Why Nintendo makes mobile games is great news for everyone
Nintendo recently announced what every fan has been dreaming of for years – that the company will release games for Android and iOS, with at least one title slated for fall 2015. The Japanese game maker’s partnership with the mobile game company DeNA was welcomed by shareholders. and fans, but there’s more to this movement than meets the eye.
Nintendo is one of the most popular game makers in the world with an enviable collection of intellectual property (IP). Mario, Zelda and Pokemon are just a few of the company’s globally recognized brands.
The catch is that Nintendo won’t be making these games on its own. They’re made with its partner, DeNA, a company that primarily publishes free-to-play mobile games, which raised a few eyebrows. Nintendo is known for high-quality premium titles that are fun to play, but paid games are a tough sell on Android and iOS. The company will consider creating “free” games for smartphones.
Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata told Time, “I understand that unlike the package model for dedicated gaming systems, the free-to-start type of business model is more widely adopted for gaming on smart devices, and the free starter model will naturally be an option for us to consider.” Iwata added, “On the other hand, Nintendo does not intend to choose payment methods that could harm Nintendo’s brand image or our IP, which parents feel uncomfortable with. comfortable letting their children play.”
The free-to-play model
Nintendo’s appointment with “free-to-start” games has not earned it admiration. Pokemon Shuffle, a game made for its 3DS handheld console, has been widely criticized because its gameplay feels like a cash grab. The game gives you a limited number of hearts and you use one every time you play a round. Even if you win, that heart is gone. When you run out of hearts, you can wait about half an hour to get one more or, you guessed it, buy some hearts.
As games such as Clash of Clans and Candy Crush Saga have proven, this model can reap rich monetary rewards if the game is addictive enough. But that’s sure to upset fans of Nintendo’s premium experiences on other platforms. Nintendo will have to adopt the free-to-play model to gain a foothold in the world of mobile games, but one can only hope that it also develops premium titles.
The biggest advantage for a gamer like Nintendo is its brand value. If you see an official Mario game on the App Store, you’re going to want to play it. This automatically gives Nintendo a level of recognition that most developers can only dream of. With an easily recognizable IP address, Nintendo’s mobile games won’t be hard to find, and the company won’t have to spend too much on discoverability or cost per acquisition compared to other studios on what’s becoming a crowded mobile game market.
Entering mobile games also allows Nintendo to tap into unexplored markets around the world. Nintendo doesn’t even have an official presence in several countries like India. This decision gives it the possibility of reaching these markets without the heavy investments necessary to bring its consoles to these countries. It also allows Nintendo to push more gamers to its hardware. Nintendo’s Wii and DS consoles were huge hits, but the 3DS and Wii U weren’t as successful.
Nintendo may use its mobile games to advertise its consoles or even drive gamers to console versions of the same mobile game. A lot of kids who grow up playing mobile games have never experienced a Nintendo game. This author himself had never played a Mario Kart game until earlier this year. It’s safe to say that Mario Kart 8 alone made him a huge fan of Nintendo’s games.
Coping with change
The entry into mobile games will mark the first time Nintendo’s games have appeared on a platform it does not control. DeNA’s expertise will ensure Nintendo won’t run into any problems when making games for other platforms, so that shouldn’t be a problem. But it also makes it harder to try innovative monetization opportunities.
For example, the 3DS game Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball saw Nintendo test players’ haggling skills. Players could haggle in-game to reduce the price of in-app purchases in the free game. There’s no guarantee that such a model would be authorized by Apple or Google, and Nintendo will have no choice but to toe the line. There are other issues such as cheap counterfeits appearing the moment a game is successful and paid search results on Google Play that the company will have to learn to address.
The flip side is that Nintendo has a big opportunity for growth. Nintendo as a company has always excelled when it tried lateral thinking with withered technology. Each time the company has used existing technology in new and interesting ways, it has met with enormous success. Just look at the Wii’s motion-sensing remote for an example.
Android and iOS devices put Nintendo back in that seat. The company talked about using the gyroscope on these devices in its games, which is just one of the ways Nintendo could create a unique gaming experience. Google has announced that Android TV will allow people to use their Android phones as game controllers. Chances are Nintendo can make the most of features like these.
Nintendo’s attention to detail and obsessive pursuit of high-quality gaming experiences is what fans want to see on iOS and Android. As long as the company has a monetization strategy that doesn’t mislead gamers, there’s no reason for it not to be successful.
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