Do mobile app-stores and online games disrupt Nintendo’s blue ocean?

Japan introduced the mobile internet with i-Mode in 1999, while i-Phone and friends are now getting the rest of the world hooked onto the mobile internet.

Games used to be played in game parlors, and some of Japan’s game giants were originally and still are game parlor machine makers – a round of Dance-Dance-Revolution anyone? Next came consoles, cassettes and handhelds, taking the growth momentum out of game parlors, and establishing a pattern of growth by generations (today we are in the 7th Generation). Nintendo broke the cozy generation pattern where pixels and MHz increased in predictable ways from Generation to Generation without much other fundamental change. Nintendo took games sideways into the blue oceans of motion sensors and to the silver generation, women and other previously non-gaming majorities, while Xbox and SONY kept slugging out the generation game.

We have been analyzing the Tokyo Game Show for many years – at the 2004 Tokyo Game Show, when SONY gave previews of the PSP – actually, I was personally much more interested in DoCoMo’s huge exhibition village setting a stage for about 15 mobile phone gaming partners.

Since i-Mode started mobile phone games in 1999, online and mobile phone games combined have essentially outgrown the video game software sector in 2009, and are certain to grow much more in coming years – the iPhone is not slowing mobile phone based gaming down…. Those who only count video game cassettes and consoles, certainly don’t see the rapid mobile and online growth – and complain about shrinking markets.

Is Nintendo now being blind-sided by mobile phones and app-stores?

I don’t think so: not blind-sided – but strongly affected. Actually, Nintendo’s CEO and games developer Shigeru Miyamoto tell us they want to make their DSi’s central to everybody’s lives – with built in cameras, payments, app-stores, navigation. Essentially everyone on planet earth has a mobile phone, or will soon have one, or two. Many of todays phones in people’s hands can’t yet play games nicely – but DoCoMo’s phones do – and iPhones do also. Thats why we already see a lot of mobile gaming in Japan. Imagine the day when most mobile phones on planet earth can play games nicely? Will that day come?

Will people upgrade to a DSi? or to a PSP? or to a better mobile phone? Apple and DoCoMo are both proof that people do pay for downloading games from i-Mode or i-Tunes app-stores – and that’s exactly the growth we see in the Figure – you don’t see that growth if you count only the number of game cassettes and consoles sold. In any case we may not see an 8th generation console – people might upgrade their phones instead – or use Skype on their PSP.

Segmentation of Japan's games software industry
Segmentation of Japan’s games software industry

More in our report on Japan’s games industries

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