Thursday, July 21, 2016

Nintendo and Going Mobile

It was a short line in my previous post, but I mentioned briefly that "mobile gaming" was dead before it started.

rip in peace

I don't mean to imply that it's not a money maker or not something that businesses can use to trick young, distracted children and middle aged people looking for time to kill into spending anywhere from 1 to 20 to hundreds of dollars on immaterial, fake currencies for games they will quit playing in less than a month (usually a week), but as a concept of being a viable method of actual gaming, it fails. It's just absolutely the worst. Anyone who praises the successes of mobile gaming isn't talking about how good the games are and how much fun people have playing them, but their monetary success or large "player base" (if we want to call it that).

So, sure, we can say mobile gaming is "successful" in the same way that McDonald's is successful - making absolute garbage that appeals to a large number of very wide and diverse audiences. But we are hesitant to call Candy Crush "gaming" in the same way that we are hesitant to call McDonald's "food."

McDonald's shipment preparing for delivery to the store

Even I play mobile games here and there. I have written about them before, but I've also written about how they are often... unsatisfying. They leave you feeling like you've almost been cheated, like you didn't get quite what you were expecting from the experience. Kind of like McDonald's.

So what does any of this have to do with the post title? Well, I can go ahead and assume we've all heard about Pokemon Go, the new mobile game where you go out into the actual world and catch pokemon which have been superimposed onto the landscape of that actual world. There are other things that happen too. Frankly, I only know the basics because I don't actually play it, but that's okay since this article isn't about Pokemon Go, but rather about this concept of mobile gaming and how it relates to Nintendo.

Pokemon Go has apparently become more successful than Candy Crush, more people are using it than Tindr, and I think it passed Twitter in daily users. I'm not 100% sure of any of these things, they're just things I've noticed being said in passing. The thing about Pokemon Go is that Pokemon - the concept, the franchise - appeals to a large audience. It appeals to a huge audience, really, and no one should be surprised about this. The deal maker is that everyone has a smart phone. Even some kids younger than 10 have smart phones, for some reason. You took something that literally everyone loves and put it onto a device that literally everyone has. Anyone who doesn't know what Pokemon is, is still playing it because they play whatever mobile game is popular at the moment regardless. Of course it's successful.

See, there are new Pokemon games every year-ish, and they make tons of money because everyone who owns whatever the current Nintendo handheld system is buys it because everyone loves Pokemon. But not everyone owns a 3DS - it would be incredibly stupid to ever even question whether or not more people own smart phones than the current Nintendo handheld system.

"is this a flip phone? how do I make calls?"

So what's happening now - and has been happening for awhile - is that Nintendo is criticized for not "going mobile," which basically means people are chastising Nintendo for not reconfiguring and putting their old games out for on the app store and developing new and exciting pay to win, time locked garbage games to put up for free*. Now that Pokemon Go was incredibly successful, that tune has been amplified. Nintendo needs to go mobile, they're missing such a huge market opportunity! Get with the times, you old geezer, everyone's playing mobile games! Look at how successful Pokemon Go is! Gosh, it's so obvious!

Some people who are actually paying attention have even noticed that Nintendo does put up its old games for sale and does make free to play games, but they are still 3DS exclusives - are they crazy? Why not just put those games up on the app store for that fat cash?

I wrote about this when I wrote about mobile gaming as a concept, and I'm sure I've mentioned it before, but people who like actually good games shouldn't want their developers to go mobile. Investors and old men in suits who think video games is the cult want developers to go mobile because it makes money - the same way thin, tasteless, time temperature abused "hamburger" patties sold for a dollar each make money.

I made this joke before

The only actual mobile gaming that exists is owned by Nintendo. Candy Crush, Clash of Clans, and all your other games with titles that sound almost exactly like those are not what game companies who like to make games that people actually like to play make. The PSP and PS Vita are decent, but Nintendo has owned handheld gaming (which is what "mobile" gaming is) forever and still does. You can piece together a pay to win, time locked city builder or war simulator and call it a "game" and make money, but you'd have to be purposefully attempting to play semantics if you genuinely think that it stands up against the engagement and entertainment value of a actual handheld game.

Before we get too carried away, let's take a small break to make a clarification. There is a lot of contention about "what gaming is," and how video games culture attempts to push others out if they're not "actual gamers," even being divisive enough to denounce players who may play the right games, but not well enough, as still not being "real" gamers.

