Posted by: seanmalstrom | November 9, 2013

Email: Nintendo DS vs Gameboy

How’s it going, Master Malstrom

Before I read your analysis as to why the Nintendo DS won over the PSP, I just thought that it was the gimmicky part of Nintendo.

My impression was that since Nintendo always had dominated the handheld market, they would have gotten success with or without the replacement of the Game Boy brand with the NDS brand. That the PSP never would have been a thread even if they had sticked to the Game Boy label.

Then I understand that the Nintendo DS, according to you, was a response to the PSP, rather than a change for the sake of change. 

But isn’t it the games that make the console? Do you really think the PSP could have won with it’s lackluster games (my opinion)?
Wouldn’t Nintendo have succeeded none the less? 

This is all new information to me, and as such, I’m not sure whether it’s common knowledge, especially with the (hardcore) gamers.
What is your take on it?

This is a great email. It shows that there are new readers all the time. I really need to put up some FAQs or something so a new reader doesn’t wonder, “Where is this hostility toward Aonuma coming from?” Whether someone agrees or disagrees with my observation, there is a story as to where that hostility came from. In the same way, there are reasons why I would say, “I don’t trust Sakamoto with the Metroid!” As time goes on, longtime readers know the story why we wouldn’t trust Metroid with Sakamoto but a new reader may not understand why that is the case.

This email shows that the DS vs. PSP market battle has become historical to some readers while many of us remember it from a first seat viewing. (Not saying the emailer didn’t have a first row viewing of it. Maybe the emailer was too young? Maybe the emailer was more interested in playing video games instead of analyzing their sales like we old people do [and we are old :( ] ).

The way how I go about answering these questions as to ‘why’ or ‘what if’ with gaming is to not isolate the event. Instead of asking about the particular of what if Nintendo DS used the Gameboy brand, ask, “Does eight generations of video games show whether brand name sells the console over the competitors?”

The Atari brand was extremely famous and still is. But Atari’s brand could not stop the NES juggernaut.

The Nintendo brand was extremely strong and synonymous with video games during the late 1980s. Yet, the brand of ‘Nintendo’ in ‘Super Nintendo’ did not help against the Sega Genesis competitor or with the Nintendo 64’s competitors.

Prior to the Wii’s release, the analysts all said the PlayStation 3 would outsell everything based on brand name alone. They were incorrect.

The DS brand did not help the 3DS. The Wii brand did not help the Wii U.

The history of the eight generations is showing a pattern that familiar brand names of consoles don’t do the job.

It was definitely the games that put the Nintendo DS ahead. The DS was actually outsold by the PSP is nearly all the markets at first. The games on the DS were lousy. The DS launched with Super Mario 64 DS and a Metroid Prime Hunters demo. The perception of the DS was that it was a portable N64. The games were very N64-esque such as Super Mario Galaxy 64. The early DS years suffered from the same problems the N64 had.

Then something happened. Around eight months in, Nintendo began releasing games completely unlike N64 or Gamecube. Nintendogs began to sell the hardware above the PSP. But the games that really began to hit it were Super Mario Kart DS (modeled after the SNES version of Super Mario Kart’s gameplay), Animal Crossing DS (which fit the handheld better than the home console), and announcements such as Dragon Quest remakes and Square remaking Final Fantasy III (a NES game) for the DS. I think a big shift in perception came with NSMB DS which was the first 2d Mario game in 16 years. The DS became seen as a ‘portable SNES’ after that.

Sony’s strategy for the PSP was to deliver a home console experience on the go. The games were designed that way. The problem is that handhelds perform different jobs than home consoles. You want your games to be able to be able to get in fast and get out fast. Sony made the mistake that many Gameboy competitors made. Sega thought the Game Gear would win because it was ‘color’ while Gameboy was not. But that color came with the price of less battery life, smaller game library, and less portability. Making larger and more bloated games might work on a home console, but it doesn’t work on a handheld console where smaller and more streamlined games are needed.

When the DS Lite came out, just after NSMB DS was released, the sales went crazy for DS in America. The ‘battle’ then was completely done.

With any product, customers buy them to perform a job. Obviously, a game console is purchased to play games. But if there isn’t much of a game library, why purchase that game console that can’t do its job? If the game console has other issues that get in the way such as low battery life, it will not do the job as well.

Nintendo beat Sony with the DS because Nintendo knew that handheld gaming performs a different job than home console gaming. Simply porting home console games onto a handheld won’t cut it.


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