Tag Archives: $NTDOY

A Thought On Nintendo ($NTDOY, #innovation)

Although Nintendo missed its sales targets for the Nintendo 3DS platform, they still sold enough of the systems and its games to give credence to the argument that Nintendo’s business model (independent hardware manufacturer plus proprietary franchise software development) has not been killed and buried in a ditch by the transition to mobile, freemium, changing lifestyles, etc.

What is missing in most discussions of Nintendo’s fortunes, however, is the following fact: what has appeared to die is the profitability of Nintendo’s business model.

That is to say, Nintendo still has a market for its proprietary business model, but going forward it appears to be a marginally profitable effort. However, a business with marginal profitability could have strategic (ie, competitive, brand) value, which is why Nintendo may have decided to keep their hat in that ring.

But it is clear now that Nintendo is a box of cash, with potentially valuable franchise IP sitting on top of it, pursuing a “blue ocean” market.

In other words, Nintendo is not presently an operating company, but a development company that might transform back into an operating company at a later date.

Therefore, the analysis of the value of Nintendo now and in the future hinges on the answers to several questions:

  1. How much, and at what rate, will Nintendo Development Company (NDC) burn through their cash stockpile before finding a new operating business? And will they burn through all of it?
  2. What potential valuable uses do their existing IP have that they are not yet considering them for?
  3. Will NDC’s existing franchise IP have value in their new, blue ocean market?
  4. How valuable will the new, blue ocean market be relative to the past size and scope of the company, its present market cap, size of present cash hoard, etc.? (That is, how big is the potential future market?)
  5. Will they abandon their previous markets once they’ve secured a new market?

Notes – Nintendo Back In The Saddle? ($NTDOY, @ActiveInvesting, @NintendoAmerica)

On January 23rd, 2013, Nintendo pushed out another “Nintendo Direct” communication from the company to the gaming public, discussing their upcoming plans and vision for the newly released Wii U home console. The reaction of one major gaming media outfit, IGN, was telling:

Finally.

That’s really the only word that comes to mind after watching Nintendo’s new ‘Direct’ broadcast. In just over 30 minutes, the game publishing giant not only made a better case for the future of Wii U than in the previous 12 months, it managed to surpass the hype it generated at its past two E3 outings – combined.

[...]

Today Nintendo did something remarkable, in a way that puts most other developers and publishers to shame. Though the Big N is often quiet and secretive, it has managed to find a modern, progressive format to deliver its news directly to its fans, while retaining its trademark sense of humility. In 30 minutes, over a dozen games were showcased, some coming in mere months, others perhaps years away. Regardless, the message was clear – Wii U is not only home to innovative new play styles for families, but epic, core experiences that rival the grandest, most ambitious endeavors available elsewhere.

And these games are entirely, completely exclusive, all tied to Nintendo directly as a software publisher, not as a licensor. The sheer glee of Wonderful 101 won’t be coming to Xbox 360. The visual brilliance of Yoshi’s Island won’t be appearing on a phone with loads of in-app purchases. PlayStation 3 will never get a HD remake of the timeless, gorgeous Wind Waker.

That’s what made today so remarkably potent – for any gamer who actually cares about games instead of arbitrary, meaningless console supremacy. Nintendo has started to provide a real sense of strategy for Wii U. The GamePad’s much-hyped innovation doesn’t matter without games. Neither does Miiverse’s social connectivity. Nor the fact that all those Wii remotes and games will still work. None of that matters without compelling games. But those features and ideas, once combined with software we can’t get anywhere else, collectively start to say something powerful. Something special. At the end of the day, gamers care about games. That’s what they want, and nothing else matters. [emphasis added]

What’s worth noting here is that the editors at IGN seem to have gotten a clear sense of Nintendo’s overarching strategy in this latest “Nintendo Direct”, a strategy which was laid bare in the book on the company I reviewed late last year called Nintendo Magic:

For some reason, Nintendo observers and critics don’t get this– why isn’t the company doing what everyone else is doing? Why are they making a console with a TV remote instead of HD graphics (the Wii)?

To Nintendo, the risk is in not trying these things and trying to do what everyone else does.

The guys at the top of the company and most responsible for its current development (Iwata and Miyamoto) are software guys at the end of the day, and the hardware innovations in the Wii U and predecessor systems were all about driving unique software experiences. Those software experiences are now being divulged en masse, to early critical acclaim.

