Atari Founder Nolan Bushnell Claims Mobile Games Are "Over"

Atari Founder Nolan Bushnell Claims Mobile Games Are "Over"

image

Nolan Bushnell sees big things for the future of gaming, but videogames designed specifically for mobile platforms are not one of them.

In a newly-published interview with AllThingsD ostensibly held to promote Busnell's new book Finding The Next Steve Jobs, the Atari co-founder (who is arguably even more famous as one of the people behind the moribund Chuck E. Cheese line of restaurants) discusses the most impressive upcoming projects in the world of gaming. He cites the Oculus Rift VR headseat and Google's Google Glass project as important new ventures, but then slams the mobile gaming space.

"I think the next big game opportunity is [Google Glass]. If I told you all my ideas for it, I'd have to kill you. And the Oculus Rift," Bushnell states. "The game business reinvents itself every five years. The last five years have been the days of mobile gaming and shortform gaming, exemplified by Rovio with Angry Birds and Zynga with FarmVille. And that is over."

When asked to elaborate, Bushnell claims that the novelty of mobile gaming has simply run its course. "Most games, by their nature, have a half-life of two years or less," he says. "It's the outlier that has a half-life that's longer than that."

"But that doesn't mean that the marketplace is synchronized. So you have the early adopters coming into something, and they soon encourage the more timid to come in. It broadens the group. But players' engagement is not lengthened."

In more practical terms, Bushnell sees the current mobile platforms as quickly becoming oversaturated with too-similar products. "Do I really want to do a mobile game that's one of 300,000, where discoverability is everything? You really have to have a little more sizzle on the steak. I would rather be one of 100 apps for Google Glass than one of 300,000 for iOS and Android," Bushnell adds.

While there are certainly many people who would disagree with Bushnell's sentiments - all of the people employed by Rovio and Zynga, for instance - even a cursory glance at the Android or iOS app stores would seeming support his claim that the mobile space, while initially lucrative, has become overwhelmed by developers attempting to cash in on the latest fad en masse. If you have a smartphone handy, run a search in either of those stores for the term "craft" and let me know how many blatant Minecraft rip-offs you find. The same goes for terms like "war," "duty," and "combat." You can't fault small-time developers for leaping at the promise of quick cash, but this deluge of me-too games has diluted the mobile gaming space to the point where it's almost impossible to separate the wheat from the poorly-coded chaff.

If there's a silver lining to all of this, it's that history already offers a template of how this may inevitably play out. Bushnell's own Atari Corporation was largely responsible for a similar oversaturation in the console space in the early 1980s, which lead to the videogame crash of 1983. Fortunately for our collective pastime, Shigeru Miyamoto and his colleagues at Nintendo came along shortly after and introduced a certain mustachioed plumber whose popularity sparked a resurgence in the home gaming industry, and once Nintendo had installed strict regulations on which games could and could not appear on the platform, the console business was free to grow into the multi-billion-dollar industry it is today.

Can the same happen in the mobile space? That's anyone's guess, but at the rate the segment is going, an Atari-esque crash seems almost inevitable.

Source: AllThingsD

Permalink

You know what's also over? Smoking pipes
Anyone who even knows the word "Zygna" knows that Mobile games are over saturated, but that's not going to stop them being made

Well, it seems like a shortsighted opinion that ignores a huge, casual playerbase, but he does have a beard and a pipe, so I'm torn.

"Over" may be a bit strong, but he does have a point. I think people will continue to buy and enjoy mobile games, but anyone hoping to cash in on the "boom" is probably a little late to the party.

It will take a lot of work, and probably money, to stand out in the current market. It is simply over-saturated.

What's with everybody saying things are over? If analysts/developers are to be believed, console gaming, PC gaming, AND mobile games are over. Doesn't really leave a whole lot of options.

It reminds me of Armageddon doom-sayers. This guy might as well be on the street with a "THE END IS HERE" sign. Though that might go well with the look he's currently sporting.

