Posted by: seanmalstrom | March 2, 2017

Email: What former Gaming CEO’s and marketers think of the Switch

Good day Malstrom,
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Earlier today, I came across an article from Polygon interviewing the GAMES INDUSTRY of what it thinks about the Switch. You know the drill, the usual puff piece where Polygon gets to act as stenographer for the games industry.
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However, what was interesting was the part where they asked some former Game Industry members for their opinion. I’ve highlighted the interesting people and what they said. Along with a few thoughts of my own.
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Nolan Bushnell
(Former CEO, Atari, oversaw the Atari 2600 launch)
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I guess the best endorsement that I can say is that I want one personally. I think that it has so many things that can be seductive that I think that it’s going to have a very interesting launch. The only thing that is a little bit of a concern is that I feel like — you always sell a game system based on software, and Nintendo has great historical software that I would love to play again updated, all the way back to the Famicom. But there’s a lot of hostility from the development community about working with Nintendo that probably stems back a long time. And maybe some of the new developers don’t have it, but it’s not uncommon sitting at a cocktail party or talking with friends, just talking about how a game that was developed was turned down or they missed the Christmas season because somebody thought the robes on an avatar needed to be purple instead of blue. [Laughs] You know, just what I call arbitrary bullshit. That [was a big issue] quite a while ago, so maybe that has gone away, but I think the concern lingers.
But other than that, I think the hardware platform — the way its designed, what the features are — it is a cornucopia of sensors and user interface features that I think you can just go batshit on and there will be some new games and new constructs that I think are really important. And the network of being able to have eight people in the same household [playing at the same time] I think is massively powerful. … There’s a lot of features there that make it viral. And virility in today’s world really is a precursor for a massively successful product. … When I first sort of casually looked at what they were doing, I said, “Oh my god. The last thing we need is another gadget to carry with us.” Because you know, I can just barely keep my cell phone charged. … [But] the hardware design, as I understand it, just feels almost flawless.
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My thoughts: Bushnell seems quite positive. I love the fact he’s planning on buying one. Surprised to hear there’s still so many who are angry at the Big N for the stuff in the 80’s though.
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Trip Hawkins
(Former CEO, The 3DO Company, oversaw the 3DO launch)
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Nintendo for, literally, a hundred years was a great toy company. … In their first several years in the video game business, they were a really great toy company in this new electronic toy category, and basically their products were purchased mostly by children. And then when it became a medium, and it became a platform and they had to start competing against the likes of Sony, it got to be a lot harder for Nintendo and they began to think of themselves [as], “Oh yeah, we’re a media platform company and we’re competing against PlayStation.”
Well, they’re not going to make it in the long run with that kind of thinking. And if you think about what’s really great about Nintendo it’s the games that they have invented, like Mario and Pokemon, that they have popularized [these] incredible brands. They’re now beginning to realize that, yeah, they really need to allow those brands to flourish on all the other platforms that are not proprietary Nintendo platforms, and that’s a big change because they never used to do that. They used to basically drive the sales of their own proprietary platforms by restricting these famous brands to be the killer apps for those platforms. But I don’t think it’s viable for them to think of themselves as a generalized console platform company. They really shouldn’t make a hardware system anymore in the future unless it’s kind of a great toy. Like, for example, when the Game Boy came out, that was a fabulous toy. And it came out with Tetris, and then Pokemon came out on it, and that was really all you needed to know to decide that you wanted to have a Game Boy.
I think the Switch is going to disappoint. I think the optimists are saying it’s going to sell 40 million units, and they’re saying that because they’re looking at Wii U selling 13 million units and they’re looking at the original Wii selling 100 million units, and they’re thinking, “Well, it couldn’t possibly go as badly as it did with the Wii U. And, in my opinion, it could go just about the same, because their price point is really high. The Switch is 300 bucks, and that’s not a toy price. That’s a media platform price. And they can’t win that game, even with proprietary, you know, killer apps. I just think that they have to have more modest expectations when they’re in the hardware business, that if they have a low enough price point, maybe they can get the 20 million units sold and it’s going to be a very successful toy for them. And their future value and future profit is going to have a lot more to do with what they do with their great brands and their capacity to create new games on all the platforms, not on their own.
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My thoughts: Is it me or is this the umpteenth time that Hawkins has repeated the same line? The man has repeated this horseshit since the 80’s. No wonder EA gave him the boot.
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Tom Kalinske
(Former president and CEO, Sega of America, oversaw the 32X and Saturn launches)
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First of all, I still have remained antagonistic towards Nintendo [laughs] and I don’t have any Nintendo hardware in my home, so it’s hard for me to give them advice. …
You know, I think that any time you’re launching new hardware, you better be awfully good about who you target it to and how your marketing is done and what outlets are you going to feature it in and how are you going to get full support behind the launch of it. I guess in the case of Nintendo, there’s so many Nintendo aficionados that, no matter what they do, a huge group of people are going to buy it no matter what — as they had with the Wii U — and then we’ll see what happens after that. And it all comes down to: how great are the games and how good do you feel when you’re playing them. The feel of the game is still the most important thing. And, of course, the quality of the game, the engagement of the game and how well you interact with it — and then in this case, I guess, there’s a social gaming aspect as well. So, all that’s got to work really well for it to be successful.
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My thoughts: Sounds like Kalinske is positive but doesn’t want to admit it.
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Thought you might find it interesting to read.
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Readers, this is the story the emailer is referring.
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I only find the former console heads quotes to be interesting (the ones quoted above). Guys like Nolan Bushnell or Tom Kalinske are simply in another level than a software developer. It is one thing to be behind a software business, it is another to be behind a hardware business. Gaming hardware is HARD. Hard hard hard hard hard. Just look at the history of game consoles, and you see a graveyard. The only consoles still standing are Sony and Microsoft (with Microsoft looking to pull out soon) and Nintendo. That’s it.
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“This is what Yamauchi said when he told Iwata about all the consoles he saw failed.”
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Anyone who pays attention knows that the game console business is extraordinarily hard. Launching a new game console is absurdly difficult. The reason why Nintendo delayed their online plans is simply because launching a game console is very, very hard. Anyone in the console business of Sony and Microsoft will agree how hard this business is.
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In the past, I would find anything Nolan Bushnell and others to be insightful and worthy of gold. They still may be. But honestly, I would rather read myself. They represent the past. We represent the future. This is why I feel there is nothing for me to learn anymore in this industry. It is time for me to move along.
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