Remember when people said that consoles were dead, and that Nintendo’s only chance for survival (and probably Apple’s only chance to get really good high-budget games on iOS) would be for Nintendo to make iPhone games?
Well, Nintendo’s new console is doing really well,1 their good iOS game «disappointed» Nintendo, while their shitty manipulative gambling-based mobile games seem to be doing well enough. And now, great iOS devs are leaving the platform.
Telling Nintendo to abandon its hardware platform for iOS was never a good idea. It doesn’t help Nintendo, and it doesn’t help iOS. There is no sustainable market on iOS for really good, non-abusive, fairly priced mid- to high-budget games, and Nintendo can’t fix that. The only company that can fix that is Apple.
I don’t think anyone should be surprised by any of this.
Importantly, so is the PS4. The Xbox One is doing okay, but considering that Microsoft nowadays seems to view the Xbox as merely a platform for playing Windows games without the hassle of actually running Windows, that’s probably not particularly surprising, either. ↩︎
NINTENDO SWITCH. Discuss.
With games like Splatoon, Zelda, and that new amazing looking Mario, itâ€™s going to do better than the Wii U, but it really feels like Nintendo is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. They donâ€™t seem to understand what makes Nintendo consoles both successful and unique. The Wii didnâ€™t sell well because it did something weird (although that helped). It sold well because when all other consoles went for online social experiences, it went for offline social experiences. Itâ€™s the console you play with friends at your house. Itâ€™s the console you play when you have people sitting next to you on the sofa.
The games that make Nintendo successful are games like Mario Party and Wii Bowling and Mario Kart. Games that you want to play with friends, who then want to play them with their friends because theyâ€™re so much fun.
The Switch fails to add anything to that experience, when it could have done something really cool: it could have introduced the ability to play offline multiplayer games and give each player secrets that their friends canâ€™t see - by giving everybody a screen.
Look, Iâ€™ll pick one up, and Iâ€™ll play all of the games, and Iâ€™ll have fun playing them, but unless they get amazing third-party support and people will start wanting to play these games on the Switch instead of the PS4 or Xbox One, this is not a console thatâ€™ll sell a hundred million units.
Combining TV and portable consoles into one was the right move, it just wasnâ€™t done ruthlessly enough. When you combine your TV console and your portable console into one, your TV experience should benefit from what portable consoles bring to the table; the portableâ€™s screen shouldnâ€™t disappear in a freaking docking station.
What do you think?
I’m not sure I have a long email in me right now. Let’s see what happens.
You’re proposing that Nintendo’s success came from party games and playing with your friends. And I think it’s true that they’re great at party games. But in a pie chart that explains their success, I think you’d attribute a larger part of the pie to in-person social interaction than I would. I’d say it’s big but not the primary thing.
I love playing Splatoon online. I love playing Zelda all by myself. Both are possible with in-person friends, but they don’t demand it. And trust me, I’m the biggest fan of party games I know. Easily. So I get it. When Mario added ways to let a second person play in Sunshine and then in New Super Mario Brothers I just about died with happiness.
Now. The second screen. I am all in on the second screen. But I have two thoughts here:
- I’m pretty sure average users care about the secret-showing second screen far less than us
- Designing for the second screen is a whole new thing for devs. It’s a good thing, but it adds time.
And here’s a third thing:
- I’m fearful enough about Nintendo’s future that I’d rather they get a bit more pragmatic.
So would it be cooler if the base station could power a TV separately from the tablet, opening two screen stuff? Yes. And maybe it’s still possible, I dunno. But let’s assume there’s a cost to developers designing for it, and a cost to the hardware, and that not all games will support it. None are insurmountable issues, but I’m drawn to the simplicity of «the tablet is the CPU period.»
And 100,000,000 units? Whatever. If it’s profitable and good, I’m ok with that. I’m suspecting it will be both. But if it’s not, Wii U tells us it’s not because of a lack of a second screen. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a «gimmick» but people are perfectly fine without it. Even though I personally love it.
Apologies for the length of this response.