That's not what I'm doing here. The actual reality of the situation is that Candy Crush is not on the same level as, well, basically any actual game. If you don't know what I mean by "actual" game, then you might just purposefully be trying to be offended. I'm not saying anything about the people who play Candy Crush. You can play Candy Crush, I've played Candy Crush, it's not a bad game. Yes, it's a game. Monopoly is a game and so is hide and seek. But we're talking about video games, and if you can't recognize the distinction between a game like Candy Crush and a game like Civilization, Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, League of Legends, Elebits, Halo, Fossil Fighters, Harvest Moon - I could go on forever - then I don't know what to tell you.

pictured: two different types of thing

This concept of "mobile gaming" as being somehow on the same level or on par with or even in the same freaking ballpark as actual video games is a misnomer. This false parallel that other people have superimposed on us is what causes the disconnect, not who plays what, or how good they are. For whatever reason, the people who write the articles and make the pay to win cell phone games and take your money wanted to put "tap the fruit" games into the same category as, literally, World of Warcraft in terms of what is and is not an actual video game. Why do you think one is free and one costs $15 a month?

So now that we've squared all that away, what does this have to do with Nintendo?

Nintendo is a game company that makes actual games. They have tons of franchises, moreso than we over here outside of Japan actually realize. We know about Mario, Zelda, and Pokemon, but Dragon Quest is absolutely huge over there, Monster Hunter is far more popular in Japan than it is here (clearly - seriously, you're missing out), and so on. We get these glorious and beautiful games, too, out of the kindness of the hearts of the brilliant people over at Nintendo in Japan (also we buy them and they like our money).

in case you don't believe me, here is a DQ themed restaurant

The 3DS is a great system and there are an enormous number of great games for it. Full disclosure - I think they could easily just not have the "3D" part, but it's irrelevant right now. Nintendo handhelds have even strived to be backwards compatible - to an extent, it seems silly to keep the chain going for too long; at some point it's just time to move on. The original DS could still play SP games, which also had the same shape as the previous systems' cartridges, which could also be played (and were of course playable on the SP). They made the 3DS which could no longer play SP and earlier, but all original DS games can be played on any 3DS, 3DS XL, etc. There is no lack of viable games in sight and you can still play older games on the newest system.

The issue, in my humble and unprofessional opinion, is that a good number of people who enjoyed handheld gaming got lazy and comfortable just playing absolutely horrible games on their phones and stopped buying Nintendo handhelds. People who still enjoy playing actual games went ahead and kept playing DS and 3DS games, but the audience dwindled. It could also tie into the fact that console gaming in general is losing out to PC gaming - but as far as I'm concerned, handheld systems will still be viable even if home consoles are not.

This connection between Nintendo's 3DS and handheld games and the idea of somehow "just going mobile" is an ill-conceived notion by people who don't play actual handheld games and don't understand why it would be awful. Before you say, "no one's telling them to stop making 3DS games," please understand that yes, people are. Those people are largely irrelevant think piece writers, but there are legitimately people who do not understand that their phone is not even anywhere close to capable of giving them the same kind of experience as a handheld system. To these likely Candy Crush enthusiasts, the concept of a handheld system designed specifically for gaming is archaic and outdated. Gosh, Nintendo, why are you making 3DSes, there are phones now. These people are awful and I'm glad Nintendo isn't listening to them.

Why am I so sure that playing trash games on your phone isn't as good as playing a handheld system? Other than demonstratable reality, there are a couple distinct things that stand out.

Touch screens are absolutely not conducive to a genuine experience. You can't do anything... exciting on a touch screen. Superimposed buttons that you can't actually feel do not lend themselves to anything more fast paced than fruit slicing or ant tapping.

such an engaging storyline

You can't create an actual game that requires specific kinds of button pushing, combos or what have you when you can't actually feel the buttons. You can't develop the muscle memory for those buttons because they don't exist tangibly. Sometimes you might not even know if you actually pressed it because there's no pressing. You can slice fruit or tap on a moving target because you know that they will be in different spots - you specifically look at and target them with your finger, but any game I've played with a control stick or action buttons floating on the touch screen's HUD - and I'm not supposed to be looking at them - are awful. The more fast paced the game attempts to be, the worse it is. It's just not going to work. When you use a controller, your fingers aren't hovering over the buttons to be pressed, they're resting gently on them. Touch screens operate entirely differently - and compared to physical hardware, much more poorly.

Furthermore, not everyone's smart phone runs or works the same. You're talking about developing an engaging and interesting game for tons of different kinds of phones that run differently - versus making a game for a system where you know exactly how it will work and that everyone will have the same experience. The actual capacity and performance of your typical smart phone is also why these mobile games are so lacking in substance. You can't just make a mobile game that will only be playable on only the most top of the line smart phones because you're destroying the entire reason for making a game that will be "accessible to large audiences" in the first place - and wasting your time making a compelling game for the worst possible system available.

