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Nintendo's ecosystem will fall apart, says  Rage of Bahamut  publisher
Nintendo's ecosystem will fall apart, says Rage of Bahamut publisher Exclusive
August 2, 2012 | By Christian Nutt

August 2, 2012 | By Christian Nutt
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    37 comments
More: Smartphone/Tablet, Business/Marketing, Exclusive



At a showcase event in San Francisco this week, when asked if he views Nintendo as a competitor, Ngmoco CEO Neil Young had to pause and think.

"No," he said, hesitatingly. "Well... no."

It's an open question. Right now, Young's company has the top-grossing Android app, Rage of Bahamut, which is also number two on iOS (having fallen from the top spot). It's a collectible card game that was originally developed for the Japanese market by the Tokyo-based studio Cygames for DeNA, Ngmoco's Japanese parent.

If you view Ngmoco's Mobage service, on which Rage of Bahamut lies, as a platform, and its top game as a Japanese handheld hit, that puts him in closer competition with the Kyoto-based Mario creator.

Certainly Ngmoco's head of studios, Clive Downie, was not shy about suggesting that Monster Tracker, which is currently in beta in the UK and Holland, is gunning for an audience that grew up playing Nintendo's Pokemon franchise when he introduced it. The game is developed by Ngmoco's Amsterdam-based studio Rough Cookie.

But even if Young doesn't currently see Ngmoco as competing directly with Nintendo, he says the success of smartphones will inevitably chip away at the market for dedicated handhelds. "I think that Apple has done a number on Sony, and Apple and Android are now doing a number on Nintendo."

"What they're really doing is defeating the Nintendo hardware machine," says Young.

He views Nintendo as competing more on software than it is on hardware these days, thanks to that, "and so in that regard maybe we're competitive, but man, they've got some killer franchises," he says with a laugh. "You wouldn't want to go up against Zelda and Mario and Pokemon and Kirby every day of the week."

On the other hand, Young says, given the premium prices of 3DS software, there are decreasing returns for the system. In "the ecosystem that they've created, it's just really difficult to justify spending $30 on a game that is anything other than a Mario, a Zelda, a Pokemon. I think that ultimately their ecosystem starts to fall apart."

Given the first party franchises, however, Young is "actually quite happy for them to stay in their little custom handheld gaming space. I think it's very difficult to imagine them breaking away from that."

And Young really does see the dedicated handheld gaming space as "little". Extrapolating from trends in Japan, where mobile has far outstripped traditional console games to take the lion's share of industry profits, he suggested that the global mobile social games space could be worth $30 billion dollars annually in the not too distant future.

These analyses compare the state of Japan's mobile market in 2006 to the U.S. in 2010, when the penetration of 3G, phone ownership, and advanced features reached similar points. This is a comparison which Young has made before.


The art of Rage of Bahamut

Young has always been up front about the fact that he sees Ngmoco's job as creating Western content for Western audiences, not porting DeNA's Japanese games. But he said that once his team tested Rage of Bahamut, they knew they had a massive hit on their hands.

At 2,000 daily active users, he says, "We definitively, absolutely, 100 percent knew that this thing was going to be a hit, which is one of the beautiful things about this business, having that visibility."

But until that point, he says, there wasn't unity within Ngmoco about the game. People were "split down the middle," with some refusing to even try the game out.

Given the success of Bahamut, unsurprisingly Young expressed his desire to localize more Japanese titles. While "many don't" fit the tastes of Western audiences, he says, "many can".

For his part, he said in the presentation preceding this interview that Rage of Bahamut is "a really beautiful game design" and "is so good that it really, really moves you -- like good art should move you."

"It's just like console games. Some of the world's best console games have been made in Japan and lightly translated for the Western audience. And they're some of the best games ever. Rage of Bahamut is analogous to that. There are great game makers in Japan," Young told Gamasutra.


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Comments


Stephen Dinehart
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Say your sooth Neil... :) Too funny. I love the super serious photo.

@Anthony - Neil knows great games, he makes them. Promise. To boot, he's smart enough not to shit where he sleeps.

Kale Menges
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I don't know of any mobile devs who consciously view Nintendo as a competitor. Likewise, it's as if Nintendo has completely ignored the parallel universe of mobile gaming that has basically forced "hand-held" gaming as-Nintendo-and-Sony-think-it into obsolescence. Even if their bubble bursts, I don't know that mobile devs (iOS, Android, etc.) will even notice...

