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A Brief History of Hand Held Gaming and Why Microsoft Xbox Needs to Be Involved

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Many have tried to dethrone the mighty Nintendo from their pedistal built around hand held gaming. Those same companies have failed, some damn near into bankruptcy over their failed hand helds. It takes clout, it takes deep pockets and exclusive titles to even make a dent in the armor that the Game Boy built.

Oh, the list of hand helds that have fallen to the mighty black and white Game Boy is long. NEC/Turbo Technologies and their Turbo Express were probably dead before they started due to many reasons. For one, price for a hand held in the early 90′s, the Turbo Express was $299.99 (though later it was dropped to $199.99 but still was too high). The other problem with this hand held was the cartridge situation, sure you could play the home cartridges (Turbo Chips as they were called) on the go, no having to buy two versions of the game! Why hadn’t Nintendo done this and helped save gamers a buck or two? Because the games were still priced at home game prices. At least the Game Boy had “cheaper” prices for it’s carts versus the NES and later Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64. Yes, the Game Boy was supported quite well through THREE home console life cycles.NEC Turbo Express Retail Box

Sega was no stranger to the hand held market, though they were a big competitor for Nintendo in the home, they barely registered a blip on Nintendo’s radar as far as hand helds. First the Game Gear hit, with slightly more volume than a wet thud. Battery life, blurring and other qualms were registered by fans. Sega did their best though, the GG got several Sonic games, several exclusives, hell Sega were doing all the right things just for the wrong platform. They should have been putting these games on their Genesis, where they had a good share of the home market.Sega Game Gear

Not content with failing once, and apparently not paying that much attention to the failure that NEC had on their hands- NEC was giving away as many as five games with the TE trying to just move the damn thing around this time. Sega copied the idea and came out with a portable Genesis, a portable called the Sega Nomad. Following suit with NEC, the Nomad played your existing library of Genesis titles on the go and on the slightly less than stellar, blurring screen (did they just re-use left over Game Gear screens?). Battery life again reared it’s ugly head with players getting about 10 to 20 minutes off a set of batteries. Sega did do one thing right here, they gave players a video out option which could turn the Nomad into a home console, with a bulky controller if you wanted.Sega-Nomad-Handheld

Sega wasn’t done with the Nomad though, they came out with a Sega CD/Genesis combo unit that didn’t have a screen (how is that for a portable!) called the CDX. Since this didnt’ have a screen we won’t waste time on it (the portability was really limited to listening to CD’s on the go). Still, Sega tried this, and par for the course confused the hell out of not only the players but their PR people too.sega CDX Hand Held

Atari tried their hand at taking down Nintendo with something called the Lynx. Atari was big on cats during this time. The Lynx had some great exclusives but VERY poor everything else. Bad screen, bad battery life and almost ZERO marketing. I don’t think Nintendo even realized Atari was in the hand held market.Atari Lynx 1

Sony is the only company to really knock a piece of armor off of Nintendo with the PSP but even that was almost derailed due to lack of focus. Had Sony hit the ground running with the PSP squarely focused on gaming and not music, movies and just about anything other than gaming, the system would have faired a lot better. By the time they dropped the movie releasing it was too late, Nintendo had AGAIN set themselves as the place to be to enjoy great titles. Sure, Sony had great exclusives such as the Rachet and Clank, Jak and Daxter, God of War and more, they had tarnished their image with gamers. Hand held gamers have proven time and time again, image is everything- one fumble and it is over. Sony made several with the PSP.Sony PSP 3000

The Vita, Sony’s follow up to the PSP is not doing well in the market right now against the Nintendo 3DS. What does Nintendo have that no one else has that is keeping them alive and kicking (no it is not an elixer of life, at least I don’t think so). Exclusives. That is what Nintendo has. That and some strong marketing on their part. They can market Sudoku and move units. How? Product placement. They don’t just market Sudoku, they put Mario in there, Nintendoize it up and for lack of a better word, they kiddify the hell out of it.Sony PSVita

I don’t think there will be a third portable from Sony (we are not counting the Japan only Pocket Station adapter/Tomagatchi thingie for PSOne). They have ruined their image with gamers too much to make a come back with a future hardware release. They simply are not taken seriously in the hand held market.Sony PocketStation

That leaves the market open for a new competitor to enter. Sega is out, they are third party only and not likely to return (though, now would be a good time to do so). Atari is gone. NEC is only in Japan and maybe other parts of the world making CPU’s and such (they also make monitors for PC’s).

