The Nintendo DS Killer App

The hot issue in gaming today is the new portable war. The game industry just loves wars. First there was Atari, it was the only choice. Then came NES, again the only choice. There was just no arguing. But when the 16 bit era began there were two, the SNES and the Genesis. Sega vs. Nintendo. The NES made a game console a staple in any family household. For children who had one it was the ultimate toy. I had plenty of other toys, but when I was a kid, the video game consoles got the most use for the most hours. It was also the most expensive if you added in all the games. And since not everyone is rich, they can usually afford to get only one. Thus, when there are multiple consoles to choose from, people must decide. Thus, wars begin.

Ever since the epic Game Boy vs. Game Gear war Nintendo has been the king of portable gaming. With Tetris, the Narsil of the handheld world, in hand there was just no stopping the Game Boy. To this day, mainly due to continued backwards compatibility, the Game Boy has remained the only handheld system to mean squat despite serious competition.

But now Nintendo is taking a risk. The Gamecube got a false reputation as a system for little kids and suffered for it, despite being extremely profitable for Nintendo. So Nintendo got creative. While the other companies are re-hashing the same played out games year after year, Nintendo looked at Konami’s phenomena of Bemani and started thinking. First they linked the GBA into the GCN for FF:CC. They made the e-reader. They made the wavebird. They made WarioWare. And now, they are making the DS. And after that the coup de grace, the revolution will be revealed. But these are untested waters. How will gamers respond to this? We’ll have to wait and see.

I’ve posted it in various places, but this is my prediction and the reasons for it. The DS will reign. Here is why. First off, think about this. In the absolute worst situation the DS will be the next Virtual Boy. At the absolute best everybody will buy one and there will be tons of great games. And the price is pretty much gauranteed to be less than $200. Because of this, the DS will be a good investment no matter what happens. And because its a good investment, people will buy it. The PSP on the other hand might be a bad investment. Its going to be expensive, very expensive. And there is no guarantee of it being awesome. If it fails then everyone who bought it will be sitting high and dry. The DS is guaranteed to have a Zelda game, worth the price alone. The PSP is guaranteed to have GTA and Gran Turismo. Now look back in time to when the Game Boy beat the Game Gear. The reason was not hardware, Nintendo admits it. The reason was that the games that were released for the Game Boy were portable games. The same way that PC games like Quake don’t do well on home systems is the same reason that console games don’t translate into succesful portable games. Nintendo has always made games like Advance Wars. Truly portable games that would not work well anywhere else. The PSP is going to attempt to directly translate PS2 games to a smaller screen with fewer buttons. That wont work as history has shown. The GBA is so good that people buy Game Boy Players. They want to play their portable games on their TVs. When the PSP can manage that it can beat the DS.

Now that we have established that the DS will be such a success we can talk about the killer app. While talking in the car yesterday me and my roommate came to an epiphany. The killer app of the DS was discovered. The pieces of the puzzle were as follows: wireless, two screens, stylus, and the need for only one cartridge for 16 people to play a multiplayer game. What do these pieces make when you put them together? I’ll tell you. Board games in the car. That’s right. Are you tired of losing pieces to all those magnetic board games? Did your travel version of Connect 4 fall under the seat? The DS is the ultimate solution. Imagine sitting in the library and having a pick up game of Monopoly or chess. Two screens, one shows your stuff, the other screen shows the game board. The stylus makes play casual and relaxed. If the DS connects to the internet you can use it to do real gambling. You can play a few hands of hold ’em on the train ride into work for real money. You can’t tell me there’s no money in that. But for me and my friends the German Board games are the big ticket. We just love the purely strategic and tactical games involving lots of little wooden bits and pieces. With the DS we can finally play Puerto Rico or El Grande from the back of the van on the way to a geek convention. It’s geek heaven.

So while the DS will probably capture the hearts of current GBA lovers it will also be an instant sell to geeks everywhere. All the people who hang on social networks. People who play board games and strategy games. The PSP’s best hope is to get all the common folk who aren’t serious gamers. But the Playstation demographic just doesn’t play portable games. If they did, they would have bought GBAs. They can’t expect to steal market from Nintendo. The only hope is for the market to expand, and its not likely. Especially since the DS has the killer solution to all of life’s portable gaming problems. Time to go to bed. I’ll see you guys next year, in a cafe. We’ll have us a pick up game of Settlers.

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