There’s more in the original IGN.com article worth reading for the curious. And if you missed the review of Nintendo Magic, this is a good opportunity to go back and check it out, then compare those notes with how Nintendo has handled the Wii U rollout and how it comported itself in this latest “Nintendo Direct.”

Perhaps one might not agree with their direction and strategy, but at this point I think it’s hard to argue there is no consistency. And to a long-term investor who understands the strengths and success of this strategy in the past, I find that comforting.

(Click here for all coverage of $NTDOY on valueprax.)

Inside The Minds Of Wall St Analysts & Earnings Reports: Spotlight Nintendo ($NTDOY)

This post is about Nintendo, specifically, and about the logic of the earnings season and Wall St analysts, generally. Let’s start in reverse order.

The following is from Michael Pachter, a securities analyst with Wedbush Securities (WallStCheatSheet.com):

We expect a Q2 miss. Nintendo is likely to report Q2 results below our estimates for revenue of ¥100 billion and EPS of ¥(127), compared to consensus of ¥108 billion and ¥(84) and implied guidance of ¥145 billion and ¥(22).

I don’t really care what the forecast or expectations are, here. What Nintendo does or does not report tomorrow is immaterial to the point I want to make. Look at who is responsible here.

According to Wall St logic, a company is responsible for missing Wall St’s targets. It is not Wall St that is responsible for accurately modeling and anticipating a company’s results. In this sense, there is something holy and sacred and inviolable about such forecasts– they represent a hurdle for a company like Nintendo to cross over, if it’s good enough. If it’s not good enough, the company will “disappoint” everyone in the financial community by not overcoming these (somewhat arbitrarily chosen) performance targets.

It seems entirely backwards. The company is going to perform as it’s going to perform, regardless of Wall St expectations. If anyone creates disappointment, it should be the Wall St analysts who are held responsible. What should be disappointing is that with their salaries, schooling and deep focus on these companies, they still can’t manage to accurately forecast their earnings from quarter to quarter.

If you think about it, it’s ridiculous for a company to ever “miss” its Wall St earnings forecast because these can be adjusted on the fly, all the time. In fact, this entire exercise of writing a report like this saying you “expect a miss” is an absurdity. If you expect a miss, then recalibrate your forecast to what you think is actually going to happen. It’s preposterous to act surprised with a “miss” tomorrow, when you said ahead of time that you were expecting it.

This seems to be part of the Wall St priesthood tradition. Analysts can’t accurately forecast earnings just like investors can’t– the future is uncertain. This is one of the tenets of value investing. But somehow, despite Wall St analysts trying and failing to do the impossible, the ill result is not their fault.

The last bit of commentary is specific to Nintendo:

We think that Wii U’s price points are appropriate given likely demand from Nintendo’s core fan base, but believe that pricing will be too high to sustain long-term demand. Demand for the Wii U will likely wane once Nintendo’s core fan base has purchased the first 6-7 million units, especially given the number of cheaper, comparable alternatives. For example, the prices of the Xbox 360 Kinect bundles have been reduced by $50 at Amazon, GameStop, and Wal-Mart.

DS and 3DS unit guidance is likely unrealistic. Nintendo guided to growth for combined DS/3DS hardware and software units for FY:13. In our view, handheld hardware sales will continue to decline due to migration of casual gamers to mobile devices. We do not expect handheld hardware to see a rebound in sales without price cuts. Similarly, we think that overall handheld software growth is unlikely.

Maintaining our NEUTRAL rating and our 12-month price target of ¥10,000, a slight premium to Nintendo’s ¥9,000/share in cash, giving it credit for brand equity. We cannot assign a P/E, given the company’s low potential to generate significant profits in light of declining product demand and unfavorable F/X.

I don’t know how to put this… this is just stupid. And it demonstrates zero creativity and zero ability to think beyond the end of one’s nose.

First, the analyst is confusing things. Perhaps casual gamers were partly responsible for the booming success of the Nintendo Wii, but few have ever made the argument that “casual gamers” are a big market demographic for the company’s handheld systems, like the Nintendo DS. Surely, wouldn’t someone who is so in love with gaming that they must have a portable system to carry with them everywhere they go be the opposite of a “casual gamer”?