Merc Hoffner
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And if the mobile bubble bursts?

Justin LeGrande
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I don't think ANY of the "mass consumer" technology manufacturers are sustainable... at least from an ecological and humane point of view.

On point, though, why bother subscribing to an exorbitantly expensive smartphone/tablet plan, when you can use a simple cell phone and a dedicated e-reader, wifi internet client device, and/or gaming device? The "all-in-one" device manufacturing companies are more likely to commit unethical manufacturing worker abuses than their dedicated counterparts, due to the "web of reliance" that the finished product enforces upon it's customers.

After all, without a constant subscription, what good is a smartphone/tablet compared to dedicated devices?

Justin LeGrande
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The art style of Rage of Bahamut is just... bland Eastern-meets-Western trope. At least with Dragon's Crown, the males are also hypersexualized...

Was there even any artistic motivation for yet another one of these card/random number generator games? I mean... how many variations of this game genre do strategy game-focused "tweens" need, anyways? Just from looking at video reviews of the game, it looks needlessly simplistic in some sections, like battle/loot sequences; while the team formation mechanics are needlessly complex, compared to past Eastern Asian-created "tween"-focused card/RNG games.

Maybe I've just been playing games for too long to appreciate this...

Kellam Templeton-Smith
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I agree. I'm getting kind of sick of a lot of the dedicated mobile games, as they either offer limited experiences that get increasingly stale (every endless runner, most mobile tower defense games), or are just geared to have you go, "Oh my god, it's almost like console graphics!" (Dead Trigger, others).

Then, you talk to the devs, and they act like they've re-invented the wheel, rather than just being easy opportunists.

Ken Love
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Fall apart... as in Freak Boy, Ectosphere or Majestic or ?

Joe Zachery
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Come on Gama!
The 3DLL sales almost 200,000 in Japan in 2 days. Yet to see a article that mentions that. It's been the type of news you usually cover. Yet the first "oh Nintendo is doomed nonsense appears" we have to make a article for this asap. This Rage Of Bahamut is not even considered a good game. With the only reason it has had any kind of success is due to being cheap, and on the IOS market.

Christian Nutt
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@Daniel, If you're suggesting Neil Young is not someone anybody would logically have heard of, that seems silly to me. Prior to co-founding Ngmoco (which has gotten a lot of press for being a successful mobile games company in its own right before it was acquired by DeNA, which is one of the largest names in the business) he was an executive at EA who most recently headed up his own division of the company. Not exactly an irrelevant or obscure figure.

Christian Nutt
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@Joe, I don't think there's a slant towards "Nintendo is doomed" on Gamasutra, though it's a prevalent meme on the wider internet. For my part, I love Nintendo and its games (which I make no secret about!) but when I'm reporting, it's about trends in the market and the people who shape them.

Justin LeGrande
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As long as the information is true, that's fine to report, regardless of whether it's good or bad. The key is reporting all sides, which the Gamasutra editors indeed seem to do.

Merc Hoffner
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@ Anthony

To be pedantic, "Nintendo is doomed" IS the complaint meme. Nobody running a 'Nintendo is doomed' article uses the phrase because it would make them sound unprofessional. The phrase came about as a way for Nintendo supporters to satirise what they saw as an incessant and unwarranted bashing of a particular company's prospects.

Of course there are legitimate concerns about Nintendo's practices, but there have always been legitimate concerns about Nintendo's practices. What annoys the supporters is that this results in a Nintendo-downfall article at every conceivable juncture; articles which have been continuously wrong for nigh on 20 years now. Not saying they're perfect of course, but there are plenty more companies for whom doom prophecies are far more appropriate. And it's no use saying, 'yeah, but this REALLY IS THE ONE that'll bring 'em down because it's like crying wolf every week of your life until you're right. An analyst who's right 1/100 times ain't really any better than an analyst who's wrong 99/99 times. Remember the old joke: Even a broken clock is right twice a day

Of course it always adds a comical slant when people who should be in the know are so disingenuous when presenting historical battles, trends and numbers like this dude right here.

