When it comes to the dedicated portable games market, Nintendo is unquestionably still the leader. While 3DS got off to a slow start, sales have picked up very nicely, fueled by stronger software and a price cut. With over 19 million sold, 3DS is the king of portables, but Nintendo and the entire handheld market faces increasing pressure from smartphones and tablets. Now a startup called PlayMG is attempting to leverage the best of the Android market as a way to shake up the portable gaming sector.
GamesIndustry International spoke with T. Scott Edwards, PlayMG Corp Founding Partner and Marketing Guru, about the firm's new MG portable device and why they're so confident they have what it takes to compete in a difficult market.
PlayMG's team has a wealth of experience with consumer electronics and mobile devices. Edwards himself was recently Senior Vice President, General Manager and Chief Marketing Officer for Cricket Communications where he brought affordable wireless services to over five million customers. He's also worked in senior roles for huge tech companies like Hewlett-Packard, Gateway and Sony. Edwards believes now is the time to strike, as the handheld sector is rapidly evolving.
"We wanted to extend our wireless experience beyond phones and into an innovative consumer opportunity. We looked for areas where there were consumer problems that needed to be solved and where the industry incumbents weren't solving them and then moved very quickly. Portable gaming is in a state of transformation, and we decided we could help fuel the redesign of gaming. It was also a really fun project to do with our kids who have been very involved in the development process," he noted.
"Many consumers no longer want to pay $40 for Nintendo games when they can get the same entertainment value from app games for free or $.99"
PlayMG is a relative unknown, however, so why should gamers trust that the MG device will offer an experience they want? "Three reasons," answered Edwards. "1) Our team has more than 50 years of designing and delivering consumer tech to the market, including designing and delivering 5 million wireless phones to the US market in the last 4 years; 2) the gaming platform that we operate on is the widely known and popular Android game app market; and 3) we spent a lot of time listening to kids and parents about the problems they had with the current gaming experience and most of our innovations are inspired by them."
Kids and parents... who else might be targeting those very same consumers this holiday season? Nintendo, of course. Edwards doesn't appear to be too concerned by the house that Mario built, though. In fact, PlayMG is even pricing its MG at the same price point as 3DS: $169. (Consumers can get it for cheaper if they support the Kickstarter campaign.)
"To solve consumer needs, we considered total cost of ownership. Many consumers no longer want to pay $40 for Nintendo games when they can get the same entertainment value from app games for free or $.99. That makes $169 for the MG a lot more attractive to many consumers than the Nintendo 3DS system," insisted Edwards.
Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata would counter this by saying that all those free or cheap Android apps simply can't provide a deep experience that core gamers crave. Edwards believes that consumers are the ones who will ultimately decide.
"I think eight consecutive quarters of double digit declines speaks for itself. Einstein said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results"
"We don't believe in telling consumers what they like and don't like. Our research shows that gaming behavior is changing and many people are now defining gaming by 'occasion,' not the types of people they are. Hard Core and Casual are old school ways of talking about the multiple gaming experiences enjoyed today. There are many different types of games developed for the app marketplaces, and many are the premium 'high quality' games that were traditionally reserved for 'hard core gamers'," he continued.
With NPD reports in the US showing constant declines at retail, Edwards doesn't see much hope for the retail software market. The opportunity is digital, and he hopes PlayMG can take advantage this holiday.
"I think eight consecutive quarters of double digit declines speaks for itself. Einstein said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. We hope the MG will add some much needed innovation excitement to the portable game industry this holiday," he said.
For now, PlayMG is only launching the MG in the US market, but if things go well, it could possibly launch internationally. "At this point we are very focused on doing a great job launching in the US market. Then we will take it one step at a time; but whatever our future, we will move extremely quick. We will make and sell as many as we possibly can this holiday season, but to make sure you get one, go to Kickstarter and beat the rush," he noted.
Speaking of Kickstarter, most in the industry are now aware that you can't rely on the crowdfunding model for everything. Fatigue is setting in, and there's hardly a guarantee that Kickstarter will work to generate the funding needed for a proper launch. That's not a problem, though, Edwards told us.
"We are funded, and have been so far, to make a commercial launch this holiday," he remarked. "Kickstarter, is a wonderful vehicle to allow consumers to get involved in helping us establish our company and brand from the start, a process that has not been traditionally available to new product introductions. So the more support we can get from the Kickstarter community the better we will be able to take on the 'Big Guys' who are not offering consumers much innovation this holiday. I think we are only seeing the beginning of where Kickstarter and crowdfunding is going."
PlayMG naturally doesn't have the budget of a Nintendo or Sony, but Edwards still plans to be very active in getting the word out about the MG. "We will go to where our consumers are spending most of their time and sharing information quickly. There are 'new rules' in marketing that really bring down the barriers of not having huge budgets and we will execute on these with a great deal of fun, and more game," he said.
Considering that MG is an Android device, we wondered if there might be a plan to get PlayStation Mobile certified. Edwards doesn't appear interested in getting additional PlayStation games on the MG, though. "There are over 60,000 games available on the Android app market. We believe that will be enough to keep our customers satisfied for a while," he said.
One way to draw attention to MG, however, is to secure some exclusives, so it's not completely reliant on the Android app market. "We hope to work very closely with developers, big and small, to help fuel the redesign of gaming. That will likely include some exclusives in the future," Edwards said.
While the MG is an interesting idea, there are other Android-specific gaming devices coming to market, like Wikipad, for example. The difference, Edwards said, is that MG is still the only one that's actually a portable. You don't want to try to put a tablet in your pocket, after all.
"We don't know of any other portable, pocketable Android gaming device on the market. Our target was pretty intent that their gaming experience be able to fit in their pocket, so that is where we put our focus. We see our competition as other portable, pocketable gaming systems, but mostly those who are still dependent on expensive physical game cartridges/discs," he said.