Second, the analyst is being pseudo-precise. The Nintendo Wii sold almost 100M units worldwide since release. But the analyst calculates that the “core audience” is only 6-7M customers? So approximately 90M, or about 90%, of all sales were to casual, non-core gamers? How precise can an estimate like this be?

Third, the analyst confuses apples and oranges. The emphasis on price cuts to make Nintendo’s products competitive from here on out implies that the experience Nintendo sells is identical to the one offered for free or cheaply on mobile phones and other devices which are now deemed to be “competitors” to Nintendo’s product. By this logic, Nintendo is vastly overcharging for its wares. It’s hard to spell this out in simple terms but, is there an analog experience to that of an epic puzzle adventure game such as the Legend of Zelda series on smartphone app games? How would one play something as complex as Pikmin with the ability only to tap on the screen to control the gameplay experience? Or even something as simple as Mario Kart? These are not comparable experiences so the argument that Nintendo must cut prices to be competitive doesn’t hold water– it’s like arguing that Mercedes-Benz needs to cut the price of the S-Class or else they’ll lose all their customers to the Nissan Sentra.

Fourth, the analyst is being inconsistent. To give the company brand equity credit, and any non-zero valuation at all when one argues that Nintendo must cut their prices when they can’t and won’t do this is idiotic. Because Nintendo won’t do this, by the previous logic they’re doomed to fail, but if they’re doomed to fail the brand has no equity and it certainly shouldn’t get a premium to the cash value of shares. If anything, it should get a discount to the cash value as it’ll probably burn through more.

Fifth, the analyst is being disproportional and lacks perspective. Negative charges due to forex translation have been more than de minimis but are still a small, small fraction of revenues and total earnings. To cite ongoing forex issues as an earnings problem for the company shows a lack of respect for the true magnitude of this issue.

Sixth, and finally, this is another demonstration of Wall St’s short-term focus and inability to think of the big, long-term picture. The analyst doesn’t see ANY WAY that Nintendo can generate meaningful earnings in the next 12 months, even though it’s rolling out a brand new system without any competition from Sony or Microsoft doing the same, and even though it’s gaining sales momentum with the new 3DS system. The analyst sees NO optionality in any initiatives or efforts by this company, whatsoever. And, even though the stock market is supposed to be discounting all future cash flows of a company, therefore qualifying it as a “forward-looking” market, this analyst only cares about the next year.

Will Nintendo even be around 13 months from now? This analyst doesn’t know and doesn’t care, and seems to think that either way, the company represents such a frightening risk with 90% of his share price target in cash and no debt, that he is only willing to assign it a small premium value over that cash.

If Nintendo just scrapes by, the market should lift off once it realizes it’s not dead in the water like this analyst believes it is. And if Nintendo has another hit on its hands, with the Wii U or otherwise, it’s really going to catch everyone with their pants down.

Which is quite an embarrassing position to be in.

Oh, and one other thing– the smartphone gaming ecosystem seems to be in the process of cannibalizing itself. I don’t think they’ll present much of a threat for ol’ Nintendo.

Review – Nintendo Magic ($NTDOY, #videogames, #business)

Nintendo Magic: Winning the Videogame Wars (buy on Amazon.com)

by Osamu Inoue, published 2009, 2010 (translated from Japanese)

A “valueprax” review always serves two purposes: to inform the reader, and to remind the writer.

Two Nintendo legends no one seems to know about

The original Nintendo started out as a manufacturer of playing cards and other toys, games and trinkets near the end of the Shogunate era in Japan, but the modern company we know today which gave the world the Nintendo Entertainment System, the Game Boy, the Wii and characters like Mario & Luigi and Pokemon, was primarily shaped by four men: former president Hiroshi Yamauchi, lead designer Gunpei Yokoi, the firm’s first software designer Shigeru Miyamoto and the first “outside hire” executive and former software developer, Satoru Iwata.

A family member of the then privately-held Nintendo, Yamauchi took the presidency in 1949 when his grandfather passed away. He tried adding a number of different businesses (taxis, foodstuffs, copiers) to Nintendo in true conglomerate fashion, managing in one 12 year period to grow sales by a factor of 27 and operating profits by a factor of 37.