Think of it like this: how do people decide which console to buy? Basically, I think there are three kinds of customers for consoles, and they have different kinds of approaches.
1: There are core gamers, who read stuff about videogames online, and know what kinds of things they like, and talk to other gamers about these things. These are the people for whom Zelda and Splatoon and Metroid are created. But in the last few generations, most of these people have gone for Microsoft and Sony consoles, not for Nintendo consoles. Nintendo could sometimes get them to also buy a Wii or a Gamecube in addition to their other console, but I think itâ€™s highly unlikely that Nintendo will truly be able to compete for these people, particularly now that theyâ€™ve given up competing on specs. The Gamecube was the last console that had a real shot at this audience, and it failed to attract many core gamers.
2: There are people who like playing videogames, but donâ€™t see it as part of their identity, and are only vaguely informed about whatâ€™s happening on the market. For these people, social interactions matter. Most of the people who bought a Wii bought one because they played it at a friendâ€™s place. Thatâ€™s how the console spread. I think itâ€™s easier for Nintendo to convince these people to buy a Switch, than to convert people who usually buy Sony or Microsoft consoles.
3: Finally, there are kids, who donâ€™t make their own buying decisions. Their parents make these decisions for them. Here, again, social interactions matter. Parents talking to each other about games theyâ€™ve experienced themselves; if youâ€™ve played Wii Bowling, the concept of giving your kid a Wii is way less scary than giving them a PS4.
I agree that people donâ€™t care about a second screen, but they do care about games. Hereâ€™s an example. A lot of people like playing board games, but most people play them only rarely, because you have to read the manual, set everything up, explain the rules to everybody, it just takes a lot of time to get it going. Virtual board games would be nice, but most board games only work when players can have secret information. You canâ€™t have secret information on a TV console, where everybody can see the screen.
How well do you think something like Settlers of Catan would do on a Nintendo console, where you play the actual game with your actual friends, but you donâ€™t have to set up the board, and donâ€™t really have to explain the rules all that well (the game guides you)? I think it might do quite well, and might actually be a reason for a lot of people to get a Switch.
I donâ€™t think pragmatic works for Nintendo. The N64 was pragmatic; it was a better version of the PS1. It did much worse than its predecessors, the NES and SNES. The Gamecube was pragmatic (it even had discs). It did worse than even the N64. In the context of the Wii, the Wii U was pragmatic, and it ended up being Nintendoâ€™s worst-selling console.
The Wii was not pragmatic, and it did well. The DS was not pragmatic, and it did well. The 3DS was not pragmatic, and itâ€™s still doing well.
The thing is, I think Nintendo isnâ€™t in the console business. Theyâ€™re in the toy business. And toys have to be interesting. With a toy, you donâ€™t care about processing power and memory, you care about whether itâ€™s unique and novel and fun and whether you can talk to your friends about it.
To some degree, this does apply to the Switch. I donâ€™t think the Switch is a bad toy; I think itâ€™s fine. Iâ€™m looking forward to having one, and the idea of being able to play TV games on a handheld console appeals to me (thatâ€™s what I use my Vita for, streaming PS4 games).
The Switch isnâ€™t bad. I just think it could have been a lot more interesting.
About the 100 million units: the console that does the best in any given generation usually does around a 100 million units. After the Wii and the DS, this has become the way people measure Nintendoâ€™s success. The 3DS is only going to end up selling about 80 million when itâ€™s taken off the market? What a failure!
I agree that, from a financial point of view, selling 30 or 40 million units of the Switch would probably be okay for Nintendo, and would give them a good market for selling their games. Hell, even the Wii U probably made them some money, all things considered. It outsold the Vita quite easily, and has plenty of games that sold over (or almost) a million copies, all from Nintendo.
But Nintendo is a publicly traded company. «Making some money» isnâ€™t enough.
So my fear is not that Nintendo canâ€™t be profitable.
My fear is that, when the Switch «only» sells 40 million units, the people complaining about Nintendo making its own hardware instead of being a third-party software developer for Apple will effectively force Nintendo to become another Sega - to everybodyâ€™s detriment.
