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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.