Daniel Barabasi | Wednesday, March 25, 2015
It’s official. We’ve heard about them flirting for a while. They’ve gone on a few dates through the 3DS and WiiU app store. But just last week, they came out with the big news: Nintendo and mobile are truly together.
The story isn’t exactly the next Nicholas Sparks novel. Rather, it plays out like that of high school sweethearts. Nintendo, the haughty jock with a reputation to keep, had spoken out against its alleged interest in mobile gaming for a long time. Over the past two years, company president Saturo Iwata repeatedly told journalists Nintendo would not go mobile under any circumstances and dismissed any analysis of Nintendo actions that would point toward mobile as a misunderstanding of offhand remarks.
Then Nintendo made a joint announcement with the mobile gaming company DeNA detailing the upcoming modifications to Nintendo’s core platform. Nintendo announced it will be making the mobile games itself, implying that DeNA will be mainly involved as an expert on the business and institutional front. Furthermore, Nintendo has pulled back on its membership program, Club Nintendo, with the intent to develop a more united solution through DeNA. The deal was solidified with a 22 billion yen capital exchange ($184 million), which corresponds to Nintendo giving DeNA 1.24 percent of its stock and receiving 10 percent of total DeNA stock in return.
So other than a giant bump in the two companies’ trading values, what can we can we hope from the digital Kimye of 2015? Unfortunately, the details of what Nintendo mobile will look like have been more ambiguous than the castle Princess Peach was last seen in. What has been made clear is that Nintendo mobile will not be a professionally-developed SNES or GBA emulator. Satoru Iwata firmly believes games developed for Nintendo consoles are not compatible with the mobile interface. Personally I agree, as doing so would not offer a concrete vision for the direction of Nintendo mobile.
What are the other options? On the one hand, Nintendo mobile could become a “demo” version of console games. Think Age of Empires and Sid Meier’s Civilization, both of which released simplified, mobile renditions of their widely popular desktop franchise. On Nintendo’s end, however, these would not be full games but rather a form of marketing that would drive users to acquire the console rendition.
Alternatively, Nintendo could create completely free-standing experiences, either using previous characters or developing new dimensions that would simply develop the trademark as a whole. Nintendo has been pushing for a “successful” online game initiative, which may mean such full-bodied mobile games would be their choice. However, the main drawback is Japan has a strong free-to-play culture for mobile, one DeNA has adhered to.
In order to turn a profit, it seems like Nintendo is turning towards the second option and incorporating a freemium gaming dynamic. On the 3DS, various “apps” have been released that allow for purchase of new minigames or “energy” to keep playing. Initiatives like these make me miss the days where the Wii reminded users once an hour to go outside or read a book for once.
As a die-hard Nintendo fan, I worry for the future of my Pokémon and villagers. Pay-to-win games bastardize the base Nintendo experience. Remember the first Mario games? Where you actually had to have skill to beat the game? Freemium kills that. When the going gets hard, just buy a Deku Nut. Or if you’re not a fan of the new techniques of zero suit Samus, chuck your cash towards getting her suit back.
All in all, Nintendo is still a company. If mobile games overshadow console revenue, then guess where the capital will be reinvested. I have a Wii for the social gaming it provides, be it Mario Kart, Brawl or Jeopardy. I have a Nintendo handheld for commutes but honestly mostly to play Pokémon. I love the time I spend on either, and I don’t want either Falcon Punch’d out of the spotlight to make room for Donkey Kong’s Mobile Beat.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.