First Impressions of Nintendo's Move Towards Mobile

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 3 min read

Yesterday Nintendo announced that they were going to start making games for mobile platforms (presumably iOS and Android). Some greeted this news with excitement, feeling their opinions had been vindicated. Others pumped the brakes a bit on their excitement. After take 24 hours to think about it, I’m more in the latter category. I’m not too proud to admit when I’m wrong, and I was wrong about this. I previously said that I didn’t think Nintendo would make games for any device that they didn’t make. Obviously, this announcement is a pretty clear knife in the back of that idea. Nintendo is working on original games for mobile. However, I don’t think we should get super excited about this just yet. As Polygon notes:

[N]ew Nintendo IP will be developed for smart devices and specifically optimized for this platform.

Don’t expect to see Super Metroid or the original Super Mario Bros. on your iPhone any time soon. Nintendo is not porting old games, it’s focused on making new games. “Great!” you might say, but then consider this statement from Nintendo:

As these consumers enjoy the unique kind of gameplay found only with Nintendo, they will have the opportunity to explore even more premium experiences on Nintendo’s dedicated video game platforms.

That sounds an awful lot like these are going to be smaller, less polished games that are designed to “engage” players while they’re on their phones and get them to buy a real Nintendo console. I’m thinking games like Sony’s Knack’s Quest or Run Sackboy! Run!, which are cheap standalone games that pale in comparison to their home console inspirations. If you’ve played either of these games, then you know they’re no substitute for the real deal. Nintendo has some of the world’s best game makers, so I would expect their efforts to be better, but how much better remains to be seen.

This was all announced in the same event where Nintendo also announced that they are working on their next generation gaming system[1], codenamed the NX. Nintendo is not getting out of the hardware business in favor of smartphones, they’re trying to grab people where they’re playing right now. They want to take over the place Crossy Road has taken on your phone. They want you to be playing some simple Mario game to make you think more about Nintendo and (hopefully) end up buying one of their consoles.

At the end of the day, Nintendo would rather sell you a $199 New 3DS or a $299 Wii U and $40–50 games than 99¢ mobile games. If that’s their strategy, and I think it is, then they won’t let their best games go to mobile. All the best ideas will go to their traditional console games, because that’s where the money is right now. Last year, the biggest game on iOS, Clash of Clans developer Supercell brought in $1.8 billion. Meanwhile, in Nintendo’s worst year in a decade, they made $5.5 billion. As a final comparison of where Nintendo would like to be, Sony’s gaming division brought in $12.2 billion last year. Yeah, mobile is growing, but the home game market is still huge!

Fiscal 2014 Revenue

Nintendo is trying to reverse their fortunes, but even if this new venture goes well for them I don’t think this is the future of the company, it’s just a detour. Nintendo is doing this because they need a new revenue stream. Much like Apple fans say that Apple makes great products and then tries to market them, Nintendo does the same with games. Their games are great. Like incredibly great! But they have lost the ability to market them in a way that gets people to drop cold hard cash on their hardware.

If you want my prediction, I think that Nintendo is doing this to boost their revenue temporarily until they can get their Nintendo NX out the door next year and (hopefully) get back into the home console market in a big way. Time will tell, and I may be wrong about this as well, but I worry that those who think Nintendo is going to be making full-fledged Mario, Zelda, and Metroid games for the iPhone are going to be very disappointed.

That said, I would love to have a good version of Animal Crossing to play on my phone. Animal Crossing with micro-transactions would make mad bank.

  1. They did not clarify whether this a mobile or home console, but given that the New Nintendo 3DS just came out a few weeks ago, many believe this is the successor to the Wii U.  ↩