Nintendo's Sneaky Little Strategy

No matter what people say about E3, it's still the largest showcase for new game launches and global visibility. Last E3 was no different, with huge booths and fancy shows that included from hollywood stars such as Elijah Wood to dancing panda stunts.

Even companies such as Microsoft and EA, who did not have a physical presence inside the event, were still there, throwing their Oscars level event right next door to the LA Convention Center.

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These seemingly endless budgets from publishers and platform holders is somewhat justified, seeing that they support an ever growing and competitive gaming market that now dwarfs the Music and even the Movie industries.

What seems to dominate the show every year, however, is still how much focus is put into each companies' new and/or exclusive franchises.

Microsoft announced it had acquired no less than 5 indie studios, highlighting in each of them how great their "story telling" abilities were.

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Ubisoft, Bethesda, Sony, Square Enix and EA all came out with their own new franchises, several of which looked surprisingly interesting!

The idea that “content is king” is in no way new, having been a trend in the entertainment industry since the 90s, but gaining even more steam in the last decade with the public battle waged between Netflix and traditional or new content creators, such as Disney and Amazon and more recently with the At&t's acquisition of Time Warner.

In the gaming world no one would expect it to be different and game publishers aren't shy to their strategies to dominate users through exclusive content.

So how does a company like Nintendo, who has been surviving on its own niche market while mostly leveraging pretty much the same proprietary content for years (9 ou 10 top Switch titles are Nintendo's franchises), resist the huge pushes from Sony, Microsoft and several heavy-weight publishers?

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Enters the stage crossovers. The idea that mixing different franchises and/or its characters and universes might leverage additional sinergies and push for more sales.

Crossovers are obviously not a new concept, having been adopted on TV shows, movies and games for decades now.

What is different with Nintendo, though, is not that they have also been adopting this strategy, but how they've been carefully employing them in the red ocean that is now the gaming market.

Before crossovers, Nintendo ventured on its first mobile experience with the explosive release of Pokemon Go. Following just a few months later, the very first official Mario mobile game was launched on the Iphone. Super Mario Run was announced by none less than Shigeru Miyamoto himself and Tim Cook during Apple's most premium showcase, the yearly Apple Special Event.

Both were hugely sucessful launches, which prompted Nintendo to further explore its presence on different settings, for which new platforms such as mobile were just the first step.

With the release of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle in 2017, Nintendo took yet another step to increase its franchises footprint. The game was announced at yet another major partners' event, during Ubisoft's E3 2017 show.

Notice that every single Nintendo crossover/mobile initiave was carefully architected to be a blockbuster event… well someone elses blockbuster event, that is.

This year's announcements of Starfox and Donkey Kong's crossovers was no different. Being revealed to the excited yells of fans by Shigeru Miyamoto himself, Ubisoft reserved a considerable time slot on this year's event for the announcement of their two most recent Nintendo crossovers.

So why would Nintendo follow this path when it still holds a decent position as a platform holder? Would Nintendo be following Sega’s path in eventually abandoning its own platforms and sucumbing to licensing its contents to third parties (such as it did with Pokemon Go) or even becoming a publisher to platforms other than its own?

It doesn’t seem that way. The biggest difference here is how those crossovers are being handled. If you pay close attention to what Nintendo is doing, you’ll realize that it’s not really porting any of its games to other platforms as Sega has in the past. In fact, even contraty to Nintendo’s own remarks, one could even argue that few of those “partnership” games are true Nintendo games.

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Fact is that while you may be able to play Pokemon and Mario on your Iphone, those are a far cry from the “real” Pokemon and Mario experiences that you’ll have on your Nintendo Wii, DS or Switch.

You may play Ubisoft’s Donkey Kong's DLC to Mario + Rabbids to savor that NES/SNES nostalgia, but make no mistake in believing these are the same Donkey Kong experiences you'd have by playing a full Donkey Kong title published by Nintendo.

And this is Nintendo's sneaky little strategy. It is using its franchises for basically what is a lead generation maneuver that leverages its large partners' stages and PR. All of it with one simple goal: Keeping its characters and universes alive and popular so that their exclusive titles sell even better when they come out on Nintendo's own platforms.

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In fact, I would actually bet that in the coming twelve months, Nintendo will announce an exclusive Nintendo Starfox game for the Switch, as has been rumored for a few months now.

Question remains, how long can Nintendo keep doing this? Might it be able to explore and milk on its characters as frequently as Disney has with its Marvel and Star Wars franchises? Or will it eventually dilute Nintendo's IPs to a point it eventually backfires and erodes sales from future Nintendo titles? Well, that still remains to be seen. One thing's for sure, Nintendo always has a hidden card up its sleeve…

Written by

Tech entrepreneur CEO of and Devise,vc, angel investor and board member at several web based companies. Also a crypto-enthusiast and an avid gamer!

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