I agree with a lot of this.
I think everyone is always going to complain about Nintendo, regardless of how much they sell. And people like us are always going to be fearful that they’re about to disappear if they don’t get their numbers up.
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It should be noted, though, that this is not indicative of a problem with the console market as a whole. The PS4 and Xbox One are still outselling their predecessors, with the PS4 doing particularly well. Instead, this is the result of Nintendo transitioning to a new console generation. Nintendo announced the NX, the Wii U’s successor, back in April, which flatlined software sales, and cratered hardware sales. What’s more, Nintendo has not released any major games for the Wii U since around February,1 instead apparently opting to focus on developing for the NX.
What’s more, Nintendo’s mobile game Miitomo is underperforming, with Nintendo’s whole smart devices section contributing just $15 million to this quarter.
Obviously, not releasing any games for your current console, telling people that they’ll soon be able to buy a totally new console, and hoping that a mobile game will save your bacon, is not good for your bottom line.
No, I don’t think Star Fox Zero, released in April, counts as a major game. ↩︎
Iâ€™ve been advocating for Nintendo to fully commit to making games for mobile since 2013 (parts one and two). I just re-read both pieces and they both hold up really well. I hate to say it (OK, I love to say it), but it looks like I was right.
That kind of remains to be seen.
In fact, it’s possible that Apple makes more money on PokÃ©mon GO than Nintendo does.3
The real Nintendo mobile games - Fire Emblem and Animal Crossing - should come out later this year.
But there are three other points to be made here.
Nintendo is profitable without mobile games
Much of the argument for Nintendo to create mobile games was based on the idea that Nintendo could not survive just selling its own consoles. I think it’s fair to say that the last few years have shown this to be false. Even with the Wii U being an abysmal failure, Nintendo is consistently profitable.4
Mobile might not be a clear win for Nintendo
PokÃ©mon GO is doing very well right now, apparently making $1.6 million a day. But this shows the problem with the App Store: PokÃ©mon GO is a lottery win. It’s the game everybody5 is playing right now.
There’s a good chance that Animal Crossing will do similarly well. But will other Nintendo franchises? Will Fire Emblem?
And I think it’s worth comparing PokÃ©mon GO’s success to Nintendo’s current console games. As of right now, the Wii U game Splatoon has sold 4.5 million copies. Nintendo usually doesn’t discount games much, so it’s still listed at 50$ on Amazon. Let’s say the average selling price of a copy was 50$. That’s 225 million in sales, a large part of which is pure profit for Nintendo - if it’s sold in Nintendo’s own online store, it’s 100% profit.
For PokÃ©mon GO to achieve the same kinds of numbers, it will have to continue doing this well for quite a while, particularly given that Nintendo will see very little of the money PokÃ©mon GO is currently raking in.
That’s not to say that PokÃ©mon GO can’t achieve those numbers - but how many of Nintendo’s other games will be lottery wins the size of PokÃ©mon GO? Granted, not every Nintendo game is as successful as Splatoon, either, but the fact that Nintendo made this much money on a game released for a console that is universally (and rightly) seen as a complete failure is telling.
Nintendo on mobile is not a clear win for us
One final point: it feels a little bit disheartening to see the adulation Nintendo is currently getting for moving towards the same kind of manipulative, free-to-play, IAP-monetized games we get from tons of other rather questionable mobile gaming companies. It really took a very short amount of time for us to accept these games as the new normal.
Sure, PokÃ©mon GO is not the worst offender.6 But if we eventually end up with a Nintendo that’s producing the same kinds of games that everybody else is doing on mobile platforms, what have we really gained? Is there a reason to celebrate Nintendo games on iOS at all?7
If PokÃ©mon GO is the Nintendo of the future, why do we need Nintendo at all?
When people originally started talking about Nintendo games on iOS, it was because many were hoping that Nintendo would change the economics of mobile game development for the better. Surely, if only Nintendo released a Mario game for the iPhone, people would see that it was possible to make money on iOS with real games that didn’t rely on gambling mechanics to get whales to spend disproportionate amounts of money?8
It’s still possible that Nintendo will do exactly that when they release games like Fire Emblem.
