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Nintendo making mobile games was inevitable, and it's good news for everyone

Andrew Hayward | March 23, 2015
For players of all stripes, the name Nintendo is synonymous with gaming. But for die-hard enthusiasts--at least, the ones not blinded by nostalgia--it's a name also associated with stubbornness, and a slowness to adapt to market changes and emerging trends.

For players of all stripes, the name Nintendo is synonymous with gaming. But for die-hard enthusiasts — at least, the ones not blinded by nostalgia — it's a name also associated with stubbornness, and a slowness to adapt to market changes and emerging trends.

Like when Nintendo opted not to embrace CD-ROMs in the mid-90s, instead sticking with expensive-to-produce, space-limited cartridges for the Nintendo 64. That allowed the PlayStation to take over the market, but of course, there's an extensive backstory to that whole fiasco. Nintendo has also run into issues with its chilly relationships with third-party developers, its frustratingly slow embrace of online gaming, and its insistence on using aging tech to power recent hardware.

There's also been greatness, of course. Because Nintendo marches to the beat of its own drum, the company has enjoyed incredible success with its curious concepts. The Wii and Nintendo DS both expanded the market by embracing different kinds of interactions, and Nintendo still produces some of the most wonderfully creative games on the market. So when the company promised for years that it wouldn't enter the mobile market, it was easy to shrug and say, "Oh, Nintendo."

But the allure of mobile profit is now impossible to ignore. On Tuesday, Nintendo announced that it has partnered with Japanese mobile giant DeNA to start creating mobile games based on its myriad franchises. Like many, my first reaction was, "Oh, wow." But then it shifted to, "Well, duh." There's nothing but upside for Nintendo in expanding to smartphones and tablets, and for the gaming faithful, the benefits easily outweigh any frustrations.

Failure and opportunity

Mobile gaming is huge, and it's here to stay — especially in the free-to-play space. I'm not blowing any minds with that statement, but the scale might surprise some. Last year, Clash of Clans earned an estimated $1.8 billion on its own, with two other games (Puzzles & Dragons and Candy Crush Saga) also reportedly notching 10-figure sums from their respective bulging user bases. That's astonishing. 

Meanwhile, Nintendo has spent the last couple years regularly cutting earnings projections after the disastrous launch of the Wii U. That unique hardware concept, which features a large controller with a screen on it, hasn't been anywhere near the hit of the original Wii. Initial sales were weak, major third-party creators fled, and the console remains well in third behind the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in sales (despite both competitors launching a year later).

The Wii U doesn't have a ton of essential games, but the best of them are superb — and mostly made by Nintendo. Super Mario 3D World and Super Smash Bros. especially are tried-and-true Nintendo fodder, yet expertly executed and charming throughout. Nintendo's 3DS handheld likewise hasn't sold quite as briskly as the DS before it (or even the Game Boy Advance prior to that), but it's still performing solidly, bolstered recently by last month's launch of the "new" revised hardware. 

 

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