March 22nd 2003

Third-party e-Cards: Why it may never happen...

Ever since the e-Reader's release in the US, I've been wondering why there hasn't been any third-party e-Cards released. On March 19th 2003, I decided to stop beating around the bush, and so I sent this e-mail to Nintendo:
Here is the response I received less than 24 hours later:

It does shed some light on the reality of the situation, doesn't it? The general impression I get from this reply is that I shouldn't get my hopes up about third-party e-Cards. It's probably very sound advice, but I find mister Mann's arguments rather questionnable.

First of all, the first paragraph of his reply seems to address the issue of using e-Cards with Game Cube games. I do agree that third-party Game Cube developers and publishers may not be interested in adding e-Reader features to their Game Cube games. I don't think I'd be interested either, if I were a developer or publisher.

But what about stand-alone e-Card applications? Nintendo has demonstrated, with the NES-e series, that games can be sold as packs of e-Cards at a reasonable price. There's no doubt in my mind that third-parties could do the same, but there is one possible problem which may prevent this from ever happening, and mister Mann mentions it in the second paragraph of his reply: What kind of licensing deal did Nintendo negotiate with the company that owns the e-Reader technology, namely Olympus Optical Co.?

If a single, unlimited license was negotiated, then this license must have cost Nintendo a huge sum of money. This could explain why Nintendo has been supporting the e-Reader so actively over the last six months, namely with the Animal Crossing-e, Pokemon-e and NES-e series, because Nintendo needed to maximize its return on investment to cover the cost of the license with Olympus Optical, together with the other costs associated with making e-Cards.

The downside to this is that third-party publishers may not be able to afford this required license, and it may not be legally possible for third-parties to market their e-Card applications via Nintendo's license. This is all purely theoretical speculation, but it would explain the lack of third-party support for the e-Reader, in both Japan and the US.

On the other hand, if getting a license from Olympus Optical is not that big of a problem, then I can see little reason why third-parties wouldn't want to exploit this potential gold mine. Developing small e-Card applications doesn't cost nearly as much as normal GBA games, so that's not really an issue. The manufacturing of the cards might pose a bigger problem, but it's nothing that can't be worked out via a partnership with Nintendo or a trading card company like Wizards of the Coast, Upper Deck or Topps. Any production cost can be passed on to the consumer, as long as the price of the packs stays reasonable.

It is very possible that we may never see any third-party e-Cards. That would be quite a shame, because the e-Reader's potential is undeniably enormous, and it pains me to acknowledge that this potential will go unexploited simply because of needlessly rigid licensing issues...