Microsoft could step in with something based around the the Xbox brand and kick butt if done correctly. The only problem with this happening is that it would be Microsoft doing it. They would foul it up. Here are some tips that, if followed, could spell success for a hand held Xbox branded portable.

1) Name it something with Xbox in the name. The brand is here to stay as the soon to be released Xbox One clearly shows so why try to break away from all of that marketing and support from gamers.

2) Make it open source and based on Windows API’s. Windows is popular on the PC (understatement of the year) and requires no licensing to make and release games for it. Make the portable the same, open. Rather than charging licensing fees per game, charge like Apple does (and presumably Google on Android) and that is a small percentage of each sale. Let companies set their own prices for titles.

3) Make the system low priced. This is where the competitors have ALL failed. Every competitor to Nintendo’s hand held of the moment has come in at a higher price point on hardware and usually on games too. Stop that. With today’s technology, there is no reason to not be able to have some solid tech for a price lower than what Nintendo is getting for the 3DS.

4) Launch with exclusives. Launch with a Halo title, or several in different genres. Have Halo represent FPS gaming on the portable, real time strategy and or turn based (active battle timers like those in various Final Fantasy titles would work) and action titles. Show gamers what the hand held can do from day one. Blow their socks off with awesome Halo, Forza, Dead or Alive, Killer Instinct, Conker, Amped, Dead Rising and other titles that are either exclusive to the Xbox brand or recognized as “Xbox games” by gamers.

5) Referring back to number 2, exploit the indies. Not exploit in a bad way but make sure they know that this portable is based around API’s and programming protocols they have already been using for years on PC’s, how easy it is to get up and running on the new hardware. If indies can get up and running quickly and cheaply they will come and come in droves. This is something that no other portable outside of iOS or Android has done. Dedicated gaming portables have all been locked down with licensing and usually complex programming API’s underneath. Indies can’t afford to purchase huge quantities of cartridges as an investment.

6) Continuing off the tail end of #5 here, follow suit with iOS and Android and don’t offer physical games. Offer digital only. Offer games up on Micro SD cards in stores but skip the whole manufactured cartridge scene and cut costs as much as possible. Go one step farther and offer kiosks to purchase and download new games for Internet challenged gamers (there are still quite a few people without home Internet access in the United States for instance- tap the market).

Do you think Microsoft should enter the hand held market?  This is your chance to sound off on the situation.

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  • Elronza Williams Jr.

    Nice article! the only problem is Nividia has released the Shield which sums up all you said microsoft should offer in a handheld accept the price point. www.computerworld.com/s/article/9240032/Nvidia_hopes_Shield_eventually_overtakes_Xbox_PS4 I own a 3G PS Vita that I do like but even I plan on buying the Nvidia Shield as it is a true portable console.

    • Carl Williams

      That is the problem with the Shield, it is priced WAY out of the range of most gamers. That is a successful point Nintendo has hammered their competition using. At the price of NVIDIA’s Shield, you could get a 3DS and a 3DS XXL and play multiplayer locally.

      That price point will likely kill it with the majority of buyers in my opinion. The iPad gets away with the higher price point due to the adoption rate within the medical field and other professional services. Much like PC’s, people use the iPad at their jobs and want a similar experience at home so they do the reasonable thing and purchase an iPad for home use.

