I've read a number of thought-provoking pieces over at Only a Game, and this week Chris Bateman has a meditation up on Nintendo, the 'mass market,' moving away from games, and what this could spell for the industry at large. Is it really all it's cracked up to be? Unlike most of my favourite essays from Bateman, this one is pretty short and digestible — he points out that aggressively pursuing the 'mass market' (casual market) is working out splendidly for Nintendo, but he wonders if aggressively targeting that market inherently means moving away from games. And what about the industry at large? Well, that's not so clear:
I've suggested before that for the videogames industry, the mass market is our long tail. The centre of cashflow in videogames are the hobbyists, the players who buy and play many games over the course of each year. Even with the outrageous sales figures that a mass market game can rack up (tens of millions, versus the old familiar game styles that top out at a few million units at best), the mass market doesn't look like an attractive option for most game developers: they don't know how to develop for it, they don't have a marketing spend big enough to skip over the hobbyists, and even if they made the perfect mass market product there's every chance it would sink without a trace.
The change at Nintendo is apparent: games are only part of Nintendo's focus now. What is less clear is what this change means for the rest of us. Because if this new wider market can only be hit by Nintendo first party software, which may be substantially the case, most developers would do better to continue to compete for a tiny share of a successful hobbyist marketplace, such as the first person shooter market, or the RPG market, even if most of the titles in these over-competed markets do fail miserably. And in that respect, the change in Nintendo is really 'business as usual' - because Nintendo's problem has always been that it can make and sell its own 'first party' software in large numbers, but third party developers struggle to make a profit on a Nintendo platform.
It does suck to be left out in the cold, and that goes for many of us — even those of us who don't have the time to game as we once did. Diversification isn't a bad thing, but it can be troubling at times.
The Change at Nintendo [Only a Game]