But PokÃ©mon GO is not that game.
Game Freak, Nintendo, and Creatures jointly own The PokÃ©mon Company, who actually owns the PokÃ©mon IP. ↩︎
Most cross-platform mobile games make the majority of their sales on iOS. Apple makes 30%. Nintendo owns 33% of The PokÃ©mon Company. Do the math.
This probably explains why Apple bloggers are so happy about mobile games from Nintendo: they benefit Apple way more than they do Nintendo. ↩︎
They did post a net loss for the current quarter after I published this post (possibly due to a lack of relevant game releases this quarter, since most game development seems to be focused on the planned NX console), but at the same time, Nintendo forecast yearly operating profit to climb 37 percent compared to last year. ↩︎
Yeah, even though it’s not officially released over here yet, people are playing it. ↩︎
«Congratulations! You’re not the worst!» ↩︎
Well, I guess there is if you own Apple stock. ↩︎
By the way, I’m not saying that non-manipulative games that make money on mobile don’t exist, just that, looking at the top selling apps, they’re the rare exception. ↩︎
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When designing forms, there’s a pretty deep chasm between the needs of the developer, and the needs of the user. Developers want structured, normalized data. Users want to enter data in whatever format suits them best.
Forcing people to enter structured data causes usability problems.
What do you mean, it’s not a valid phone number? Looks valid to me - except that the backend wants just numbers, no special characters, and isn’t smart enough to strip out all of the characters that the user has entered.
Commonly, designers try to solve this by telling people what kind of format data needs to be in. This can be done using placeholders that show example data in the correct format.
The problem here is that the placeholder disappears as soon as people start typing, so exactly when they actually need this information, it’s no longer visible.
Another approach is to try to be as liberal as possible when accepting input values. So maybe the backend strips out all special characters, and only retains the numbers. But that’s difficult to do; what if I enter an international phone number?
Stripping out the plus sign results in an invalid phone number. So getting the backend right can be hard, and getting it wrong means that the form accepts (or produces) invalid data, which is never a good idea.
Worse, people have become so accustomed to inconsiderate text fields that they may be confused when they encounter a text field that doesn’t offer any guidance about how its contents should be formatted.
Yet another attempt at solving this problem is to use input masks. Instead of showing a simple text field, the field is split up into multiple fields, or contains logic that applies correct formatting while the user is entering text.
As the user starts entering text, that text is automatically formatted correctly, and the mask is changed to indicate what kind of text remains to be typed.
This satisfies the needs of backend developers by forcing people into entering data in a very specific format, and also help users by providing clear, interactive guidance.
These fields are quite common on web forms. Because they are not part of many widely used UI libraries, but are implemented with custom JS code, there are few commonly accepted UI guidelines. There are no standards outlining how they should work, and as a result, most of these input masks work differently in slightly perfidious ways.
In order to implement input masks, designers have to make a lot of small interaction design decisions that don’t have universally accepted correct answers. Regardless of which decisions designers make, there will be users who will be surprised by these decisions.
So whatever you do, you’ll end up annoying or confusing some of your users.
In fact, I think I’ve never encountered an input mask that didn’t annoy me.
Let’s take a look at some examples.
Input masks for serial numbers often split the one field up into multiple fields.
Once the user has entered the first four letters, focus is automatically shifted to the next field:
Unfortunately, no other text field works like this. If you do usability tests on these fields, you’ll find that a large portion of your users won’t notice that the caret was moved to the next field, possibly because they’re typing a serial number that’s printed on a physical card, and aren’t paying much attention to what’s happening on the screen. They’ll hit tab…
…enter the next four characters, and end up with this:
Clearly, that’s not the intended outcome.
A similar problem occurs with single-field input masks. Let’s go back to the phone number example. Let’s say the user enters the first six letters. At this point, the input mask will automatically type the dash, so that the user doesn’t have to.
