In light of Nintendo’s recent earnings forecast revisions, analysts and enthusiasts alike have been falling over themselves to gesticulate on how Nintendo can turn things around. The most popular answer? Go mobile. Create app versions of all its successful, brand-defining games and reap the benefits of the success of mobile’s huge installed base.
Some analysts have even gone so far as to suggest going mobile is the only thing that can save Nintendo from a future of major financial losses and eventual bankruptcy, with IDC analyst Spencer Izard telling the BBC: "I don’t think they can avoid this market any longer".
I think this is nonsense. Nintendo may be preparing to announce a crushing ¥35 billion (£205.4 million) loss, but going mobile isn’t the magical panacea to its ongoing problems. Here’s why.
1. Nintendo 3DS is its strongest asset right now
Despite competition from the Xbox One and PS4, the 3DS family was the best-selling game system of 2013 in the UK. 3DS game sales alone topped 16 million for 2013 and Nintendo has promised us more 3DS goodness for 2014.
"Nintendo 3DS is a powerhouse with games and experiences that appeal to all kinds of players," said Scott Moffitt, Nintendo America’s Executive VP of Sales and Marketing. "We’re not slowing down in 2014. With more games featuring fan-favourite franchises on the way, the best days of Nintendo 3DS are still to come."
If Nintendo was to create mobile app versions of 3DS titles, it would negate the need for it to exist. You’d see sales of Nintendo’s handheld consoles plummet and take Nintendo rapidly with it.
2. Mobile app pricing models would make Princess Peach weep
The strength of mobile gaming is its easily accessible format and its pricing models. In order to compete with the likes of Candy Crush Saga and the rest, Nintendo would have to be well prepared and ready to fight.
The mobile market thrives on bargain bucket prices and aggressive freemium models that aren’t consistent with Nintendo’s ethos and not easily applied to its games. The company would have to specifically design its titles to make them truly competitive – something that I think would strip them of the soul that makes people hold them so dear and ultimately cheapen Nintendo’s best remaining asset: its games and characters.
Even with a brand as strong as Mario or Zelda, pricing problems could see them bomb on the app stores. You need only look at the consumer reaction to the new freemium model introduced with Angry Birds Go for an example of how loyal customers could turn on Nintendo if it made the wrong moves.
3. Mario and chums won’t translate quickly or well to mobile
App remakes of console games really aren’t quick or cheap ports. If you trawl through the app store charts you’ll be hard pressed to find an old game. You might see a flurry of GTA ports in there, but those games have hi-res graphic updates, specialised touch controls and took many months to make.
Plus, we doubt a game like Super Mario Bros 3 or Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker would be as compelling on a mobile devices, especially with on-screen buttons changing the perspective. You might argue to the contrary, but you’d be wrong.
Of course, there are iOS and Android Bluetooth wireless gaming controllers available, like the SteelSeries Stratus, but those purchasing such items will be a small minority. If Nintendo aims for that group of gamers, it would miss the casual gamer majority that number in the millions who would most likely be the main reason to go mobile at all.
What’s clear is if Nintendo did choose to try mobile games, it would have to create something unique and bespoke for that platform. That’s not a quick fix, it’s a serious investment in time in a market Nintendo has no history or experience in. The idea it would create an instant hit is optimistic at best.
4. Nintendo already has its own mobile store ripe for development
One of the things that you will never doubt is that Nintendo makes some great games. Looking at the launch line-up for 2013 for the Nintendo 3DS alone, the Japanese gaming giant churned out critically-acclaimed successes like Pokemon X&Y, Animal Crossing: New Leaf and The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds among many others.
It’s because of its top-notch games that Nintendo has survived so long against its competitors, and it should be taking advantage of the assets it already owns.
Any Nintendo console owner, even the 40 million 3DS owners, can access the Nintendo eShop. Instead of drip feeding it with Virtual Console titles, Nintendo could potentially infuse the service with hundreds of titles across its entire hardware range from NES to Wii U and everything in between.
Pricing could well be an issue, but it could open up a whole new way for gamers to access the great classics and the more obscure gems. Surely, it would be beneficial for Nintendo to completely open up its back catalogue to its existing userbase before opening up the walled garden to those who aren’t using Nintendo hardware?
Once the eShop is going strong, then Nintendo could potentially unlock the gate for new users, without having to put its titles in the Google Play store or Apple’s App Store.
5. The Wii U is the problem, not the software
The Wii U is the real source of Nintendo’s problems. The 'next-gen' console is continuing to underwhelm consumers, forcing the company to slash annual sales forecasts from a rather optimistic 9 million to just 2.8 million for the financial year.
There are a few problems with the console itself, but the principle one is Nintendo’s hopeless marketing up to now. Nintendo needs to properly banish the feeling this is just a 'Wii upgrade' and market potential selling points, such as cross-platform features with the 3DS, that could boost software and hardware sales considerably.
Nintendo featured 3DS cross-platform multiplayer with the Wii U title Monster Hunt 3, so why not do that for its biggest releases? PS4 Remote Play is one of Sony’s killer features, so Nintendo could do the same for its console range.
Despite Nintendo’s best intentions, unfortunately the Wii U was pretty much a failure from the off, launching at the wrong time with a relatively weak game line-up and suffering from Nintendo’s lack of advertising to effectively highlight its unique selling points.
With fresh-faced competitors in the form of the Xbox One and PS4, Nintendo’s Wii U may never recover, but the company’s strong software portfolio still has the potential to make the best of bad situation. A situation mobile games are unlikely to solve.
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