Big news at CES this year is that nVidia announced their intention to create a portable gaming console based on Android which they are calling Shield.
On the one hand, I get it. When it comes to video games, nVidia is right in there on the hardware side as well as working with video game producers to optimize well and such. Additionally, nVidia has jumped into the smartphone CPU/SoC market with their own ARM-based graphics powerhouse (for cellphones anyway) chips such as Tegra.
I get it.
Really. I do.
But it’s still complete and total rubbish and doomed to fail.
Why is that? Well, gee, just ask Sony. Who the heck needs a little gaming gizmo to carry around when we can whip out our cellphone and play Angry Birds? No one takes portable games seriously. If you want a real game, you play on a real console hooked up to a TV … or even better, you play one on your computer. Portable gaming is just frivolous fun. It’s not worth spending money on. It’s not worth overdoing. And smartphones now fill that gap quite nicely.
I’d be surprised if Nintendo, the portable gaming console leader, can even keep up a decent profit now that smartphones are a dime a dozen. Who wants to spend two hundred bucks on the latest gaming gizmo and another sixty bucks per game when you can pull out the phone that you already have and download any random waste of time title for free or five bucks?
Once again, cellphones have killed a market by doing the same thing that something else used to do. From music players, to portable video players, to PDAs and BlackBerries, to portable gaming consoles, and likely soon to be digital cameras, smartphones are eating up market segments that used to have a place in the world.
So why on earth would nVidia be so stupid as to try to break into a market that’s on a rapid decline? Sure, they have the technology and the expertise. The one thing that they don’t have however, that no one has, is a customer. Just ask Sony. By most rights the PS Vita should have been a treat. It has all the weird gimmicky gizmos and doo-dads, not to mention some amazing performance for its size. But frankly, as we fling aggravated avians through the big black yonder, we just don’t give a fig about those doo-dads and gizmos. Hardly any of us even care about super-duper performance … from something that fits in our pocket. When we have our phones, why would we spend the small fortune on some other dedicated device that only does games? And then spend another small fortune on the games themselves?
It’s a business model that just doesn’t work anymore. Don’t be surprised if Nintendo soon announces that they’re out of that biz and focusing on their normal console business instead. Sony keeps trying … and keeps failing. Sony doesn’t seem to understand that the only people who care about high performance and fancy dancy features are the people who already have them in a big expensive box. Mobile gaming just isn’t something to take seriously. Those rare few who actually care enough to put their money where their mouths are don’t have nearly enough money to keep that niche afloat.
Frankly, at this point, about the only thing that’d really work at all for the mobile video game business is something that Sony already tried … but tried to overdo: a phone designed for gaming. Maybe if their analog sticks had worked, they might have had a chance. But even then … not likely. Not with all the branding and over-the-top horsehockey that Sony involved anyway.
The problem is, existing Android/iOS games are designed to be played on a touchscreen. (Funny that.) Or if not that, then by motion control. The two essentials built into smartphones these days. So taking those titles onto your super-special-gaming-phone (or Android-based gaming console) means that the incredible vast majority of games to play on your high-end-portable-gaming-device aren’t going to use any of the sticks, buttons, fondle-spots, gropers, widgets, etc. that you make available on your device. Meaning that, by default, your device is already not compelling. The only way to beat that self-destructive start is to launch with a good line-up of games that makes your device compelling. And I don’t just mean like five crap games. I mean at least a dozen on par with Mario, Sonic, Metroid, Zelda, etc. that no one else has or will ever have. Games that make highly devoted followers, that you’ll be able to milk for sequel after sequel after sequel to keep your highly devoted followers tied to your platform. And you have to have a gaggle of third parties locked in with promises to deliver titles over the coming years. Then, and only then, could you possibly hope to break into the portable gaming market that the cellphone ate.
And even then … good freaking luck. Because even if your platform supports the same Android/iOS games that everyone else is playing, it’ll force everyone else to ask why buying into your platform is worth the expense when they can already play Android/iOS games on their phone.
But even if you can ignore all of that, you also have to admit, nVidia’s Shield is also just butt ugly. Seriously. Who the heck came up with that design? Talk about not winning anyone over! Ugh! I wouldn’t be caught dead holding that thing. It’s even worse than anything Nintendo is doing lately! It’s the exact opposite of sexy.
So let’s face it, already nVidia has completely missed the market. Their console is ugly. Their console is a purchase secondary to a phone … that’ll be able to play most games their console can, defeating the purpose of their device to most people. And I’ve heard no talk of must-have titles exclusive to Shield. All epic fails by themselves. Put these three failures together however and it makes for … a Super-Dooper-Epic-Pooper of a Fail. (Or something like that.)
Now, all of that aside, some kind of generic portable-game-like-device that Bluetooth’s its controller sticks and buttons into a phone that you clip into the middle of the device, perhaps on expandable rails to fit anything from a 3.5” tiny screen smartphone to a 5.5” phablet, that might have some merit. Especially if the expandable rails thing worked in reverse to somehow fit it into a pocket when not in use. Or if it clipped well into place like a barely noticeable phone case. A device like that, especially if you could somehow finagle it with some kind of new high-speed NFC link, or sell phone manufacturers on a hard port like USB but better, could potentially even offer extra compute power or even turn the phone into just a screen. Maybe something as crazy as that could convince people to buy, because they’re not replacing their phone, they’re upgrading it. They won’t have to juggle two libraries of games. And when they need compactness they can just take their phone only and still play most of the video games that they’ve downloaded.
Something like that might have a slim chance in hell … if it was done very carefully and got lots of people on board before the official launch and a lot of follow-up commitments for after.
But nVidia’s Shield? Doomed to fail.
Even the concept of an Android box to connect to your TV and use as a game console is quickly becoming pretty stupid to invest in as USB Android PCs on a stick are becoming more and more common and most dirt cheap. It won’t be long before form and functionality hit the right balance there and anyone who wants one will already have one, and thus have no need for something official or fancy, let alone being a device limited to gaming.
But to try to convince people to not use their phone for mobile games? These days? Ludicrous. You might as well try to sell them on a PalmPilot while you’re at it.