Nintendo has always done things its own way, often to the point of genius (NES, SNES, Gameboy, DS, the list goes on), sometimes to the point of financial ruination (GameCube anyone?). They are a company renowned for sticking by its morals and principles, something you can’t but help tip your hat to in an industry that has become saturated with indistinguishable content.
With this in mind it comes as something of a surprise then to hear that Nintendo has rowed back on its long held stance of staying out of the rapidly growing mobile market. The announcement last week of a partnership with DeNa will see Nintendo take Sega’s ‘if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em’ approach to cross platform gaming.
So what exactly does this mean for Nintendo and for the wider mobile gaming industry?
Nintendo have been responsible for developing some of the most memorable games and iconic characters in video game history. The likes of Mario, Donkey Kong and Link from the Legend of Zelda will go down as pioneers of the industry; you’d be forgiven for thinking they were real.
Marriage of convenience
Nintendo will not go into mobile gaming alone and has instead partnered with DeNA (formerly Mobage), a company with a range of Arcade, Puzzle, Card and Strategy games for iOS and Android. On the face of it this makes perfect sense for both parties. Nintendo gets a partner with the exact things they lack; an established network in the industry and a vast expertise of developing mobile games. And DeNa has partnered with one of the biggest game companies in the world with a catalogue of characters and content that other companies simply cannot compete with.
This sets the scene then for something special, no? Well, not quite. Not quite yet, anyway.
The one thing we’ve learnt from Nintendo in recent years is its stubbornness and its caution to change. This, after all, is the company who stuck with game cartridges when CDs were clearly the better format during its battle with Sony in the 1990s.
At the partnership announcement Nintendo CEO Saturu Iwata gave a few clues as to what we can expect:
First off it’s pretty clear Nintendo mobile content won’t come cheap. Iwata spoke of his hesitancy towards the free-to-play model that many mobile gaming platforms operate. Or as he put it ‘free to start.’ He made the point of the necessity for Nintendo to “maintain the value of our content,” citing the devalued cost of content in the music industry as an example.
Cross generation gaming
Iwata was also very clear to emphasise the ideal of content sharing and communication. He said that mobile gaming from Nintendo would carry through “this theme of giving people opportunities to learn from one another about games, and giving games an opportunity to spread across different generations of people.” Nintendo have clearly learned from its Wii strategy which saw a new generation of gamers emerge outside of the traditional young male stronghold. This could be a hint towards the type of game that Nintendo intends to create on mobile, but it could also mean that Nintendo is considering mobile as just one of many platforms for its games.
Testing the water:
Iwata was also keen to stress that Nintendo is far from putting all of its eggs in the mobile gaming basket; it is almost a ‘testing the water’ approach to the platform rather than truly embracing it. Nintendo will still create hardware for its games and this is where the company sees its main focus with a new console expected in 2016. Nintendo’s approach to mobile gaming then is certainly one of extreme caution.
Potential for the Future
This move by Nintendo is proof that traditional gaming companies are no longer comfortable with non-participation in the mobile gaming area. Whereas previously they felt secure enough to sit back and watch these new challengers to their industry dominance from a distance companies like Nintendo are now eager to find out what all the fuss is about.
We cannot begin to wonder what it would be like if Nintendo had embraced mobile earlier. Would we have been catapulting Mario and Luigi into buildings instead of those Angry Birds?
As it stands the announcement is just that, an announcement, and it depends how far Nintendo is willing to go with the platform. We may well end up seeing simply a mobile version of Pokémon playing cards or something akin to Mario Party mini-games ported. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing and Nintendo still has the fan base and marketing pull to see such things sell. However we think it would be something of an anti-climax if this was the extent of their ambition.
The real potential is there for cross-platform collaboration either in the form of additional gaming content on mobile for console games or vice-versa. How about playing a Resident Evil style zombie game where at vital moments you have to use your smartphone to pass certain puzzles as if you were the character? Mobile gaming has the real ability to enhance traditional console gaming – Nintendo has done something themselves with platforms like the Game Cube / Gameboy Advance for instance but how far it takes mobile gaming is up to Nintendo.
At the very least the announcement has opened the door and further narrowed that bridge between mobile and traditional gaming. Both the financial and gaming potential of mobile is there to be explored by the traditional giants who, if they are willing to support mobile gaming and experiment with the platform, could see this as the beginning of a new gaming frontier.