Lincoln Thurber
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The smartphone and tablet gaming market is evolving, and I think in the next few years the experimentation for the pricing model the sales (free games vs. moderately priced) will settle out. iOS and Android don't need great games to kill Nintendo and Sony handhelds, the hardware sales and the opportunity that brings will drag Nintendo and SOny handhelds down.

At this point anything that isn't a smartphone or a multifunctionality tablet is not going to capture much more then a niche in the market. That seems to be what consumers are saying from what is selling. Sony's PS Vita should have been a phone, but I just don't see where that would have been workable for decent price or with Sony in control of it. Thus, Vita really just should not have been made AT ALL. It was never going to work, unless Sony had bought out Sprint in the US ten years ago. Yet, that probably would have been blocked by the US Congress and FCC - thus they had no move to make. The rode this crashing plane to the ground because there was nothing else to do.

In another year I think smartphone ownership will double, in five years the people without a smartphone will be so low as to be a niche. Why own a dedicated gaming device at that point? That means eventually EA, Activision, Ubisoft, Valve, Square-Enix-Eidos, Capcom, Namco, and Konami will have to put their games on the hardware that matters.

Justin LeGrande
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The Vita still doesn't offer anything substantial, when the PSP already does. Why get a Vita when you can get a PSP? Besides, the PSP already has mods and attachments to match wits with smartphones...

I can't say I'm too thrilled about the blind corporate consumerism you're suggesting will be embraced by interested clients. Wouldn't it be more consumer-friendly to have a diverse mix of specialized dedicated services, rather than a few narrow and monopolized product lines?

Scott Carroll
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Touchscreen technology only offers so much in terms of gameplay experience, so whatever changes you see in the future will have to address that, because there will always be people who want a tactile / controller based gaming system. Have you played a 3DS? They're pretty cool. So is the Vita, struggling as it may be.

What you call a niche, I call business as usual; 18 M units and going strong.

Adam Bishop
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"In another year I think smartphone ownership will double, in five years the people without a smartphone will be so low as to be a niche. Why own a dedicated gaming device at that point?"

People who own PCs have still been buying dedicated game consoles for decades. Why are smartphones going to change this equation?

Andrew Chen
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Linc: I can follow the general arc of your argument but when you say " dont need great games..." I disagree big time.
One of the reasons for this boom in mobile gaming is that these new platforms, in a way, entered a blue ocean market and captured the business of a large segment of an underserved potential gaming population...these customers by and large are not the segment people like us on Gamasutra call "gamers" though they do happily play games if the price is cheap enough and the accessibility is convenient enough.
But why do good games matter? This is because the way low level products (eg. mobile gaming vs Vita gaming) eventually take control of a market is through gradual improvement, eventually appealing to higher and higher end customers.
For, as an example, iphone gaming to eventually usurp Nintendo gaming it will need to offer product/game experiences of accpetable quality to win over the high end customers/ gamers. And that will take great games.

Scott Carroll
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Andrew, I think you are on target with the "experience" portion of your comments, but I don't agree that "great games" are whats needed to close the gap. The iPhone already has great games, but the overall experience is constrained by form factor, storage, and touch controls. Maybe cloud storage and haptic feedback will improve that experience, but I don't believe it will be enough to take core players away from dedicated game devices.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Justin LeGrande
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That reminds me of an internet satire series on retro gaming... Thankfully, not all games have been repeatedly created in homogeneous fashion, based solely on trends! If you're interested in seeing the relevant episode to this issue, here it is:

http:// www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvCCgPDcnvQ

Even if not all new games turn out well, it's better to have a bunch of duds be made in the process, than all future games being the same thing rehashed forever!

Merc Hoffner
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http://i.imgur.com/aLKbG.jpg

made me laugh

Patrick Davis
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I wonder how these people will react when mobile gaming starts to stagnate. Not long ago, social gaming was the future, and you see where that is heading now...

Merc Hoffner
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Such is the nature of the tech market I guess? Out with the old and in with the new as they say? If there's any industry in tech which has demonstrated sustainable longevity it's the console and handheld markets, perhaps because there are always new kids to sell to.

I love pointing out; out of all platform holders that have come (and gone) in the history of gaming, only Nintendo has actually made a net profit.

Jane Castle
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You forgot the all too popular and reliable standby: "The PC market is doomed....."