My initial response was 'bullshit. Mobile games make tons' but then I read his point and it makes sense. It's not that mobile games can't make you rich, it's that there are so many that the chances that you will make the one that takes off is very small. Still, small investment involved makes it still worth it probably.

DVS BSTrD:
You know what's also over? Smoking pipes
Anyone who even knows the word "Zygna" knows that Mobile games are over saturated, but that's not going to stop them being made

Not making money would stop them from being made, which over-saturation can often lead to (as stated in the article, if anyone should know this, it's the founder of Atari)

As far as VR gaming being the future, he may have a point. It's been tried before & didn't work, but that's because the technology couldn't match the concept. Google Glass could really do a lot to legitimize Augmented Reality as a suborder of gaming; my biggest disappointment with the 3DS & PS Vita was that so little was done with their AR gaming potential & that was what I was most excited about before they released.

ccdohl:
Well, it seems like a shortsighted opinion that ignores a huge, casual playerbase, but he does have a beard and a pipe, so I'm torn.

Arcades were overtaken in the market by consoles, PC's then fell behind consoles in the gaming market's focus; consoles were overshadowed by mobile gaming, while PC's made a comeback with digital distribution & the rise of the indie dev. None ever really died out, so much as slide down the bench. Happened before, probably gonna happen again.

el_kabong:
What's with everybody saying things are over? If analysts/developers are to be believed, console gaming, PC gaming, AND mobile games are over. Doesn't really leave a whole lot of options.

It reminds me of Armageddon doom-sayers. This guy might as well be on the street with a "THE END IS HERE" sign. Though that might go well with the look he's currently sporting.

He was talking not about the doom of gaming, but about a generational shift from handheld games to Virtual Reality based gaming.

Those shifts do happen, just as consoles cannibalized much of the early 2000s PC market, and then mobile gaming and Facebook flash games had became the big growth point, it's not inconcieveable that a new innovation can also make these obselete, especialy as consoles themselves are also failing to innovate, and turn them all into formerly relevant niches.

DVS BSTrD:
You know what's also over? Smoking pipes
Anyone who even knows the word "Zygna" knows that Mobile games are over saturated, but that's not going to stop them being made

This is Nolan Bushnell we're talking about, that's probably not tobacco in that pipe.

OT: Man, I wish we got to hear from this guy more often. The stories of what he got up to in the 70's and early 80's are amazing, but he hasn't really done much since he sold Atari. Of course, Atari hasn't done much without him either...

Edit: Also, what's Ralph Baer up to these days? Is he even alive anymore?

Misleading title is misleading.

He isn't claiming that mobile games are over.

He's claiming that the big boom of mobile gaming is over.

Which I think is true. The days of releasing a new fancy game on a mobile platform and getting thousands of buys within a week are over. There's simply so much stuff out there, and even so much free stuff by now, that it's simply no longer a market that can support all the developers currently working in it.

You've seen the news stories yourself, there's no shortage of previously booming and successful mobile gaming companies that are now facing reduced profits, downscaling or even bankruptcy.

Earnest Cavalli:
"I think the next big game opportunity is [Google Glass]. If I told you all my ideas for it, I'd have to kill you.

Ideas are cheap, and not all of them are good. This can be seen in the mobile market, oddly enough. And glancing over what Bushnell's done in the past decade.... I'd be impressed if he had any good ideas.

Earnest Cavalli:
In more practical terms, Bushnell sees the current mobile platforms as quickly becoming oversaturated with too-similar products. "Do I really want to do a mobile game that's one of 300,000, where discoverability is everything? You really have to have a little more sizzle on the steak. I would rather be one of 100 apps for Google Glass than one of 300,000 for iOS and Android," Bushnell adds.

The mobile market does have a glut, but his counterexample is specious at best. If it's a success, Google Glass will limit itself to 100 apps for you because why? In a world where you live and die partly by your apps, what hardware platform is going to limit itself, particularly in the early days when they need every "killer app" they can get?

Alternately, if it's not a success.... Well, would you rather be one of 300,000 for iOS or one of 30 for the Virtual Boy?