However, the user might not notice that the dash was typed automatically, and might type the dash, resulting in this:
Now think about deleting. Let’s go back to the previous situation:
If the user hits the delete key, what should happen? The field (probably) filled in the dash, so a lot of input fields ignore the dash, and delete the character before the dash.
But this is kind of crazy. No other text field on your computer deletes two characters if you hit delete once. In fact, the user probably hit delete twice quickly in succession, thinking that it would take two deletes to get rid of the one character before the dash, and thus inadvertently deleted two characters instead of one.
Clearly, not what the user wanted.
Because there are no standardized, widely accepted behaviors for input masks, it’s best to avoid «magical» behaviour (e.g. automatically entering characters that the user did not type), or, if you do need magical behavior, also account for user behavior that does not expect magical behavior.
For example, if the field auto-tabs to the next field, and the user also tabs right after filling in a field, it might be best to ignore the user’s tab.
If it looks like a duck, make it walk and quack like a duck
if there’s a UI element that looks pretty much like a text field, has the same function as a text field, and behaves very similarly to a text field, maybe it’s best not to change how basic features like the delete key work.
If you create a new control that kind of looks like an existing control, the new control should not violate people’s expected behavior of the existing control. In other words, text fields with input masks’ behavior should be as close to a normal text field’s behavior as possible.
Don’t be clever
Don’t be too clever for your own good; if a simple, easy to understand interaction works, it’s often better to go with that than to go with a clever, possibly hard to predict interaction.
Do no harm
Follow the principle of least harm. If there are multiple ways a user interface can behave, pick the one that does the least harm (e.g. deletes the fewest characters when the user starts a destructive action).
To find out how users actually expect your user interface to work, it’s always best not to be too smart, but to run some usability tests, and find out.
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For the last months, I’ve been working on an updated version of Designed for Use. It’s now available!
Among many others, the second edition includes the following amazing changes:
- Four totally new, never before seen chapters,1 bringing the total from 35 to 40!2
- Fixed all of the links!3
- When ordered directly from the publisher,4 the print version is now in full color!5
- Fixed spelling errors and other mistakes!
- Fixed images and updated screenshots!
- The table of contents is now actually useful!6
- You can now get the Kindle version directly from Amazon, and have it auto-beamed to your Kindle!
If you own the first edition of the book and bought it from the publisher, you should already have received an eBook of the second edition. If you don’t yet own the book, you can buy it directly from the publisher, or from amazon.com.
Contrary to what other people have claimed, the book indeed contains a whole four new chapters! Not just three! ↩︎
But Lukas, I hear you say, that sounds like five new chapters, not just four! True, but I also split one existing chapter into two, so there are four new chapter plus one chapter that turned into two chapters, which I’m not counting, because that would be cheating. ↩︎
It’s amazing how many of the linked webpages have disappeared in the relatively short time this book has been out. ↩︎
If you order the cheaper version from Amazon, it’s printed in black and white, though. ↩︎
Technically, the first edition of the book has been available in color for about a year now, so you might already have a color version of the printed book. ↩︎
It contains descriptions of all of the chapters. ↩︎
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Samurais had only just been abolished when Nintendo started doing business. Nintendo has always been on its own track. And now thatâ€™s changing.
Take your Zelda and NX announcements, discuss them all day if you have to, but the most monumental announcement is the birth of a Nintendo that no longer marches to its own tune.
Nintendo has always been at its best and at its worst1 when it ignored what everybody else was doing, and carved out its own path. With the announcement that Nintendo will start making real mobile games, not just PokÃ©mon spin-offs and weird experiments, and with this announcement of Nintendo’s leadership changes, we might have lost the single most important, most daring, most peculiar voice in gaming.
At its worst financially â€” personally, I still think that Mario Tennis on the Virtual Boy is a fantastic game. ↩︎
Focusing is saying yes, right? No. Focusing is about saying no. Youâ€™ve got to say, no, no, no. The result of that focus is going to be some really great products where the total is much greater than the sum of the parts.
I think that most companies canâ€™t be successful with one stack of system software. Rarely can they manage two.