      Granted that is like comparing apples to oranges, it is true. The same thing for gamers. Parents aren’t going to drop $300+ for a portable for the kids that is made by NVIDIA, a company that has no real experience in the actual hardware market, they are more of an accessory company- people buy their graphics cards for their computers. NVIDIA’s name is what is going to hurt it the most here, along with that price tag.

      If NVIDIA were to drop the price of the Shield to about $200 then we would be talking, $199.99 (about the same price as a 3DS XXL) and access to tons of Android games. That would be a talker, something advertising could point at against the 3DS. That is if NVIDIA was actually getting the Shield in commercials and on TV when kids are watching. I see tons of Nintendo ads throughout the week, most of them are either during women’s talk shows (advertising social type gaming like Animal Crossing or something similar) or in the early afternoon hours showing off the latest Mario game (presumably for the younger kids watching). They are hitting the parent segment (mom’s and stay at home dad’s) and the kids too with advertising.

      That is another segment Nintendo kicks butt at, advertising. I remember only seeing a few print ads for Sega Game Gear (none for Nomad), only print for Turbo Express, really nothing for the Lynx (though I saw posters at local arcades). The PSP and Vita (for a short time) were the only hand helds I actually saw commercials for on TV and they are the only hand helds to actually do anything worth talking about against Nintendo. It is a shame.

      Nintendo doesn’t win by default. They win because they advertise
      correctly.

      • Elronza Williams Jr.

        I understand your view point, but I myself as a PS Vita early adopter paid over 300$ for my 3G PS Vita. And for 50$ more the Shield offers cheaper games and a better online experience not to mention TV output. I’m buying the Shield over next gen consoles because it has 4000k output tons of games at a good price point and even if it flops thanks to emulators it will remain relevant for years. Not to mention I paid another 300+$ on a PS3 because of Sony’s remote play lies. So yet again the Shield is a cheaper better option then me spending yet more money on a PS4 and yet more games.

        • Carl Williams

          Oh definitely, I agree with you on the price situation between the 3G Vita and the Shield. That also illustrates my point though, the price. That is part of the reason the Vita has not been anything but a wet thud in the far background of portable gaming. Nintendo is kicking their butts.

          The Shield has more going for it thanks to it using Android as it’s OS- long after NVIDIA drops the system there will still be support for it from indies. That is great. Once the system is available for about $150 to $200, I will probably pick one up myself.

          It is certainly sad when portable systems cost as much, if not more, than a home console of the current generation. To me, that screams “time to scale back on hardware” in the portable.

          Price is why Nintendo went with the Game Boy Color rather than the Game Boy Advance in 1998. They had the GBA hardware ready to go but it was going to cost too much so they shelved it till later. Had they launched the GBA in 1998, it would have probably been $350+, a price that hardly any gamer of the time would have paid for it.

          Imagine if the Dreamcast ran an open OS like Android (wonder why no one has ported Android to it?). It would be easy to program for and even more games could be released. I definitely see your point about the Shield running Android. It is a good point. I just hope that there is enough positives with gamers to make it worthwhile to buy in.

          The hardware can be the best ever but if no one buys it, or not enough people buy it to garner more support, then it is almost worthless.

          • Elronza Williams Jr.

            All you state is true! I’m 30 soon to be 31 and have been first hand witness to the slaughter Nintendo has done to other handhelds over the years. But if Nvidia markets the Shield the right way or partners with MicroSoft or Sony in some way and lowers the price Nintendo will have a true brutal battle lol.

          • Carl Williams

            I am about to be 37 myself (August) and I grew up with gaming beginning with the Atari 2600. I lived through the Game Boy, the hype of each and every competitor on the playgrounds at school, the oohs and ahhhs of other kids when someone came to school with a Lynx or a Game Gear.

