entitled to it but it smacks of coming from someone who hasn't played many wii games.
Perhaps I wasn't clear, but it seems like you missed my point entirely. I'm not really saying that someone who enjoys a mobile game will convert to a hardcore RPG (although there is potential for a customer to remain brand loyal should they consider another gaming purchase). I'm really saying that the mobile (phone) gaming market exists. The quality of it may never appeal to you, but it appeals to many others, others not consider in your eyes perhaps as gamers, but they exist none the less. Sony and Microsoft have clear strategies in this arena and there is money to be made and consumers to be won over.Nintendo themselves have identified Apple as a bigger threat than Microsoft to them and yet have made no effort to take them on, nor demonstrated any strategy at all in mobile. This week for the first time ever smartphones outsold PC's, a figure analysts expect to never reverse. So if smartphones specs are maturing to levels that take on any mobile consoles (and they have) and they are now outselling PC's in the market and many top game developers are flocking to these platforms releasing titles, then simply, Nintendo are in danger of being left behind.
They also have an opportunity to do it right, why cant they build a fantastic gaming device that also makes calls, browse the web and has access to more conventional apps. Mobile (phone) gamers may not move to more serious games, but like it or not, more serious games are heading to mobile. Nintendo not being a part of something so obvious just seems madness.
Regarding the motion controlling comment, it is neither here nor there. I was simply saying that Nintendo's USP's seem in my opinion to be gimmicky. Did we need 3D on a mobile console, did we need 2 screens, did we need motion controlling, I'm not sure, it aint for me. What i see as a gimmick, some see as a revolution and the sales figures appear to reflect that i'm wrong. However it is a very small side note of the post and your reply smacks of a fanboy that is unwilling to entertain the idea that Nintendo may have missed a trick.
Cunzy11 said…
I'll start where you finished. It may have been a side point but it's my right to take you to task for what you say. Dismissing two screens, 3D and motion control in the same post that you are advocating that playing games on a platform that lets also lets you phone people and use apps is poor persuasive writing. Don't mention it at all if it takes away from what you're advocating without adding anything.

As for the mobile games market it does exist and it has for many many years. In fact, the biggest selling games of all time have done owe most of their success to mobile (phone) gaming but I doubt you could name those games, neither could I. Yes mobile phone games have now got smart and smart phones have overtaken PC and will no doubt eventually subsume the non smart phone market but getting games to reach the market will be difficult. There needs to be a proper revolution in the way that games reach customers. Try browsing Wiiware and Xbox Live Indie Games. Even with hard copy games the DS and PSP struggle, the PSP having more models than 1 million plus selling games. It's hard. It's messy and all too easy to overlook the great games and become disenfranchised because you've wasted money on a duff game. I don't believe that mobile phone games spell the end of good, deep games. I do believe there will be some games that are only great because they exist on a smart phone but if the games industry puts all their eggs in the mobile basket without thinking it through, like they did with non smart phone games and then later social software games it's going to damage the whole games industry. Again.

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