When I first heard the news of Nintendo’s deal with DeNA to bring Nintendo games to mobile platforms, I was initially worried.
For the last few years, with the rise of smartphones, tablets, and the mobile game market, doomsday theorists have prophesied the imminent demise of handheld game devices like the Nintendo 3DS and Sony's PS Vita. (Some even went so far as to forecast the inevitable death of all traditional game consoles.) With Nintendo’s current home console doing so poorly that many US consumers don’t even know it exists – Yes, the horrifically named “Wii U” is a completely new console, independent of the Wii – the Big N seemed to be relying on its handheld products to pickup the slack. So if mobile games were to kill the handheld market, it would be even more bad news for Nintendo.
“Just give up on consoles and get with the times, Nintendo!” the iPad enthusiasts said. “Be like Sega, focus on software and make games for smartphones. Give us a Super Mario Angry Birds and Legend of Zelda Candy Crush. Oooh, Metroid Farmville!”
Nintendo initially said that they wouldn’t make games for mobile, that they would focus on creating quality content for their own hardware like they had always done. The naysayers claimed this would be Nintendo’s downfall. But when pressed, again and again, Nintendo always stuck to their guns—er, Zappers? SuperScopes? … Yeah, Zappers. They were not about to sell out and degrade the reputation of their well-regarded, extremely popular brands for mega-profits in the short term. And I always respected that stance.
But the mobile market is an alluring beast. What with its seemingly infinite user base, games that can be downloaded and played insanely quickly, from anywhere, and so many games that are free or free-to-play (so to speak) – could Nintendo really ignore the iPhone-shaped elephant in the room forever? Well apparently not, and that’s why the news initially worried me.
Nintendo’s choice for a partner in mobile crime didn’t initially win me over either. I was aware of DeNA – or at least their social game platform, Mobage – from my time living in Japan. Mobage is huge over there and they seem to spend a ton on TV ads to promote their social phone games. But Mobage games didn’t ever interest me, in much the same way that Farmville, Candy Crush, and even Angry Birds never caught my interest. I would rather carry around a Game Boy Advance and play 10 to 20-year-old games than spend any time at all with Candy Crush. But of course, that’s just me.
So, is this the end? Now that Nintendo is making games for smartphones, have handheld games run their course? And are all home consoles next?! Well no, I think not.
And that’s the thing about Nintendo’s announcement that was really quite smart. They reassured their fans that they are still committed to making console games like usual. Their change-of-course on the mobile front represents the entering of a new market. But they are not exiting the old market, and they don’t think it’s doomed. To show their ongoing commitment to console gaming, the even announced the codename of their next console still in development, called “NX”. So Nintendo is not pulling a Sega after all.
Sure, Nintendo isn’t looking to win over their loyal fan base with this move to mobile, because they already have us. Their deal with DeNA is aimed at bringing in an even larger swath of the population. And that’s fine as long as Nintendo remembers it has a legacy to uphold and multiple generations expecting continued greatness from them.
If you look at the finer points CEO Iwata made during today’s announcement, you can tell that the company still takes its core audience seriously. And as long as they can maintain the excellent caliber of the home console games in the long run, I don’t really care what they make for smartphones.
But my Grandma might really dig Metroid Farmville.