Why Microsoft Should Make DS Games4
Matt posted in Games, Xbox 360 on March 22nd, 2007
Now, many people may not be aware, but Rare has continued to make games for Nintendo handhelds after their purchase by Microsoft. Since the Microsoft purchase, Rare has published through THQ Banjo Pilot (GBA), Sabur Wulf (GBA), It’s Mr. Pants (GBA) and Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge (GBA). Nintendo has also published Donkey Kong Country 1 and 2 for the GBA and Diddy Kong Racing DS. It’s unclear to me whether Rare actually developed these ports or if Nintendo had someone else do the dirty work, but the THQ titles were original work done for the GBA platform. It’s unlikely that the THQ contract was signed before the purchase because otherwise Nintendo would have published them. It’s possible they were already in development before the purchase, but wouldn’t it have been in Microsoft’s best interest to bury them? Alternately, Microsoft could use the quality titles to push their platforms like Windows Mobile for handheld computers and phones. Sure, they’d make a whole lot less money by releasing it for Windows Mobile, but Microsoft is a platform company. Any profit or loss on a game barely has any effect on the profits of Microsoft, which are largely driven by Windows and Office sales. Any games that further cement Windows’ grasp on home computers or make Microsoft’s Windows platforms on consumer devices (either Xbox 360, or a Windows CE derivation) more successful is a good move, since Microsoft stands to make more money by growing their platforms.
So, Rare’s handheld releases don’t really make sense to me. Microsoft’s licensing of their IPs (MechAssault and Age of Empires) to DS developers is a questionable move also. But, when Microsoft’s Shane Kim said that Viva Pinata makes sense on the Nintendo DS, I was confused. Now, my first thought was that they are merely trying to hurt Sony in the portable market. That may be, but the more profitable Nintendo’s handheld market is, the more losses they can sustain in the console market. Because of their continued handheld profits, Nintendo was able to easily rebound from a relatively unsuccessful GameCube console to create the Wii, which for the time being, is selling much faster than the 360 ever did. So, despite Peter Moore’s Wii love, Microsoft should start thinking of Nintendo as a rival since the Wii’s market penetration is rapidly approaching the 360s. Analysts have been quick to change their tune about the Wii after it’s been getting the warmest consumer reception out of the big three.
So, I’ve pointed out many reasons why the Microsoft/Nintendo alliance doesn’t make sense. Judging from the title, there clearly must be a reason why I think Microsoft SHOULD make DS games. The title wasn’t a clever trick – there is a reason in my opinion. It’s to successfully gain some of the kid market share, which Microsoft has been unsuccessful in doing. Viva Pinata is similar to Pokemon. They are both targeting children. They both have video games. Pokemon is a lot more successful than Viva Pinata. The main difference? The Pokemon series is primarily a portable video game franchise whereas Viva Pinata currently only exists on the Xbox 360. The Xbox 360 costs a minimum of $300, where Nintendo’s handhelds are usually around $100. Every kid has a handheld, whereas many kids don’t have Xbox 360s. Kids are usually late adopters to the video game console war since they don’t have the disposable income of adults. So, it seems that the best way to get more kids interested in Viva Pinata would be a DS game.
Viva Pinata DS games might get some kids interested in the franchise, but it may not achieve the ultimate goal of expanding the audience of the Xbox 360 system. What Microsoft needs to do is make playing the DS game reveal secret codes for the 360 version. The codes can give you downloadable items for free or unlock exclusive content on the disc. It doesn’t really matter what it does, but if a kid is playing a game and the rewards are something in a different game, all of a sudden the kid is going to want the other game. I don’t know if there’s an official child psychology study to back that up, but here’s an example. If you tell a kid you’re giving him a present, but he has to go to his Aunt’s house in another state to receive it, I bet you that kid is going to spend the rest of the day begging you to take him/her there. So, cross promotion although it may seem pretty shameful to adults (especially having an NPC in Dungeon Siege 2 shill the PSP game), but I think kids are less sensitive to that. In a game like Viva Pinata, I don’t think it would be bad even for adults. Viva Pinata is not an role playing game. Although it may be a very compelling game, I wouldn’t describe it as immersive unlike most RPGs. It doesn’t ruin the Viva Pinata universe to mention the fact that it’s a game. Although the pinatas may be cute and lovable, I don’t think they are trying to convince you that they are living breathing entities (do pinatas breathe?) unlike most RPGs, which are about playing a role in another world.
So, although I question some of Microsoft’s current handheld endeavors, creating Viva Pinata games on the DS that give you special gifts or features in the 360 version seems like a really intelligent strategy to grow the Viva Pinata brand, which Microsoft is interested in doing.