The Nintendo Switch's early success is quickly having an impact on the investment landscape for console-like smartphone and tablet controllers.
Gamevice recently raised $12.5 million for its attachable smartphone controllers, while LA start-up Wonder picked up $14 million in funding for its device that promises to be a "hybrid between a powerful smartphone and a gaming console".
With interest high from investors and start-ups in building Switch-like experiences, we asked our expert Mobile Mavens:
- With the early success of the Switch and big investments in Wonder and Gamevice, do you think there's an opportunity for console-like control pads on mobile devices?
There’s always an opportunity to rant and remind the fate of phone-game console hybrids from Nokia N-Gage to Sony PlayStation, but this would be somewhat boring.
I kind of love new hardware start-ups. Very few take off, but often the industry gets a nudge to innovate when inspired by some of those. So may be this Hollywood-inspired gaming handheld will open the market to new opportunities?
Content sells hardware and most of the OEMs forget this simple rule. HandyGames developed for NGage, for the Sony Xperia Play, etc…
I am happy to develop for Switch. We already announced our first title on it and I can tell you it will not be the last. Nowadays content developers have more platforms than ever so getting the attention of those will be damn hard.
Investments of $12.4 million or $14 million is not really much if you need to convince developers to port games over or develop exclusive titles for it. Good luck to those two but without investing in content it will be a fail in this brutal market!
John is co-founder of PR and marketing company Big Ideas Machine. Also an all-round nice guy...
As Christopher as mentioned, hardware is nothing without great software. All OEMs need a system seller to ensure success.
The idea of a controller for mobile games is nothing new - I remember Sony's Gameboard EGB-10 back in 2003 that was designed for the z600 handset. Now, thanks to Bluetooth, there is a selection of cheap and cheerful third-party controllers on the market for anyone that wants to have a more console-like experience.
Of course there are opportunities, and there always have been. but this is a very tough market to enter, so I don't expect a deluge of new start-ups entering the space.
You absolutely need system-selling games to give you an instant audience for your product and underpin your marketing push.John Ozimek
The first challenge for anyone trying to enter the gaming industry with either a peripheral or a whole new device is how to ensure there are system-selling games ready at launch.
You absolutely need these to give you an instant audience for your product and underpin your marketing push. The second challenge is pricing - it's hard to sell a controller that's 10x the cost of the games you want to play with it.
With Gamevice, because is currently iOS only, it relies on delivering a great experience with established system-sellers like Minecraft, COD, Assassin's Creed, GTA, etc.
Whilst there are plenty of bluetooth controllers out there that can play exactly the same games, Gamevice has worked hard to differentiate its hardware - they have patented the way the Gamevice fits onto a phone or tablet.
This gives them some defensible value in what is essentially a low-margin product category. The challenge is cost - it's a premium product - and the relatively small pool of MFI-compatible games, which tend to be console ports.
On the one hand, I think there is a ready market for the kinds of games that work really well with console-style inputs - driving games, FPS, shooters, etc. However, on the other hand, these are rarely the games that top the charts or attract casual gamers.
Mobile games that work best with touch controls - which are often also the best performing free-to-play titles (I'm thinking Candy Crush, Clash of Clans, Angry Birds etc etc) are never going to be controller compatible.
So too with some of the early eSports titles, most obviously Vainglory, which benefit from the fact that RTS and touch-screen controls are a perfect match. I think that FPS eSports is a potential opportunity however.
The investment is great news, and I hope it will help them not just market the product, but also work with more publishers to encourage them to make their games controller-compatible.
Full disclosure: we worked with the Gamevice team on supporting the European rollout via Apple's retail channel.
From what I've read about the Wonder, it's less a controller and more a complete new device and content play. A new games company for the Twitch generation? Whilst they've assembled a really incredible team with an amazing gaming pedigree, it all reminds me too much of the Phantom, Gizmondo or Ouya - take your pick from your choice of massively over-hyped 'revolutionary' games companies. Colour me cynical until I see more details.
Oscar Clark has been a pioneer in online, mobile, and console social games services since 1998. He is also author of the book, Games As A Service – How Free To Play Design Can Make Better Games.
Sticking with the question about game controllers I think its worth remembering that we have seen so many attempts todo this over the years. Even back in the Java/Symbian days we had the Zeemote (which I still quite like).
There are several companies working in this space including SteelSeries, Logitech and MOGA; with bluetooth devices intended for mobile as well as specific devices such as the controller for the NVidia Sheild Tablet.
What people often forget is that there has been controller support for Android and iOS for years and most of these controllers will work even without specific integration, provided the developer used standard control mapping. However, it is true that to get the benefits some effort on the part of the game maker does really pays off.
The devices themselves range from the SteelSeries stick-on thumbsticks which attach to your tablet screen all the way up to controllers which use vice-like grips to hold your phone, such as the MOGA PowerA or the Gametel controllers.
In a slight twist of that idea, there are those controls which clip themselves around your mobile like the PhoneJoy or Logitech Powercase. There have even been attempts to make slim phone cases with controls built in like Flitch.Io (a failed Kickstarter) which had thumbstick-like controls under the device (easier to use than you would think). Even OEM's have gotten in on the game like Samsung's 'Simple' controller.
They haven't really taken off because when we look at it, the same problem comes up - most of your players won't have them.Oscar Clark
I have to confess that I'm a bit obsessed with these things and have a bit if a collection of phone controllers. But I have no illusions. They haven't really taken off because when we look at it, the same problem comes up time and time again - most of your players won't have them.
They either won't have bought one, left it somewhere, forgotten to charge it, or have a different model. The game controller is a separate and secondary object that is not essential for the other functions of your phone - even those we can physically attach to our phone/tablet make that device more bulky and usually less attractive to look at than another ordinary case.
If you don't have a critical mass of people actively using those devices there is no way you will get enough games which make the features of having such a controller beneficial enough to bother.
The Switch is a very different use-case. Its a dedicated gaming device. That's its primary use and as such we expect decent controls. But phones aren't that.
Could VR/AR change that? Possibly but still I think unlikely.
Bury me with my N-Gage.
Chris is right. Content is King here. They need superb titles that make people want these controllers.
I am not bullish on hardware at all, especially now that we are deeper into the notion of crowdfunding and promises not being kept. The Oculus was pretty lame until it got the muscle of Facebook, and it is still waiting for content and the hardware to run it to evolve fast enough to catch up.
I am not bullish on hardware at all.Jared Steffes
If it were Sega making hardware I think it would be a different story. Heck we even have Atari rumored to be building something, but for a new company to inspire the hearts of game developers it is very difficult. Need to raise a lot more than $14 million to build a console and games.
We are in a software age. Right now most software and hardware drivers are bloated. I have seen some amazing changes to efficiency all based on new software ideas, and it is all slowly making its way to devices we use everyday.
I don't even want to get started on the controller idea. Devices change shape every year to capitalise on all the extras that go into the revenue model, like cases and screen protectors. Most are leased in the USA now, where you have to trade it in for the new and improved one the following year.