Ole Berg Leren
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Apropos "PC Gaming is doomed": http://www.examiner.com/article/ea-financial-results-shows-pc-out
performing-ps3-while-digital-sales-rise

"It has been revealed that the PC platform outperformed the PS3 and did not trail far behind the Xbox 360, in overall earnings for the company. It was revealed that the Xbox 360 delivered $292 million as the PC delivered $276 million, with the PS3 trailing at $267 million."

I guess this just shows how old this console generation is. But hooray! PC Gaming Master Race! :D

Hopefully, since publishers follow the money, this will mean increased development of PC-first titles. At least until the next-gen rolls around.

Adam Bishop
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The Nintendo DS is one of the most successful video game systems ever released. In its first year and a half on the market it sold 16.73 million units. The Nintendo 3DS, in its first 18 months on the market, has sold 19 million units. Clearly a dying market.

Eric McVinney
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At 2,000 daily active users, he says, "We definitively, absolutely, 100 percent knew that this thing was going to be a hit, which is one of the beautiful things about this business, having that visibility."

Just 2,000? Please. Come back when you have +5000 DAUs and then you can boast about your game being awesome :|

Christian Nutt
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He's not saying the game has 2,000 DAU. It has many, many more now. He's saying that when they opened it to 2,000 people, they knew that it would be a hit due to the metrics they saw coming from that limited audience, and that's why they went wide.

Eric McVinney
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Ah ok. Kinda looked like it was worded wrong then :P

David Holmin
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Nintendo's ecosystem will fall apart, says... who?

Ken Love
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Why is that whenever we see a pic of Neil, he always has that look of constipation on his face. :-/

Bob Johnson
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Funny how they talk about mobile in Japan being big while the 3ds is doing extremely well there all accounts.

Also funny is the 2000 users a day number for their game and then talking about how Nintendo's ecosystem will fall apart. Nintendo's games are much bigger.

He is right that Nintendo and 3rd parties not being able to get away with releasing some of the $20 or $30 games they used to release. But they can counter this by releasing those games digitally for cheaper since their costs will be cheaper. And they have. Case in point - PushMo. And other digital games that started with the DSi. PushMo is $7.

And then dedicated hardware like the 3DS is geared towards games and has game specific controls attached to it which other mobile platforms dont have.

So you get a different experience.

Tadakazu Nakamichi
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In Japan, still now, almost every 6-12 years boys/girls have DS devices. Pokemon is still strong. Since June, about 2.5 million sold "Pokemon The Black & White 2". And in Japan now summer holiday season, Parents buy games for their children to traveling long driving to their grand father/mother's home (so called 'Inaka'). Then Nintendo released "New Super Mario Bros 2", Papas & Mamas known well, easily buy out. It's sales started to be good now over 400,000 packages. However, Good sale titles are only Big name's "2"...

Eric McVinney
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Is the mobile/tablet (iOS/Android) gaming market anywhere near to be considered a threat in to Nintendo in Japan? From that you wrote, it's suggested that it clearly isn't, but still, I would like to know :)

Tadakazu Nakamichi
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Off course Nintendo thinks iOS/Android gaming is a threat. In 20-40 age, too many people are playing mobile gaming in their commuter train everyday. If you know, GREE and DeNA are rising publisher in Japan now. Still, in a low teenagers' market, Nintendo is the king. Historically, boys & girls don't play PC games and don't have mobile phones. In their ordinary life, DS is a must item. So in Japan, there are three market. 1) low teenager -> DS, Wii 2) highteen -> PSP, PS3/Wii 3) adult -> mobile (including 'Galapagos ke-tai', iOS, Android). PC? Only for 'OTAKU' gamers you know. :)

Eric McVinney
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We Otakus have to stick together ;)


Back in 2007, when I was living in Tokyo, it was heavily DS/PC but could almost see the rise of mobile coming into play and taking over.

Michael Pianta
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Until iPhones, tablets, etc. have buttons built into them, they won't be able to replace traditional hand helds entirely. Personally I've yet to play a traditional real time game on those platform that controlled adequately (not that I've played very many iOS games in general) and the idea of carrying around a controller add on is completely point defeating. The platform may excel at certain types of experiences, but serious gamer's won't, ultimately, want to switch entirely and if the serious gamers are with the traditional platforms the traditional platforms will continue to exist in some capacity (although it may wind up being a reduced capacity; time will tell).


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