Nintendo may have made an interesting move to the Android OS this last week (or not), and it should help them drop costs significantly. I think this initial news and denial means one of two things; they just weren’t ready to announce this yet or they plan to go the Amazon route and fork Android to create a related platform. Either path should prove interesting.
There is a larger pool of developers that know how to develop for Android then Nintendo’s existing proprietary platform, there are a lot of better developer tools for the platform, and it gives them relatively easy access to Android apps if they want to embrace them—apps like Netflix and Amazon Prime. However the real benefit may go to NVIDIA’s Shield set top box, which is already in market and needs some higher performance native games.
Let me explain.
The Power of a Common Platform
Using a common platform like Windows, Android, or Chrome OS provides a hardware OEM—and in this case a game platform maker—access to scale. They don’t have the headaches of developing a competitive OS and all of the tools, support infrastructure, and train developers. The platform owner does this. What makes Android particularly attractive is that you get all of this for free when you use a typical embedded system. With Windows you’d typically have to pay a nominal license fee to cover those costs. Now, if this was a full paid license OS you’d get back a marketing allowance you could use advertise the result but with an embedded system, which is what you’d use for a game console, that isn’t the case.
So Android is attractive because it is incredibly cheap, allowing you to discontinue the development of your own platform and all those related costs. Google isn’t in the game console business like Microsoft, so you don’t end up competing with the platform owner’s product (which is nearly impossible to do well).
Now the interesting thing will be to see how Nintendo handles game pricing because normally you sell the console at cost in this segment and
make money on the royalties off the games. But, if you are developing on Android Google owns the OS, and that means they’ll need to make some kind of artificial gateway to their console that assures the game maker paid the royalty or a store locked to the console that assures you can’t side load the thing, paying Nintendo a percentage of the sale (getting around that lock will likely be a full time project for some hackers).
Even though Google isn’t in this space, NVIDIA is with a relatively complete line of game systems ranging from a hand held game product, to a high performance gaming tablet, to their latest a set top box—all running Android. Up until now they have access to games that were generally developed for other Android devices, which in most cases means they don’t use much of the additional power the Shield technology provides and streamed games from NVIDIA’s Grid cloud gaming services, which are impressive but basically come from their PC portfolio. There aren’t any truly high performance games developed for a gaming console.
But when there are two gaming consoles running higher end hardware, Android developers should be motivated – at least more so than they were – to build more advanced games to make use of the more advanced hardware on Android.
Now initially this Nintendo move should raise all boats, bringing more developers to the combined platforms since porting between NVIDIA’s use of Android and Android TV from Nintendo’s Android implementation and back should be relatively easy, but what about long term?
Wrapping Up. The Devil Will Be in the Details
This will certainly strengthen Android but this will likely be a test of the two models. Whether working through Android is more lucrative than working around them. I think it likely Nintendo is considering the Amazon route, and working around Google rather than with them. Now we saw with Amazon as long as you stayed close to something you were uniquely good at, like reading, this worked fine but if you tried for a more generic product like a Smartphone, it didn’t work well at all. A game console is at least as focused as a Kindle reader however Amazon made its move when Android on tablets was far weaker and newer and you wonder if it would work as well now. Game consoles are new though and that suggests Nintendo’s move could have similar benefits to Amazon’s. In this case, it might save the company, which has dropped into near irrelevance of late. We’ll see, but reality or foolish rumor it will drive more eyes and interest to NVIDIA’s Shield Set Top Box because it’s already in market.
President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group
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