Why The 3DS is not doomed by the iPad/Tablets/Social Games

1. Nintendo’s Games are only available on Nintendo

In my opinion, the number one big problem with all arguments about Nintendo being doomed or made obsolete, and the biggest advantage Nintendo has on its competitors is that Nintendo makes both its own hardware and its own software.

Sure, Microsoft and Sony have some first party series, and Microsoft owns Rare (who’s gone downhill recently and been relegated to making avatar starring games for the Kinect).  But by and large, all their best sellers are from third parties.  If Activision says Call of Duty isn’t coming to the Xbox 720 or Rockstar says Grand Theft Auto isn’t coming to the PS4, those consoles are pretty much in trouble.

And that’s the difference which explains why Sony and Microsoft might be in trouble of being disrupted by tablets and cheap downloadable games, but Nintendo aren’t’.  Those big third party titles can very easily be moved to the app store if the publisher for them wants them to be, and neither Microsoft or Sony, short of giving the company millions to get the game as an exclusive, can do nothing about it.  And believe you me it’ll happen eventually, since these cheap games are what the big game publisher’s business minds think are the next big thing, the replacement to video game consoles.

But this won’t affect Nintendo.  Nintendo can simply not release Mario, or Zelda, or Pokemon or whatever else they make on the app store, and people have no choice but to buy their consoles to play them.  Sure they’ll maybe annoy a few investors and be seen as crazy by the business community, but that’s Nintendo’s major advantage.  Look ahead at the 3DS games and all the good titles we’re getting that can be found NOWHERE else:

  • New 2D Mario title
  • Kid Icarus Uprising
  • Super Smash Bros
  • Luigi’s Mansion 2
  • Paper Mario
  • Animal Crossing
  • Fire Emblem
  • Mario Tennis
  • And most likely, Pokemon

You want those games, you’ll need to own a 3DS.  No ifs or buts.  And in a world where every new Mario game sells over 10 million copies and Pokemon breaks video game sales records in two days, that’s one advantage Nintendo won’t be losing any time soon.

2. Some games only work well on proper consoles

Have you ever tried to play a game on a device with only a touch screen?  It’s not an optimal solution for a control scheme, and many, many genres just simply do not work with it.  Here are some genres where this is the case:

Racing Games

Okay, maybe comparing Mario Kart to its pirated equivalent Mole Kart isn’t fair.  But considering the games are pretty much the exact same thing bar a few barely edited graphics and some extremely shoddy physics in the latter, it’s a good illustration of how touch screen controls really don’t work with racing games:

Look at it here:

First thing you’ll notice is that the guy who’s playing has to move his thumb on some kind of impromptu D Pad to the bottom left.  Which for starters, completely blocks out a fair amount of the screen and leaves you open to any opponents or items that might happen to be coming from the bottom left of the track.  There’s a good reason most DS games which used touch controls didn’t make you view the game world on the touch screen, and that’s because it drastically hampers your ability to see what’s going on.

You’ve also got the issue that without buttons, game designers have to add their own home made controls to the touch screen.  Try using them, and that’s just almost unnatural, to have to reach random parts of the screen and tap them to use various abilities in the middle of a race.  Basically, it’s much easier and more much intuitive to press a button.  Sure you can theoretically do a lot of fancy stuff with only a touch screen, but it just seems like to do so is basically trying to use WarioWare style microgame controls for a retail title.

Platformers

Same general issues as with racing games here, the genre needs really precise, intuitive/easy to use controls and a touch screen on its own just doesn’t offer that.

Pretty much any action based game in general

Same reason as the above two.  They require a type of precision and ease of use that touch screens alone don’t offer.  There’s a good reason there aren’t many fighting games, first person shooters or traditional shoot em ups on DS/3DS which only use the touch screen controls and have you also watch the action on the same screen.

But hey, that’s only a problem with action games. RPGs seem like they’d work rather well on a touch screen interface (especially considering that you’re free to take your time, very little moving around the game world requires too much precision and that you’re not likely to die because you took too long or messed up in battles, unless you’re counting a Mario RPG or Earthbound)  Party games like WarioWare would be right at home on something like the app store for obvious reasons and strategy games could generally work at least okay (well, tactical/turn based ones, not so much real time ones)

On a different note, maybe this’ll be a moot point if a different type of device has a good service for downloadable games, like a traditional games console or mini PC.  That’ll avoid the perils many phones and Apple made devices have with purely touch screen interfaces and the controls overlapping the game screen.

3. People are willing to pay much more for Mario or Zelda than a downloadable title

Yes, there are always articles about how Angry Birds is dethroning Mario or how overly popular Farmville is.  But they really miss one important difference between them that marks a difference in people’s attitudes towards each type of game.

People are willing to spend three or four times more on Mario or Zelda than Angry Birds.  They’re also willing to spend infinite times more on them than Farmville or anything on Facebook.

Angry Birds now costs under a pound.  Super Mario 3D Land costs about 40 times that.

Now let’s look at their sales:

Angry Birds: 500 million

Super Mario 3D Land: 5 million

But Nintendo has made 40 times more on every console of Super Mario 3D Land sold than Rovio has on ever download of Angry Birds.  The estimated money made would be something like £500 million compared to about £200 million, not as big a difference as you’d believe.

And it gets a even more interesting.  Angry Birds isn’t like Mario. It doesn’t come with new installments every few years.  It has editions and ports, but practically, that’s one long running game which is constantly added to.  Those numbers count all versions, all special editions and all ports.  So in theory… Nintendo has made about three quarters as much money on Mario 3D Land  plus Mario Kart 7 as Angry Birds has ever made.  Heck, if you go up a bit, Nintendo has made more from just some of their 3DS games than Angry Birds has ever made in its history.  Doesn’t that tell you something?

Heck, go back a bit further.  New Super Mario Bros Wii alone as far as my calculations can tell has made more money than Angry Birds.  One game has made more money than a whole franchise.  Think about that.

It also tells us something else, that people value Nintendo’s games more.  If you got those people to spend 30 or 40 dollars on an app store game, they’d be outraged or think the price as ridiculous, and the deal as lacking value.

This leads me to another point…

4. For a sane business, releasing games on consoles like the 3DS makes more money

Not to mention, a big company needs the amount of money the handheld or home console market brings in to really stay profitable.  Nintendo (or anyone else, like Activision, EA, etc) would go bust if they kept their current staff and tried to make their money off cheap download games.

But think about it this way, what do you honestly think a large corporation is going to do to get the most money from developing video games?  Release a ton of small games that’ll need to sell hundreds of millions of copies worldwide every time to be hugely profitable, or make larger games on the 3DS that can make an equal amount of money by only selling say, 10 million copies?

Because I certainly wouldn’t bet on any eStore in that situation.

In conclusion, that’s why the 3DS isn’t going nowhere and why I think Nintendo will be alive and selling consoles for a long time to come.  Are games on things like the iPad or digital distribution only platforms going to be more competitive with those by Nintendo and such like?  Probably. But Nintendo’s unique franchises will keep it going in the face of any competition (they even went a whole generation or so with barely any third party support with the Wii) and the lure of the money 3DS games make should stop it being threatened by any phone or app type games.