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Opinion: Nintendo investors right to urge iOS development, but for the wrong reasons

Time to prepare for the future

Opinion: Nintendo investors right to urge iOS development, but for the wrong reasons
If you've scanned our recent sweep of developer opinion regarding the possibility of Nintendo entering iOS development, you'll have noted that, on the whole, most are against it.

Not because the company isn't capable or wouldn't make significant waves in the smartphone market, but rather because the investors that sparked the issue in the first place are only thinking in terms of short term gain.

In this respect, said developers are on the money. There's absolutely no doubt that, surveying 3DS's especially slow start, Nintendo's backers have panicked and are now only urging the firm to jump on the iOS bandwagon because they see astronomical app download figures hitting the headline.

It's advice that, owing to the short-sighted nature of the firm's investors alone, Nintendo could – and no doubt will – ignore. The irony is, that's a reaction I believe the company will come to rue.

Four minute warning

And this is where my take on events is likely to get controversial: while I'm far from the only party to predict an end to both the handheld and console markets as we know them, it's my view that we're far closer to their best before dates than many will acknowledge.

Nintendo's 3DS, in fact, serves as the perfect evidence on that score. Even the handheld's biggest sceptics predicted the console would perform well at the tills during its launch year – it was the platform's longevity that was called into question.

The fact Nintendo and retailers alike have been forced into dropping its price to almost £100 just a few months post launch is a sign of a lack of confidence in the handheld. Indeed, estimates suggest 3DS is yet to pass the 300,000 barrier in the UK, while it was only narrowly outselling the 11 year old PlayStation 2 in North America before its price was slashed.

The important question in relation to all this, however, is just why 3DS is having such a hard time making it off the shelves. As Pocket Gamer's Mike Rose pointed out during a recent debate on the site, one major reason is the fact many consumers see it as little more than a DS with 3D elements tagged on – a far from compelling prospect for gamers looking to keep their wallets closed in the current climate.

However, in my view, one other major reason is 3DS is far too traditional for its own good. Relying on the boxed games model, 3DS is less of a reaction to the growing influence of smartphones, and more of a stubborn and unyielding attempt by Nintendo to ignore it.

It's this very reluctance to embrace digital downloads that I believe spells trouble for the company long term.

In the shadow of success

To be fair to Nintendo, it took rival Sony a long time to recognise the benefits of the digital model proffered by smartphones and tablets alike. Indeed, it's likely only PSP's slack performance at retail in the US and Europe that, eventually, prompted Sony to take a long hard look at its entire handheld business.

In contrast, it's hardly surprising that, owing to the overwhelming success of the original DS, Nintendo looked for a repeat performance, rather than a shake up.

The fortunes of the two companies will soon reverse, however. Opinions on PS Vita vary, but one thing that's obvious about the handled is Sony has equipped Vita to cope with the new ruleset portable platforms have to abide by post iPhone.

The company has already unveiled a wealth of social features for Vita, while support for PlayStation Suite (which already surpasses the set up offered by Nintendo's eShop) means the handheld won't rely solely on boxed goods for game sales.

In contrast, Nintendo's hesitancy to alter its business model in a similar fashion will lead the firm into muddy waters in the years to come. While I would never advocate dropping support for 3DS in favour of a wholesale assault on iOS, by rigidly sticking by its own platforms, Nintendo is sowing the seeds for a far more difficult, and likely urgent, transition to digital marketplaces further down the line.

Delaying the inevitable

Console publishers will readily tell Nintendo that, their initial resistance to smartphone platforms led to hard times later on. Giants like EA may be in a strong position now, but it's taken hundreds of millions of dollars worth of acquisitions to establish the firm as a major mobile force.

Why? Because independent studios, eager to work on a platform that offered them the kind of stake they could only dream of on consoles, got their first. They established themselves on the marketplaces from day one, getting to grips with the consumers that inhabit them and building their brands up within a matter of months.

If, as I believe, Nintendo is forced to embrace portable digital marketplaces in a few years' time – whether by developing for existing smartphone platforms like iOS, or by launching an alternative of its own – then it will enter a market already saturated by big names, each one with vastly more experience in how to sell to this new brand of consumer.

In short, Nintendo simply doesn't get digital - the ultimate no-no for any firm looking for a future in the portable market.

So, my advice to Nintendo is, get involved now. Even if some see it as an admission of defeat and it weakens 3DS's standing even further, get a finger in the mobile pie as soon as possible. It'll never deliver Nintendo the immediate dividends its investors believe are a certainty, but the knowledge and knowhow that results will give Mario and co. more than a fighting chance when 3DS is but a distant memory.

With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.

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