Nintendo’s “Crummy” Hand

A couple of month’s ago Nintendo announced that they were going to work to bring iOS and Android games to the Wii U platform. This was greeted with endless jeers and great heaping piles of derision, and rightly so. This is akin to a buggy whip maker taking a look at their flatlined sales in 1928 and announcing that they were going to re-design their buggy whips so that they would be short enough to use inside a car. Naive, short-sighted, stupid, and probably fatal.

John Gruber has been especially vocal about this, and most of what he says about the fate of Nintendo has been spot on … until Friday, when he wrapped up an otherwise insightful analysis of the situation with this bizarre quote:

It’s a choice for Nintendo between playing the actual hand they’ve been dealt, crummy though it may be, or playing the hand they wish they held.

Um … what? Since when is Nintendo’s hand “crummy”? It is, quite frankly, anything but. Since we are deep into the analogies anyway, let’s run with Gruber’s poker game idea and take a look at how Nintendo’s hand really stacks up. The up cards – the things that everyone has in common at this point – are:

  • There are grillions of iOS devices out there and in people’s hands
  • More people are gaming than ever before

And what does Nintendo have in the hole? The mother of all straight flushes:

  • Mario
  • Zelda
  • Pokemon
  • Animal Crossing
  • Pikmin
  • Professor Layton
  • Kirby
  • Donkey Kong
  • etc
  • etc
  • and so on
  • holy shit!

That’s not a crummy hand, that’s the kind of thing that you sell the house, mortgage the kids, and announce to the world that you are going all in. Combining the industry’s greatest stable of gaming properties with the massive user base and breakthrough gaming potential of the iOS market – especailly the iPad market – is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make pretty much all the money in the world.

Jeezus.

Is there a risk? Of course – there is always a risk. The one fly in the ointment might be that “free to play” gaming has started poisoning the market against the idea of paying up-front money for software. But the vast majority of free to play games are substandard at best and have little or no staying power. The gang over at Days Of Wonder have shown that people are still willing to buy quality mobile games, and if DOW can do it with their BMW-level products, it’s pretty safe bet that Nintendo can do the same thing with their stable of Ferraris and MacLarens. And whatever risk there is gets balanced out by the complete lack of expense for dinosaur concepts like packaging, manufacturing, shipping, or distribution … as well as the added value of real-time and simple content updates, greater player interactions and communication, and a staggeringly huge pre-installed user base that has already shown just by purchasing an iOS device that they are willing to pay a premium price for a premium product.

Listen: Nothing is permanent. Gruber points to the declining sales of point-and-shoot cameras and argues that handheld gaming devices are in the toilet for the exact same reason. Specifically, people don’t want to deal with multiple devices so they will choose the device they already have in hand (ie: their phone or tablet) as long as it does a passable job – they will take a small trade-off in results to take advantage of a massive gain in convenience. This is true … to a point. But the sales numbers of point-and-shoot cameras don’t quite tell the whole story. While P&S cameras are a quickly dying breed, high-quality DSLR cameras are selling in greater numbers than ever before. People are willing to both invest in and carry multiple devices as long as the second device offers a significant upgrade in functionality and results. It works for cameras, and it can work for games. There is every possibility that somewhere down the road Nintendo will come out with yet another revolutionary device – one so different and so compelling that people are willing to carry it as an additional device – and storm the hardware market again. But until that day comes, why not reach out and grab the giant pile of money that is just sitting there waiting for them?

Crummy hand, my ass. Right now Nintendo is sitting on a winner – all they need is the brains to ante up and play the damn cards.

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