When Nintendo formed as a company in 1889 they were not gearing up to release a Mario Golf game by the next summer. They were a playing cards company. Computer games would not exist for almost another eighty years, and that is a long time for a company to twiddle thumbs before finding their true calling. As Nintendo spent the decades shifting operations from running hotels, taxi firms and producing snack foods, they would continue to produce cards in one form or another. Even now in the present day when it comes to games, playing cards still have a card to play.
Shuffling into Relevance
In can be theorized that Nintendo’s playing cards took on the form of their Famicom disk system games not to mention the numerous forms of game cartridges that have been seen on consoles and handhelds since. Cartridges are collectible and desirable products for hoarding fans for playing alone or with friends like playing cards. But theories aside, physical playing cards have hit peaks and troughs in differing ages of relevance.
After the Y2K bug did not wipe out all life (like that Will Smith song made me wish it did – SO CATCHY) Nintendo tried something both cool and mad for the Game Boy Advance in 2001. The e-card reader was an add-on device which used a LED scanner to read games and info from collectible cards. Swiping cards would present the player with extra levels or mini games which would be sent straight to the game cartridge via a link cable plugged into the e-reader. Although it sold in Japan and stateside it did not get much further. That said it is worth a bet those NES games and Game and Watch cards are going to be worth a solid gold hover car or two in the future, better not use them as coasters then.
Gaming can basically attribute this GBA ingenuity along with the 90s wave of fads to how cards are used today in video games.
What’s on the Table
Among the Moves, Kinects, GamePads and other fancy pants stuff gamers have all become accustomed to waggling around in front of their systems, cards still make a guest appearance on bass guitar. Sony has had a handle on it with Eye of Judgement and the Harry Potter infused Wonderbook: Book of Spells on PS3, but again Nintendo seem to be the guys picking it up and running with it once more.
The 3DS was released with some extras, it came with Augmented Reality cards. Not only did the camera read cards produce desk top spritely forms of Link, Samus, Mario and all the other usual suspects but certain cards also enabled players to play AR games. Just as well they came with the system because there was nothing else to play on it for ages after that. Kid icarus: Uprising has been the best example of a game using this tech on the system to date. The game came with a starter pack of characters which would actively battle against rivals character on camera.
This is hardly a trip down history lesson lane, these developments only span the last few years. However, it is this emerging pattern that has set the groundwork for where AR cards and collectibles have gone since and where they can go next.
Cards to be Dealt in the Future
It can be argued that the games industry’s flirtations with cards and accessory based games has taken on a new form in the way of Near Field Communication (NFC) enabled ‘Toy Tech’ games. This is the next stage for collectible based gaming. When Activision‘s Skylanders hit the scene, its collectible toy functioning premise sent out a ripple due to its huge popularity. Now Disney Infinity along with Nintendo’s Pokémon Rumble U look set to join the video game toys arms race. Parent’s wallets beware!
Cards have not disappeared either. The recently released Tekken Card Tournament is hoping to spark a card buying trend by offering a free to play game for iOS, Android, Amazon Kindle tablets (yes the fake computer book is getting a Tekken game welcome to 2013) and web based browsers. On the Japanese side of things, the incredibly popular collectible card based arcade game Dragonball Heroes has made the leap to 3DS in the hope that kids will be kamehamehameing (is that a word?) in the playground as much as after school.
To bring things full circle, Nintendo announced on April 1 that a new wave of 3DS AR cards have been announced to hit the Japanese Market on April 23. The character cards feature Mario, Peach, Luigi, Bowser, a Goomba and no one’s favorite: a Koopa Trooper. The characters all interact and can be scaled to a larger size. From the looks of it only an April fool would miss out on them.
Games take years to develop, they see release and then their importance swiftly dissolves away until eventually the next game appears. A collectible card game or toy line (or spin-off cartoon or film etc.) keeps a title relevant and the franchise simmering. It is not just a side venture but a legitimately integral piece of a franchise when done well. However, the hysteria that fuels these card game crazes cannot be easily built with just positive reviews or brand influence or marketing. It relies on the fickle sway of a usually adolescent consumer public, word of mouth.
Whether many industry voices would care to admit it or not, getting a collectible game to become a hit is more of a gamble than a strategic process, it is down to being dealt the perfect hand. It is a game of cards.