Zombie_Moogle:

As far as VR gaming being the future, he may have a point. It's been tried before & didn't work, but that's because the technology couldn't match the concept. Google Glass could really do a lot to legitimize Augmented Reality as a suborder of gaming

My guess would be that the Oculus Rift style true VR will be a lot bigger than Google Glass style AR.

First of all, it's $300 vs. $10.000, and it's specs can be improved more quickly once it's a relevant market force.

Second, I think that the past generation's mobile gaming success doesn't prove that the demand for low production value "casual games" is bigger than the demand for immersive high production value entertainment. It worked out that way, because most people didn't find desktop hardware-based AAA games appealing so far. Yet most casual gamers are willing to visit a cinema, or go skiing, or read a novel. They are not afraid of investing time and effort in hobbies, gaming just wasn't interesting enough for them until now.

Mobile games the way we have seen them over the last five years or so will die, thats inevitable but mobile gaming is just going to grow.

My own speculation would say mobile games are going to become more like so called "core" games as devices increase in performance. Games will become scalable, the architecture of most devices is becoming very similar. We will get games like Angry Birds on all platforms but with slightly fancier graphics and deeper mechanics. The mobile Mass Effect games where pretty good for example, if the player chose they could have them interact with Mass Effect 3 in a very limited way. In the near future the possibilities will be deeper.

Imagine a shooter "Battlefield of Duty" that releases on console, PCs and tablets and handhelds like the Vita. Consoles are already embracing tablets and the PS4 will be heavily integrated with them. "Mobile" games will simply be an extension or a part of what we already have.

Zombie_Moogle:

Arcades were overtaken in the market by consoles, PC's then fell behind consoles in the gaming market's focus; consoles were overshadowed by mobile gaming, while PC's made a comeback with digital distribution & the rise of the indie dev. None ever really died out, so much as slide down the bench. Happened before, probably gonna happen again.

I'm not really certain about the accuracy of your narrative about gaming history. Arcades fell behind when consoles became more powerful, and consoles and pcs serve different audiences, just like mobile games serve certain audiences. There is certainly some overlap, but I don't think that this history is quite so simple.

I can't wait till AR becomes the next big thing. My morning jog with the "Zombies, Run!" App will be much better when I can see the undead trying to chase me down.

el_kabong:
What's with everybody saying things are over? If analysts/developers are to be believed, console gaming, PC gaming, AND mobile games are over. Doesn't really leave a whole lot of options.

It reminds me of Armageddon doom-sayers. This guy might as well be on the street with a "THE END IS HERE" sign. Though that might go well with the look he's currently sporting.

It's Atari's thing. They just can't shut up about things being over even though technically their glory days are way over. Check out Jim Sterlings episode on skyrim and you will see him reference that Atari claimed that Single Player games were "over".

Well, it's an interesting opinion, and he may have a point in some respects. Casual (or short-form gaming, as he calls it) was a very short-sighted development, and failure to cope with the end of its cycle has killed MANY large companies.

That does not mean that mobile gaming is going away, though: there is always going to be a market as long as there are cell phones and tablets, and as long as there is Facebook. It is just going to shrink considerably.

Besides that, I'm quickly tiring of these "x platform is over, y platform is the future" statements. What I do predict in light of the sheer amount of these is that the console wars are picking up again with a few fresh contenders in the mobile (formerly handheld) market.

ccdohl:
Well, it seems like a shortsighted opinion that ignores a huge, casual playerbase, but he does have a beard and a pipe, so I'm torn.

I'd just like to thank you for reminding me that Suikoden was not a product of my imagination. I really need to dig that game out and play it again.

That's one they should port to modern platforms. Seriously.

el_kabong:
What's with everybody saying things are over? If analysts/developers are to be believed, console gaming, PC gaming, AND mobile games are over. Doesn't really leave a whole lot of options.

It reminds me of Armageddon doom-sayers. This guy might as well be on the street with a "THE END IS HERE" sign. Though that might go well with the look he's currently sporting.

the world is over, did you miss the apocalypse? we all live in a limbo now some going to heaven adn some to hell, the life is over.

