FIGHT! Apple VS Nintendo VS Free VS Games VS Quality

Love both of them, Apple and Nintendo. But lately it seems like everyone, everywhere is drawing a line in the sand between the two, including the companies themselves. What fascinates me is that, past the hardware specs comparison and ego-boasting sales numbers, there are a number of other philosophical battles at play here and while everyone is going out and placing their chips (3D vs in-app subscription vs iPad 2 vs AR…), no one is really sure where all of this is heading.

Apple is clearly winning on points. Quarter after quarter, product after product, point after point of eating into Sony and Nintendo’s handheld portable gaming share. And they appear to be really getting under Nintendo’s collar based on an article here.

Nintendo is clearly losing and going on the defensive. Their senior management seem to have taken a the philosophical point that games should have “value” and that they’re happy to deal with independent developers, just not garage programmers or hobbyist. In another words, they have a justifiable issue with free or cheap games. And they’re really scared of the App Store that Apple has built.

But I don’t disagree with them.

Apple has started and continues the mobile revolution. Along the way, they just happened to pick up a huge industry by accident – portable games. I say by accident or fluke because Apple has never been good with games. Not even when they tried. Games on a Mac – Fail. Bungie Software for Mac – Sold to Microsoft. Apple Pippin – how old are you to know what I’m talking about? I once subscribed to a UK magazine solely dedicated to Mac Gaming from Future Publishing called MacAction. They shut down after issue ten. THIS Company is by all charts and industry analysts, going to define our next generation of mobile gaming. Oh and if you’re looking for a current example of Apple’s failed attempt at gaming, just try to use Game Centre. Yes, it’s already installed on your iOS device.

Two things really interest me in this debate.

  1. Cheap or free gaming will devalue the overall quality of gaming over time. This is the religious defense coming from Nintendo, which can be largely ignored. What can’t be ignored is the numerous (to many to post) blog and news comments from gamers who have tried and got fed-up with today’s current mobile (iOS / Android) games. They cite lack of depth, lack of story, lack of quality, lack of buttons… This is of course is just one side of the argument but it interests me because I AGREE with them. Sure casual games are superb. But I’ve also tried, and failed, again and again, to really enjoy an actual sustained, intense gaming experience with paid apps, from many genres like strategy (Lost Empires / Warlords / Civilisation) to sports (Fifa 10 / CM 2010) to music (Bit-Trip). It probably is me but another thought provoking article by ars technica seemed to resonate deeply with what I’ve been feeling, particularly with regards to gaming.
  1. And free apps. Hmm. I won’t re-invent the wheel so I’ll just link to this excellent piece by Manton Recce about how Apple may actually have been wrong to allow for free apps in the App Store in the first place. It’s a very interesting take on how Apple’s continued pattern of re-jigging the App Store developer rules may just be a clue to show how they’re clearly trying to patch up their own system of supporting a model (they created) for developers (Yes, ANY developers Nintendo) that is actually a source of strain on their own company. Interesting. According to one quote linked in this article, Apple’s CFO actually says that the App Store is actually run “just a little over breakeven.” I find this an AMAZING fact given how successful everyone quotes this ecosystem to be.

Do you see a pattern slowly emerging here cause it almost feels like a plot to a movie or novel. One guy, devil-may-care, is stealing all the hype and plaudits. Another is suffering, on the decline. First guy is actually hurting. Second guy may have been talking about some truths amid all the gibberish after all. Where will this end?

I hate paying forty times more for a piece of Nintendo licensed software than one from the App Store. I’m sick of trying to convince myself that rubbing my fingers on a hard glass surface constitutes a fine gaming experience no matter the pain as long as the graphics are great and the software is – cheap.

But of course there is no middle ground in this and these are two very different companies.  So let’s try and imagine. Here’s what I’d do if I worked at

Apple: I’d launch a new device. Call it a hobbyist device, exactly like what they did with AppleTV. Maybe make it limited. Doesn’t even need to look that good. But just make sure it’s DAMN good for gaming. After all, all charts point to the highest category seller on the App Store since the beginning of the iPhone as games – why not take a chance and see what happens in the market? Make it a little thicker. Have shoulder buttons. Have always on functionalities. Really work on Game Centre to make it fun (see XBOX Live or PSN). You never know. See where it goes. Give the naysayers like me who moan about buttons something to think about and something to eat our words with. Kill off the competition. Not just Nintendo mind you, but also Sony’s upcoming NGP and the new Android Playstation platform. But this isn’t all I’d do. Apple doesn’t need any help or any advice on how to make great hardware. But content. Here’s where many people have problems with the App Store. It’s great to have Popcap, Gameloft and the like but how about the real heavyweights? Yes there are some, but most are either ports of old titles (Final Fantasy) and we’re slowly getting there…simultaneous releases. But I’d really drive headlong into courting these companies, with exclusive releases or advance releases with special levels. Capcom, Konami, Ubisoft…This will really send a message not just to gamers, but our competitors who say we don’t value games the way they do.

Nintendo: This one’s tough but remember we’re on the defensive and we’re already losing. The clock is ticking. Revamp, everything. The pricing, the distribution, the developer policy. Keep the good – decent hardware, excellent franchises bar none (Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong, Kirby, Nintendogs, Pokemon). Finally, build an ecosystem. Because the current one is a joke and a mess. Gaming sites who cover the weekly download updates for the Wii and NDS only do it out of respect and gratitude. If you really think it’s good enough to release 5 (FIVE) mostly mediocre and more expensive new games a week for BOTH current platforms in total when you’re competitor has tens of thousands and growing DAILY, you need a new job. I’d welcome all developers. Make it worth their while and the customers’. Maybe customers won’t pay 99 cents for Angry Birds, but how about $2.99 plus extra levels exclusively featuring Link or Mario or Samus? Make the new online store more fun that a visit to the dentist. Put in a search function (that works)? Extend what we already have with the US and Japanese ClubNintendo by trading of virtual currency earned through purchases or actions with real-world rewards – this is something Apple can never do. At least not yet. So clearly a lot of levels but…

…the timer is running down and I dearly hope there’s more than one life left for Nintendo.

Unless they can really pick up some new power-ups (3DS?) soon, it seems Apple could be destined to win this final BOSS battle…

I still have those ten issues of MacAction.

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