Games

Nintendo and mobile are an uneasy alliance, but it’s still vital

Super Mario run
Image: Nintendo Life

Earlier this week, Nintendo confirmed that Dragalia Lost would be discontinued after some recent story updates, prompting many to shrug. The Mobile Exclusive was an interesting title, however, as it was the only new IP that Nintendo had invested solely in its mobile business, which was being developed alongside CyGames. Though many core gamers have an innate snobbery or dislike for mobile gaming, Dragalia was highly regarded by its fan base.

Of course, a slow but steady trend continues – Nintendo is making a lot less noise about mobile devices. dr Mario world bit the dust in the last year, and even the stocks that show solid momentum and earnings usually tick in the background. Nintendo is still actively promoting updates to titles like Mario Kart Tour and Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp on YouTube and on each game’s dedicated social channels, but they’re mostly in that separate space that’s easy to ignore if you’re primarily a console gamer. It’s all far from when Super Mario run got a big boost back in late 2016.

Of course, this date is a guide. Nintendo began its major development and focus on mobile devices when the company was in tougher times, namely in the 3DS and Wii U era. Although the 3DS gradually became a reasonable success, the Wii U was a flop by any standard for mainstream gaming consoles, and Nintendo was under pressure to turn a profit by expanding into other areas. Then as now, the mobile gaming space presented an opportunity for significant revenue.

The marriage between Nintendo and mobile has always felt strained as the two sides passively and aggressively undermine each other

Before we delve further into this topic, we recommend reading this excellent article on GamesIndustry.biz, which examines a perspective that Nintendo is shifting to a market-agnostic approach to mobile. We’ll probably cover some similar points before we digress, but we definitely recommend checking it out.

As mentioned above, Nintendo’s attempt to expand into mobile — back then in partnership with DeNA — was partly a response to troubled times. While the eventual revival of the 3DS helped keep the ship on an even keel, Nintendo Switch will have evolved while dealing with many doubts. Ultimately, it was remarkably brave. The company had been successful for decades with a dual approach to hardware – portable and home console – but knew the market and its business would no longer support it. However, if the hybrid switch had flopped, there would have been no second system to support the business.

But despite relative success, the marriage between Nintendo and mobile has always felt strained as the two sides passively and aggressively undermine each other. The goal from the start was to use the mobile business to promote knowledge and interest in the company’s IP and channel, expanding audiences to its consoles. Part of Nintendo’s identity in the gaming market is the distribution of polished and often kid-friendly games (there are exceptions, of course). It’s also a company not often associated with the more controversial practices in modern gaming surrounding gacha-style gambling, excessive microtransactions and whatnot. The company has jumped into and experimented with various forms of DLC, premium pricing, etc., but has largely avoided major controversy in its console space.

Certain standards are expected of Nintendo and we’ve seen the reaction when those expectations haven’t been met with console games, but particularly with the mobile releases. Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp has been criticized for its excessive in-app purchases and the questionable value it delivers, with the undertone it is not very Nintendo. Then, with Super Mario Run, we saw Nintendo try to opt for a “premium” pricing model, and while it did generate some revenue, it wasn’t a sustained success. After all, many of us would rather play a mainline Mario game on Switch than spend money on a touchscreen alternative.

Developed by Niantic, Pikmin Bloom is quite a charming AR experience
Developed by Niantic, Pikmin Bloom is quite a charming AR experience (Picture: Nintendo / Niantic)

The GamesIndustry.biz article sensibly notes that Nintendo’s very clear shift in mobile strategy may involve even more outsourcing, and perhaps not as often. Pokémon GO is an obvious example, although Nintendo’s gains from its incredible success have been limited as more significant slices of the pie went to developers Niantic and The Pokémon Company. But Nintendo’s only new mobile release was Pikmin Bloom, a charming AR title, once again from Niantic. Meanwhile, Nintendo’s internal teams and core partners have continued to focus and have assembled an impressive ongoing library for Switch.

We’ve also seen how Nintendo got creative – or not, depending on your perspective – using the work done on mobile to bolster its Switch lineup. We’re talking, of course, about the Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Booster Course Pass, which spices up and customizes the work done mainly for Mario Kart Tour. As we’ve alluded to, this works well since many of us who devote hundreds of hours to MK8D on Switch might not play the mobile spin-off at all. So it makes sense to use this content as an easy win, and of course it’s bundled with Nintendo Switch Online, giving this service a stronger sense of value.

Ignoring Mobile and its potential monster earnings would be reckless and – maybe – a bit arrogant.

Overall, however, Nintendo isn’t talking much about mobile at the moment. No wonder; The Switch is flying high, and the company has also been busy with its theme park expansions and upcoming Mario movie. There’s also this inherent uneasiness about the mobile market, as the ingredients for a mobile smash don’t necessarily meld with Nintendo’s public perception or IPs.

So it will be interesting to see what happens with Nintendo and the mobile space in the next 2-3 years; Perhaps the arm’s length strategy is employed and works well when partners produce a hit app that doesn’t impact Nintendo’s “core business” too much. Still, it would be reckless and negligent to ignore cellular and its potential monster revenues perhaps a bit arrogant. Nintendo is cashing in right now, but it’s only a bad idea or a disappointing start when its hardware business is in trouble; not in danger of collapse – Nintendo has enough in the bank to weather a storm or two – but certainly risks scaring shareholders. For example, if the Switch successor failed, Nintendo might have a period of significant difficulty adjusting its business and presumably rushing to another new system.

Let’s not forget that the relative struggles of the 3DS and Wii U followed the outright dominance of the DS and Wii; A hardware generation can make a big difference in wealth. It’s not just Nintendo either – Sony went from stratospheric heights with PS2 to early struggles with the initially overpriced PS3, and Microsoft capitalized on the goodwill and growing fan base of the Xbox 360 and released the originally maligned Xbox One.

Products like the LEGO line help Nintendo expand its brand beyond the core game
Products like the LEGO line help Nintendo expand its brand beyond the core game (Image: Nintendo Life)

Mobile, along with the LEGO licensing deals, film projects, theme parks, merchandising and more all play a role in keeping Nintendo stable in the event of a rocky gaming hardware generation. To stray too far from this huge potential market after only 5-6 years would perhaps haunt the company again, and while the company may be focused on something else at the moment, we don’t see it moving completely away from mobile. Well, Nintendo consoles are selling.

While many of us on these pages aren’t particularly interested in Nintendo mobile games – certainly not compared to their console edition – that doesn’t mean they aren’t possibly important for the future. The company has learned a lot about mobile since the Miitomo days, and even when individual titles like Dragalia are retired, we’ll be seeing the Nintendo logo on mobile home screens for a long time to come.

https://www.nintendolife.com/features/talking-point-nintendo-and-mobile-is-an-uneasy-alliance-but-its-still-vital Nintendo and mobile are an uneasy alliance, but it’s still vital

Fry Electronics Team

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