ALso, does he also smoke pipes in water because clothes are over?

ccdohl:

Zombie_Moogle:

Arcades were overtaken in the market by consoles, PC's then fell behind consoles in the gaming market's focus; consoles were overshadowed by mobile gaming, while PC's made a comeback with digital distribution & the rise of the indie dev. None ever really died out, so much as slide down the bench. Happened before, probably gonna happen again.

I'm not really certain about the accuracy of your narrative about gaming history. Arcades fell behind when consoles became more powerful, and consoles and pcs serve different audiences, just like mobile games serve certain audiences. There is certainly some overlap, but I don't think that this history is quite so simple.

You're right. I was giving a very abridged version of the history, & they all do serve a different audience, but they also have gotten varying levels of attention, marketing, & funding from publishers over the years.

First of all - the article title is incorrect - he is NOT the Founder of Atari, Nolan is the Co-Founder of Atari, just like Jobs and Wozniak were the co-Founders of Apple. The difference between Apple and Atari? Jobs didn't try to sweep Wozniak under the rug and take all of the fame for himself. Ted Dabney is the other Co-Founder of Atari.

Mobile gaming is far from dead, in fact its now become the next stage in video gaming evolution, it started in arcades, then in home consoles, then PCs then more advanced home consoles with multifaceted purposes and now mobile gaming and digital downloads...

Perhaps a better analogy would be - Apples Appstore is over saturated with games, but eventually yet another device will come along and open a new market for games, however the convenience of phone, email, and gaming platform all in one is a hard mold to break and a hard buyer base to move out from, so I don't think Nolan is entirely accurate in his statement that mobile gaming is somehow coming to an end in some fashion.

If you really want to understand how games evolved from when Ted Dabney designed the Spot Motion circuit that went into the first commercial arcade game - Computer Space or how Al Alcorn built and designed Pong to the explosive arcade industry, the birth of the Atari 2600 VCS and into the spectacular implosion of Atari in 1984, along the way with all of the sex, drugs and other insanity, then pick up this book - Atari Inc. Business is Fun - www.ataribook.com

Food for thought from this month's Retro Gamer, about what happened when Atari overestimated sales of the VCS, later known as the Atari 2600, and Nolan Bushnell's reaction to slow sales:

The losses were threatening to bring the company down, and Nolan stood up at a budget meeting in late 1978 and started ranting wide-eyed "Sell off all the inventory of the VCS, we've saturated the market!" He also wanted to cancel Atari's soon to be released entry into home computers. Warner's Manny Gerard and Atari's Ray Kassar were willing to play chicken with the home console market, having faith it would revive. After some secretive efforts to try and take control of the company from Warner, Nolan was 'put on the bench' and relegated to purely advisory status, formally resigning from the company in January 1979. On the single positive note, by early 1979 it meant that Atari was sitting atop of the new consumer industry, with only the newly released Magnavox Odyssey2 a very distant second. Manny and Ray would go on to lead the company and the VCS to both its glory years and eventual downfall.

Aren't mobile games still in their infancy stage compared to consoles and PC? Granted, they sell, but it's a market and it's only been around a comparatively short amount of time. You can't just declare that...over.

The time where "everyone" could get any kind of mobile game together and make some money with it will be over soon if they aren't already.
However, there are still a lot of People who are out and about without a laptop and have some time to kill, waiting for a bus or something.
I play like two games a year like that because i play games on my phone only when i already read my feeds because games tend to eat my battery fast.

Then again, if everyone who owns a smartphone or even those what i call "reliable, functional phones" that can merely play those java games and everyone buys one game per year instead of just playing demos then there is still quite a bit of money to be made.

 

Reply to Thread

Log in or Register to Comment
Have an account? Login below:
With Facebook:Login With Facebook
or
Username:  
Password:  
  
Not registered? To sign up for an account with The Escapist:
Register With Facebook
Register With Facebook
or
Register for a free account here