But his most influential mark on Nintendo’s business came with his fortuitous hiring of Gunpei Yokoi, an engineer, who would head up hardware development for Nintendo’s game division. It was this strategic decision to concentrate Nintendo’s efforts on game development that would lead to the modern purveyor of hardware and software known around the world today.

Hardware engineer Gunpei Yokoi is not a well-known name outside the world of hardcore Nintendo fandom, which is not altogether surprising because most Nintendo fans alive today were not users of some of his first toy gadgets such as the “Love Detector” and the “Game & Watch” handheld mini-game consoles. On the other hand, it’s a shock that the man’s reputation is not larger than it is because he essentially single-handedly created the company’s hardware development philosophy in the 1960s which has remained with it today and continues to influence Nintendo’s strategic vision within the video game industry.

That hardware philosophy was summed up by Nintendo’s first head of its hardware development section as “Lateral thinking with seasoned technology”. In concrete terms, it is the idea of using widely available, off-the-shelf technology that is unrelated to gaming in new and exciting ways of play, for example:

  • Yokoi’s “Love Detector” game, which used simple circuitry and electrical sensors to create an instrument that could supposedly detect romantic chemistry between two users when they held hands and held the machine
  • A blaster rifle toy that used common light-sensing equipment to deliver accuracy readings of the users target shots to the rifle, registering hits and points
  • More recently, the Nintendo “Wiimote” concept, which was simply the idea of repurposing the common household TV remote into a tool for play

Yokoi’s lasting impact on the hardware (and software) philosophy at Nintendo is best captured by current president Satoru Iwata who once said,

It’s not a matter of whether or not the tech is cutting egde, but whether or not people think it’s fun

Similarly, this focus on repurposing existing technology for fun rather than investing in brand new technology helps to explain why many of Nintendo’s systems have been knocked for their not-so-hardcore hardware (think non-HD Wii vs. HD-enabled Sony PS3 and Microsoft Xbox 360) but nonetheless became massive consumer hits– the focus was on fun, not flash.

The Wii particularly was the response to the failure of two systems which preceded it (Gamecube and N64), which were extremely technologically advanced for their era and which departed as swiftly from Yokoi’s philosophy as they posed monumental development challenges for software developers due to their complex, proprietary nature. Instead of creating yet another whizbang console, Nintendo decided that if Wii’s costs were kept down and developers were free to focus on things like a new, intuitive controller and built-in connectivity functions, fun and market success would follow.

Essentially, the game hardware is a commodity with zero barriers to entry. Anyone can have the latest, greatest technology if they’re willing to pay for it. There is no way to establish a competitive advantage on the basis for hardware sophistication alone. It must come from design, or, as Yokoi put it,

In videogames, these is always an easy way out if you don’t have any good ideas. That’s what the CPU competition and color competition are about

Nintendo’s two leading lights: Satoru Iwata and Shigeru Miyamoto

Rounding out the Fantastic Four are Satoru Iwata, the company’s current president, and Shigeru Miyamoto, the star software developer.

Iwata came from relative privilege and studied computer programming in school. He had a passion for making and playing games from an early age. He joined a software developer, HAL Laboratory, early on. He successfully turned around the flagging HAL Lab before it was acquired by Nintendo.

Meanwhile, Miyamoto first came to fame through development of his Donkey Kong arcade game, which introduced the characters Donkey Kong and Mario and which was originally based off of Popeye until the IP could not be acquired for licensing. As a small boy he spent hours running around the hills, forests and mountains outside his home, which inspired many of his later game creations such as Pikmin, Animal Crossing, The Legend of Zelda, etc. He was the first designer Nintendo had ever hired. Miyamoto often utilizes his “Wife-o-meter” to help him understand how to make games that are more broadly appealing.

Miyamoto’s design ethic is best synthesized as populist-perfectionist:

When creating a game, Miyamoto will occasionally find employees from, say, general affairs who aren’t gamers and put a controller in their hands, looking over their shoulder and watching them play without saying anything

He creates game characters, game designs and immersive environments that appeal to everyone, not just the archetypical “hardcore gamer.” But this desire to serve a mass, unsophisticated audience does not mean that Miyamoto considers quality as an afterthought. Miyamoto will “polish [an idea] for years, if he has to, until it satisfies him” and “shelving an idea does not mean throwing it away. Those huge storehouses are full of precious treasure that will someday see the light of day.”