            The Shield could be a contender at the entry price point they are shooting for. If they market it correctly, they could get the 30 something crowd, people like you and me, interested. If they market it. So far, the only “marketing” I have seen for it is news posts on sites like Android Police or Droid Gamers. They need to get this thing in front of gamers, on Youtube ads, banners, get people to make vids covering it and the games it plays, etc. They need a media blitz, badly.

            That is part of the reason I think MS should release an XBox Portable. They would market the hell out of it. We would probably have trouble going anywhere without seeing an ad for the thing. That is good. That is how you get in front of gamers.

            Like Nintendo doing those “Nintendo Experience” setups in Best Buy stores, that gets your games, hardware and feel for the aura represented in front of gamers much better than a banner, Youtube vid or news article could ever do. That is one thing I remember about the original Game Boy and Game Boy Color back in the day, there were demo units setup in stores like Kaybee Toy Stores, Electronics Boutique, Montgomery Ward and others for players to try them out.

            Nothing beats hands on time with a new system to swing potential buyers. Nintendo is the only one doing this consistently.

          • Elronza Williams Jr.

            I think you will like reading this as it relates to what we are talking about. www.technewsworld.com/story/78112.html

          • Elronza Williams Jr.

            Also this will interest you for sure! www.youtube.com/watch?v=AYyaYeih1LY

          • Carl Williams

            Cloud gaming may eventually make hardware irrelevant. That won’t be for awhile though, but it is coming, or at least will be an option eventually in the gaming world.

            I mean, essentially, with cloud gaming, you could theoretically stream anything to any system that is Internet capable, say, the Dreamcast.

          • Elronza Williams Jr.

            Cloud gaming is already here! Onlive, MicroSoft’s Cloud, Sony has Gaikai for Cloud, not to mention Steam and others here and on the way. Which is part of the big reason I’m buying a Nvidia Shield as it does 4000k video output has full console controls tons of games, apps ,and great web-broswer ,and multi-media features thanks to the pure Android software it is running. Indeed the Shield is the only console on my radar! Not the PS4 and no way the Xbox.

          • Elronza Williams Jr.

            Hello Carl my friend! I bought an Nvidia Shield and let me tell you this is not only the best handheld ever but also the best console as well! Man 300$ is way less than the true value of the Nvidia Shield. I say everyone should skip the Ps4 and Xbox1 and embrace the Shield. Believe in the Shield!

          • Carl Williams

            That is awesome, Elronza! Congrats on the purchase. I believe mobile gaming is where gaming is going in general, people are not interested in being tied to a television screen at home anymore- they want to play in new locations, enjoy their games on the go, etc.

          • Elronza Williams Jr.

            I agree with you 100 percent you’re right on point! I mean look at the Nvidia Shield with it I have a home console and a handheld all in one. And it has media capabilities that far exceed any console! And thank you Carl.

          • Carl Williams

            The kicker is, with most of these portables, at least on the Android side, you get HDMI out and bluetooth. To people that don’t understand why those things rock is this- you can use your portable device as a home console. Plug in an HDMI cable, grab a bluetooth controller and there you go- you now have both a portable and a home console for the same price.

          • Carl Williams

            Great article. I do believe that the Shield will be a good piece of tech, I am just concerned about the price. I mean, NVIDIA, the manufacturer of the Tegra chipset can’t get the price any lower than competing hardware? Really?

          • Elronza Williams Jr.

            I agree that the price could be lower but for what is offered it is a sweet deal even at it’s price point.

          • Carl Williams

            I agree, the hardware is nice but it is that price that will stick a lot of potential buyers on the proverbial bench till it is lowered.

            In the past, we have seen many pieces of great tech get killed by a high price tag. Systems such as most of the portables mentioned in this article were great pieces of tech for their time but were relegated to failure by fans because of either cost to acquire the system or cost of continuing to own the system (batteries before rechargeable batteries became standard).

            This is the key point to Nintendo’s success, I think. If nothing else, it couldn’t have hurt their chances of success. They pulled back hardware to reach an acceptable price point for the time of release. Other companies don’t do that and they have failed.

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