And of course your game has a 50% chance of being interrupted by your grandmother calling you. Because it's a phone.

Basically, the mechanical side of things is an entirely different picture. You can't just take actual handheld games and stuff them onto a touch screen phone. It's crap.


They're even getting flack for the NES Classic, which is just an external harddrive shaped like an NES stuffed with 30 original NES games. It comes with a replica controller and all that jazz. It's not the greatest thing anyone's ever done, but "gosh why didn't you just release those games on mobile!" Because mobile is terrible, that's why. These people genuinely believe that mobile gaming is just the thing now. If we want to be real, if Nintendo "should be" going anywhere, it should be to PC. Console games especially do not belong even for one moment on your touch screen phone, the fact that they specifically released this piece of equipment to be plugged into your TV was not an accident, or a failure to "get with it." It was them recognizing that stuffing those games onto phones would deteriorate their experience.

But Nintendo needs to make money, they've been accumulating losses, they should suck it up and go mobile anyway!

Nintendo isn't not making money. There have been obvious and demonstratable losses for awhile, and most of it is blamed on their old fuddy duddy reluctance to "get with the times." The thing is, Nintendo has so much money already that they could report a loss for heaps of years and still be fine. The worn out argument is that mobile gaming is where the money's at, so ditch your exclusive handheld system and its actually good and engaging games and make some garbage that everyone will pick up and give you money for! But wait, what if Nintendo doesn't want to make garbage?

Maybe they want to create good games that people actually like. Maybe that's what they care about. And as gamers, maybe we should take a step back and appreciate that mindset.

Maybe their goals are different than the ones those hot takes writers insist that they should be. Maybe things are different for them in Japan and they don't give two rattata's asses about how well they're doing in America - or even what westerners want. Nintendo's sales in Japan are, typically, rock solid. They regularly don't release games over here anyway - why would they have developed it in Japan in the first place without intending to release it in the west? Maybe it's because their priorities are not the same as the writer posting articles for free on HuffPo.

I could also be entirely wrong. Maybe they're over there in a frenzied panic about their losses.

someone do something!

But they probably aren't. No matter your opinion on what Nintendo is doing now, their gains and losses, their systems, or their franchise and culture, the fact of the matter is that they have created immortal icons. They are more recognizable than any other gaming company. Sony has flagship games, but no one's 80 year old grandma is seeing Spyro or Cloud and recognizing them. But your grandma sees Pikachu or even Mario and she knows what's up. She saw that on the GameBox.

The biggest disconnect is that even actual video game players look at things like the gains and losses and stock numbers and base the success of the company on that. We lost Satoru Iwata, but he was known for caring about the games. What a novel concept. Nintendo doesn't have to make more money than another company to be better. We focus on money and profits so much, even as people who actually crave something fun, innovative, entertaining, and engaging.

what a beautiful man

We want good games that are fun, games that we can grow attached to and look forward to playing, and then we turn around and say dumb things like "Nintendo is doing poorly because they aren't making money!" How can we advocate for something that we know is garbage? Why in the world would gamers who want to play good games insist that Nintendo, or any company, branch out into markets and ventures that we know, through experience, will create worse products? 

And I'm sure that there's someone, somewhere saying "Candy Crush is fun!" Well good, you don't have to stop playing it. But when King does nothing but push out Soda Crush and Jelly Crush and Mashed Potatoes Crush simply because they make them money, you're never going to get anything good. Nothing new, nothing innovative, just the same thin and tasteless patty made of questionable meat that is already cold by the time you sit down over and over again. There is something empty and lifeless about repetitive pay to win mobile games that do nothing but try to coax you into buying obviously way too few gems for the amount you need to use with that "Most popular bundle!" flashing banner that I'm sure is a lie next to the one for twenty entire freaking dollars.

fill gold storages by half is still 4000 more gems than that

Sure, they can still push out a good game on an actual system, but if a company is focused on making money and only making money, they're going to make crap. This is why Microsoft makes twenty versions of the same games with the same gameplay and storyline - over and over, forever. If a company isn't making crap, maybe it cares enough to not make crap. It's not complicated.

Maybe we could take a step back and stop looking at the success of a company, game, or franchise by how much money they're making and recognize that sometimes "making more money" means playing a numbers game with their product instead of making quality products. Nintendo doesn't have to be the best video game company, they don't have to make Candy Mario Crush, they don't have to sell themselves short for a quick buck. If they want to focus on making actually good games for actually good handheld systems, then please, for heaven's sake, let them do that.

And play Monster Hunter Generations!

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