This is part of the value of Nintendo– they have many unrealized ideas waiting to be turned into hardware and games and the only thing preventing them from seeing the light of day is someone like Miyamoto who wants to make sure that when they eventually emerge into the light, they don’t just shine but sparkle.

And this thinking carries over to the company’s hardware efforts, as well. According to a lead engineer, the DS

had to work consistently after being dropped ten times from a height of 1.5 meters, higher than an adult’s breast pocket

Nintendo is “obsessed about the durability of their systems due to an overriding fear that a customer who gets upset over a broken system might never give them another chance.”

“Nintendo-ness”: how Nintendo competes by not competing

In 1999, then-president Yamauchi saw a crisis brewing for video game developers:

If we continue to pursue this kind of large-scale software development, costs will pile up and it will no longer be a viable business. The true nature of the videogame business is developing new kinds of fun and constantly working to achieve perfection

The solution was to adhere ever more closely to “Nintendo-ness”. Nintendo picks people with a “software orientation.”

“Nintendo-ness” is the company’s DNA, once someone has grasped Nintendo-ness, it is rare for them to leave the company. That tendency protects and strengthens the company’s lineage and makes employees feel at home

Manufacturing companies create hardware which are daily necessities, which compete based on being better, cheaper products. Nintendo is in an industry of fun and games, software, where polished content is the goal. Compare this to rival Sony, where hardware specs are key and the software is to follow.

According to Iwata,

Do something different from the other guy is deeply engrained in our DNA

Similarly, Nintendo-ness means delighting customers through creation of new experiences because

if you’re always following a mission statement, your customers are going to get bored with you

This way of thinking goes back to Hiroshi Yamauchi, president of Nintendo for 50 years, according to Iwata:

He couldn’t stand making the same kind of toy the other guy was making, so whatever you showed him, you knew he was going to ask, ‘How is this different from what everybody else is doing?’

For some reason, Nintendo observers and critics don’t get this– why isn’t the company doing what everyone else is doing? Why are they making a console with a TV remote instead of HD graphics (the Wii)?

To Nintendo, the risk is in not trying these things and trying to do what everyone else does. Iwata sums it up nicely:

Creators only improve themselves by taking risks

Of course, not all risks are worth taking. Iwata as a representative of Nintendo’s strategic mind makes it clear that the company is keenly aware of its strategic and financial risks:

The things Nintendo does should be limited to the areas where we can display our greatest strengths. It’s because we’re good at throwing things away that we can fight these large battles using so few people. We can’t afford to diversify. We have overwhelmingly more ideas than we have people to implement them

For example, Nintendo considers the manufacturing of game consoles to be outside its purview, a “fabless” company.

Then there’s the reason for the huge amount of cash on the balance sheet:

The game platform business runs on momentum. When you fail, you can take serious damage. The risks are very high. And in that domain, Nintendo is making products that are totally unprecedented. Nobody can guarantee they won’t fail. One big failure and boom– you’re out two hundred, three hundred billion yen. In a business where a single flop can bankrupt you, you don’t want to be set up like that… To be completely honest, I don’t think that even now we have enough [savings]… That’s why IBM, or NEC, or any number of other companies are willing to go along with us. We’d never be able to do what we do without being cash-rich

That being said, Iwata has not been shy about his policy toward dividends and acquisitions. He has stated that assuming Nintendo’s savings continue to accumulate, passing 1.5T or 2T yen, a large merger or acquisition may become a possibility. Otherwise, excess capital will be distributed as dividends.

The next level

Nintendo’s philosophy is to avoid competition. It sees the hardware arms race as an irrelevant dead-end. The key is to create new ways to interact with game consoles and software that keeps game players on their toes and brings smiles to their faces. According to Iwata,

We’d like to avoid having players think they’ve gotten a game completely figured out

Thus, for Nintendo the next level logically is integration of  User-Generated Content into their software environments, which would have inexhaustible longevity. First they sought to increase the gaming population, now they’re looking at how to increase the game-creating population.

The company’s true enemy is boredom. Whatever surprise you create today becomes your enemy tomorrow.

