How Nintendo Will Shake Up Mobile

The Nintendo seal of quality may no longer exist on the package design of it’s games but it very much remains in every title they produce. When the WiiU launched with a limited run of games, you can sort of forgive Nintendo because they make sure that the games are of top notch quality before they get shipped out to consumers. A few years after launch, if you haven’t picked up the console you now have a solid selection of games to choose from. Mario Kart 8, Super Mario 3D World, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Bayonetta 2, and Captain Toad’s Treasure Tracker will keep you very busy.

The competition, with more cross-platform titles, has fewer excuses for being less interesting. Nintendo takes all of the time it needs to get it right, so while we have to wait a bit it’s much better than getting a broken game, which seems to be the norm these days. This is the fundamental reason why Nintendo working with DeNA on creating mobile experiences could shake up the mobile games industry.

The Official Nintendo Seal of Quality

While Nintendo is very much a business, like it’s competition, they typically shy away from blatant “cash grab” tactics. You know the kind — “buy 10,000 coins for $99.” If they do ask for money, they’ve made that experience a game in and of itself. In Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball, you can negotiate prices for different games by engaging in dialog trees with Rusty. Not only is that experience kinda funny and interesting but it’s all wrapped into the narrative of the game, which is about a store owner who is struggling to keep things afloat. You feel bad for the pup. It’s as if you’re giving money to Rusty as opposed to Nintendo. Having that experience be entertaining makes much more likely to buy. I feel much better about that. That’s the power that Nintendo has.

Monument Valley — A beautiful game for iOS and Android

Then we compare that to the current state of mobile games. Mobile games are pretty shitty, for the most part. We get a few gems here and there, from Monument Valley to Threes, but there is a lot of nonsense out there looking to take advantage of people. These aren’t always fun experiences — they’re usually addictive experiences. These games took the horse to the water and made them pay to drink. That’s not fun but it’s an effective business model that is being copied over and over again. How incredibly odd is it to see mobile games being promoted on TV but consoles games, with meaningful stories and solid mechanics, are no where to be seen? Because everyone has a phone. When people are bored they either grab the first thing they see or the first thing their friends recommend.

So where does Nintendo come in?

To put it simply, they have an opportunity to educate the masses as to what a good gaming experience really is. So many people remember Super Mario Bros. because it was hugely popular back then. Phones weren’t in the way. You had to go to games to play games. Now, the access to anything is easier than ever. This also means that it’s easier for someone who has never played games before to be exposed to a lesser experience and think it’s great. The consumer simply doesn’t know any better.

This hurts the perception of games more than ever and Nintendo isn’t about to let that happen.

Nintendo, in particular, is very much interested in how parents view games. They want parents to know that their platforms and their games are safe/fun experiences for their children to engage with. They want to be sure that there is no question about it. The mobile space provides an opportunity to be the brand on that platform which provides that security.

From a TIME magazine interview with Satoru Iwata:

We will not do anything that may hurt Nintendo’s brand image — that parents can feel safe giving their children access to it.

So, now it’s time to bring in the big guns. Ever since Nintendo has gotten into games they’ve brought out the best in their competition. The entire motivation behind SEGA in the early 90s was to be better than Nintendo. To do what Nintendon’t. Sony and Microsoft wouldn’t be in the game if it wasn’t for Nintendo’s success and willingness to innovate. Both of those companies now have systems that are very much a beefed up traditional consoles while Nintendo has two consoles that have dual screens, one with 3D capabilities. They introduced effective (yes, I say that loosely) motion controls to the masses. They’re continually doing things that no other company does and they continue to do so. There is no reason they wouldn’t take the mobile space and try to turn it on it’s head. From game mechanics to it’s characters, Nintendo has a great opportunity to really step up the game of mobile developers by bringing in the Nintendo seal of quality.

From a DeNA press release:

The alliance is intended to complement Nintendo’s dedicated video game systems business and extend Nintendo’s reach into the vast market of smart device users worldwide. Under the alliance, DeNA will also be able to strengthen its gaming business at a global scale by leveraging Nintendo’s IP. To ensure the quality of game experience that consumers expect from this alliance of Nintendo and DeNA, only new original games optimized for smart device functionality will be created, rather than porting games created specifically for the WiiU home console or the Nintendo 3DS portable system.

Then we have to think about how climbing into mobile benefits Nintendo itself. The company is widely known but hasn’t seen insane popularity with it’s latest devices and games. It’s no secret that the WiiU is struggling with sales. The WiiSports equivalent isn’t there and convincing the general populous to embrace this new system is taking a lot more work than they were prepared for. The Wii’s success, in a sense, set the company back because of how unique it was. Now it’s as if the Wii didn’t exist. Nintendo is learning that they can’t really on the “Wii” brand anymore.

So, what else can they do?

There is still plenty of hope. Mario is still a very popular brand. Many of Nintendo’s characters are very likable and still favorites amongst fans. Amiibo has been popular, albeit scarce, and Nintendo recently licensed some of their characters for Pixels, the underwhelming looking Adam Sandler movie about aliens who look like video game characters invading earth. Mobile is clearly the next step and the best way for them to tap into the younger audience. Nintendo so desperately needs that younger audience — that Minecraft money.

Kirby and The Rainbow Curse

Perhaps getting into mobile could also be a move for Nintendo creatively. With two platforms centered around dual-screen experiences, it may benefit them to have a single-screen platform to focus particular efforts on. Games like Kirby and The Rainbow Curse, which focuses on touch controls, ends up forcing you to spend most of your time looking at the game pad. There’s no use for a TV in this situation — which is an absolute shame because the game is beautiful. Kirby and The Rainbow Curse is a great example of a Nintendo brand that could’ve made its way to mobile. I’m sure there are plenty of other games that Nintendo is working on in which they’re left thinking “what do we do with this second screen?” and having that single-screen potential could alleviate that anxiety. It would also put more pressure on the dual-screen experiences to actually be dual-screen experiences, however.

Nintendo is also working on a new project codenamed NX, which is a big question mark at this point. Could this be their own mobile platform? Could be a new home console? Could be a combination of the two? DeNA also mentions a unified membership service across devices:

Nintendo and DeNA expect to develop a new core system compatible with a variety of devices including PCs, smartphones and tablets as well as Nintendo’s dedicated video game systems, and are to jointly develop a membership service utilizing this system, with a launch targeted for the fall of 2015. The companies expect to further enhance their customer relationships through the membership service.

Only time will tell if it all pays off. For now, we’ll have to wait and see what Nintendo does with existing platform, how it licenses it’s characters and see if they can manage to capture the imaginations of kids like they did 30 years ago.

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