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Should Nintendo Go Mobile?

Yesterday, Bill Mudron tweeted:

I'm kinda wondering if we won't see Nintendo start releasing super-simple games on smartphones within the next 2 years.

First things first: Bill Mudron is a Nintendo fan. This isn’t some anonymous internet troll clamoring for Nintendo to go third-party. This is an admirer of their wares with a genuine interest in the company and upon posting this tweet several others rose to agree with him. This isn’t a new sentiment; Nintendo’s own shareholders have wondered why Nintendo doesn’t sell games on Apple’s App Store. I've been hearing this a lot lately, however it's this tweet that pushed me to address it.

With that said, let's take a quick look at why Nintendo should publish content on mobile devices. Putting their games on another platform increases their visibility and creates mindshare. People want Nintendo software on their phones because phones will always be more convenient than a dedicated gaming handheld. It is a bigger market and let's face it there is a lot of money to be made on the App Store. But while doing so would certainly bring a short-term boost to their bottom line it would damage their current business ventures in the long run. Let's look at the reasons for this.

Rival Platforms

First and foremost, Nintendo would be strengthening a rival platform. The most popular apps on the App Store are often games and, regardless of their dismissive PR, Nintendo is worried about the App Store's encroachment on their territory. Recent numbers show gaming down across dedicated handheld gaming devices while gaming on mobile device is up significantly. In fact, it may project weakness and an insecurity with their own platform.

Nintendo has also shown a strong interest in retaining the value of their software and franchises. Satoru Iwata himself has stated that they fear the devaluation of software by the App Store's popular 99 cent model and they have tried to combat this in their own eShop. So, why publish these hypothetical cheap games on another platform when you can put them on your own for a similar price and grow its library? You need content to compete and make your platform more compelling to consumers. Sure, the audience is smaller but again its an incentive to attract an audience of your own. Why give that benefit to another platform?

The Power of Exclusivity

When I asked Bill Mudron why this mobile argument is never used for Microsoft or Sony, he replied:

@solidsprite Because for 4 console generations now, the only reason to buy a Nintendo console is to buy Nintendo games, which is ridiculous.

Now, that may be true (if not a bit off-topic), but I think that also illustrates why they keep Nintendo software exclusive to their own hardware. Its obvious that an exclusive's role in this is to build value. All Nintendo titles are exclusive to Nintendo hardware. These are experiences you won't find anywhere else and it only makes the hardware more attractive to consumers. Its the reason Nintendo is still around today after losing a majority of third-party support.

They have built a sustainable system, now they need to focus on bettering it. To do this they need stronger third-party support. Having Nintendo content on mobile platforms is not going to persuade third-parties to come to Nintendo platforms.


Traditionally, they created a product and sold it to retailers, who in turn sold it to you. Now, they are a retailer themselves. Their foray into services expanded again with the introduction of Miiverse–a progressive entry into social media for gamers. As these services grow, Nintendo too has plans to increase their accessibility. Both services will become available on the open web and smartphone apps this year.

This is a positive use of these rival platforms. Miiverse and eShop apps will be services that keep users engaged with the brand without relinquishing what makes the platform attractive. It doesn't allow them to be "game machines" with Nintendo products but uses them to augment the use of Nintendo's products.

Pokédex on iPhone

Pokédex on iPhone

Some Conclusions

So why should Nintendo start making mobile games? They shouldn't.

I can't help but hear the faint cries for Nintendo to go third party in this argument. While analysts and shareholders want an immediate return on their investments, Nintendo has to worry about the long-term implications of their actions if they want to continue operating. Players would prefer to be able to play all games on a single platform, but Nintendo regularly has its own vision that clashes with other platform holders. Yet in this instance we see none of the platform holders doing this.

Beyond any sort of simple promotional app for upcoming software. The Pokédex app is a terrific example of this. It is a perfect compliment to the games. Though its price is quite different from the one on the 3DS eShop.

Nintendo is not simply a content provider like "Warner Bros." Nintendo is a platform holder and thusly they should be making decisions that benefit both their platform and their games if they want to sustain a healthy business.

Honestly, I'm still not sure how the lack of third-parties on a Nintendo platform justifies the need for mobile development but here we are. What can Nintendo do to attract third party developers? If they want to have the top platform they will need to be willing to invest more in third-party success on their platform be it through promotion, distribution or funding in general. And they've been doing this a lot recently (but mostly with Japanese games).


The facts of the matter are these: Gaming as we know it is changing and the needs of handhelds, consoles and the games themselves are changing too. We can speculate on where the industry will go but there is little certainty in it. Will Nintendo be able to hone in on what the needs of the future consumer? That's impossible to say, as we often know what we want, but we don't know what we really needed until we get it.

Do you have something to add? I'd love to hear your opinion on this.

Jan 31, 2013
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