In the end, Iwata says,

Our goal is always to make our customers glad. We’re a manufacturer of smiles

This is what the company calls “amusement fundamentalism” and it’s what sets them apart from their perceived competition, especially comparisons or criticisms aimed at the company in terms of how it stacks up against a company like Apple. To Iwata, this just doesn’t make sense:

We’re an amusement company and Apple’s a tech company

Notes – What Does The Future Hold For Gaming? Interview With Gabe Newell ($NTDOY)

Gabe Newell, head of the innovative and successful game software-plus-gaming platform developer Steam, was interviewed at a recent shindig put on by Silicon Valley venture capital and technologist sponsors (is Valve in play?!).

Somehow, the world of app-gaming and smartphones-as-game-platforms haven’t torpedoed Valve’s growth and financial success. More cold water thrown on that unsophisticated theory. Meanwhile, Newell had some interesting concepts on the future of game distribution and design:

Everything we are doing is not going to matter in the future. … We think about knitting together a platform for productivity, which sounds kind of weird, but what we are interested in is bringing together a platform where people’s actions create value for other people when they play. That’s the reason we hired an economist.

We think the future is very different [from] successes we’ve had in the past. When you are playing a game, you are trying to think about creating value for other players, so the line between content player and creator is really fuzzy. We have a kid in Kansas making $150,000 a year making [virtual] hats. But that’s just a starting point.

Now, this is something Apple has figured out and it’s something Nintendo has figured out but is still in the early stages of implementing– users as content-creators and value-adders. I will have my review of “Nintendo Magic” up soon which goes into this a bit more but one of the most interesting takeaways I had was the fact that Iwata discussed empowering users themselves to create content and experiences with their hardware and software that would add infinite replayability to their games. This was part of their strategy for addressing the main challenge of game-making, which is that over time your game becomes stale and boring.

Related to this, Newell discussed creating open-platforms:

In order for innovation to happen, a bunch of things that aren’t happening on closed platforms need to occur. Valve wouldn’t exist today without the PC, or Epic, or Zynga, or Google. They all wouldn’t have existed without the openness of the platform. There’s a strong tempation to close the platform, because they look at what they can accomplish when they limit the competitors’ access to the platform, and they say ‘That’s really exciting.’

Part of creating an open platform means designing something that is easy to develop for. Nintendo struggled with this with the N64 and Gamecube, systems which were technologically sophisticated and powerful, but not easy to develop games for. Meanwhile, the Sony Playstation and Playstation 2 were relatively simple to develop for. The end result? Much wider software library on the Sony systems. And it is software desirability that drives hardware adoption.

Finally, the Wiimote and its new control scheme was central to the Wii’s success and Nintendo’s strategy to expand the gaming population and allow users to enjoy new experiences. The smartphone/iPad revolution has introduced the value of touchscreen control (which, by the way, the Nintendo DS adopted prior to the smartphone revolution) which has continued with the Nintendo 3DS and which is now coming to the Wii U with the touchscreen, tablet-style game controller to be packaged with the system.

But Newell actually thinks touch is a temporary control measure and that it’s “back to the future” when it comes to the next evolution, which he sees as being more motion control-oriented again:

We think touch is short-term. The mouse and keyboard were stable for 25 years, but I think touch will be stable for 10 years. Post-touch will be stable for a really long time, longer than 25 years.

Post touch, depending on how sci-fi you want to get, is a couple of different technologies combined together. The two problems are input and output. I haven’t had to do any presentations on this because I’m not a public company, so I don’t have any pretty slides.

There’s some crazy speculative stuff. This is super nerdy, and you can tease us years from now, but as it turns out, your tongue is one of the best mechanical systems to your brain, but it’s disconcerting to have the person sitting next you go blah, blah, blah, blah.

I don’t think tongue input will happen, but I do think we will have bands on our wrists, and you’ll be doing something with your hands, which are really expressive.

Was Nintendo ahead of its time? Will Nintendo “return to its roots” on this? Perhaps the design team is already thinking this way? They haven’t abandoned the Wiimote with the next-gen Wii U.

Personally, what Newell is saying makes sense to me. I think touch has been innovative, and for certain applications it is both clean, intuitive and as complicated as control need be. But it is not deep enough. You will not be playing Call of Duty or a modern shooter with touch alone. RPGs could be handled with touch but it would restrict some. A 3D platformer would be a boring disaster with touch. I don’t think critics of Nintendo (gamers and non-gamers alike) pay attention to details like this.