Platform gaming – Recycling IP

I remember the frustration I felt when the Nokia N-Gage was released back in 2003. Yeah, this was the side-ways holding “Taco” phone that was also a gaming handheld, complete with gaming D-Pad (Directional Pad) and game cartridge (SD) slot.

I was elated that another handheld console had hit the market. Delighted that it was on the device that I would carry with me everywhere (with proper controls). But my frustration was with the screen shape. Nokia Series 60 (Symbian OS) devices were all phones, and were all the regular phone shape. Running at a resolution of something like 170-208 pixels, the N-Gage kept its upright screen orientation, which I felt was a missed opportunity.

On launching a console your biggest concern is the number of game titles that you’ll have for it. Any games for the N-Gage would have to be written for it. Back in 2003, hardcore gamers were all sneaking around using Rom emulators, like Mame etc. So a PAL shaped screen (4:3) would have opened the door to a back-catalogue of titles ready to be repurposed, ported and repackaged onto hardware easily powerful enough to render it.

The videogame market today is much more active in the field of recycled catalogues. The XBox One takes the honourable route of offering backward compatibility, allowing customers to play the games they’ve already bought for the older console. While the Sony PS4, in contrast, elects to re-purpose old titles and re-sell them as “HD Remastered Definitive Editions”. Nice.

The new Nintendo Switch has taken the route closest to what I always thought made sense, which was to map an assembly line between your hardware product roadmap (Mobile and “Fixed”) and your software back-catalogue. Position your mobile console to run the fixed living room games of the generation before. Keep the screen ratio/configuration, and keep the control mechanism. The next generation of mobile hardware will almost certainly be able to render a version of that back catalogue.

Nintendo have always tried to do something different and create their own USP. The Virtual Boy, the DS, the Wii. All very different from the competition at the time. The beauty of the Switch however is that it’s touch and motion controls aren’t necessarily front and centre, as its real power lies in its incredible processing capability, giving us handheld versions of games we never thought we’d play on the move. That, in itself, is its USP in this market.

The Nintendo Switch isn’t as graphically potent as other devices in our homes today, such as the PS4, but as always with Nintendo, it doesn’t need to be, and in this case, it’s portable too. So we will see PS3 generation ports, such as LA-Noir and Skyrim, in our hands, and people will be amazed.

Why didn’t Playstation do this?… They obviously have their own motivations. Why did the PS Vita only have one set of shoulder buttons (2 instead of 4) making its control configuration incompatible with previous and current generation games. Even when streaming cross-play from your console – Ridiculous.

The fearful eyes of Microsoft and Sony have been distracted by Mobile phones. Everyone keeps saying that the market share is huge.. and it is. But is it as profitable as full priced console games? Has anyone in mobile gaming had as much success as Nintendo’s DS or 3DS?

People keep saying that phones have taken over mobile gaming and yet, Nintendo keep making and selling mobile consoles. They still haven’t killed the 3DS! People are still buying Vita games, in spite of Sony’s negligence. With some forethought it could have filled the Switch’s gap till now. Or at least hold a line in the field of competition.

Sony have stated that they have no plans for a Playstation Vita successor, when the Switch came on the scene. Even if that is true; WHY tell a world full of gamers to go and buy a competitors product. Customers who may have held out for hope. Held onto their Vita for a bit longer, and maybe in that time bought a couple more games?

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