Nintendo powers up for the mobile arena6/10/2015
Some companies are synonymous with the industry they are in. If you’re in the South, Coke represents all sodas. Before the tech boom of the 2000s, Microsoft was pretty much the only name in the software or computing world. Since Microsoft’s falling from the top of the mountain, the lasting tech synonym has shifted to Google, as in “let me Google that for you.” Finally, for more than a decade in the gaming industry, Nintendo was the reigning industry synonym. Today, Nintendo is a pathetic shell of its 1980s and ’90s self, but if recent news comes to fruition, the Japanese company may once again be king of the game world.
Since achieving perfection with GoldenEye 007 (a landmark first person shooter and multiplayer game in 1997), Nintendo has hit every gaming pothole imaginable. Upon its 2001 release, the GameCube sunk like a rock to the bottom of the gaming ocean against the more powerful XBox and Playstation 2. Luckily, Nintendo’s fortunes weren’t down for long, as the Wii and DS quickly rocketed the company back to relevance. Still, as its competitors embraced new technology, web-enabled gaming, and building complete entertainment systems, Nintendo rested on its laurels with Wii and DS platform updates that were outmoded almost immediately upon release.
Still, last month Nintendo saw its stock price grow by leaps and bounds on news it will soon embrace mobile gaming. As successful as Nintendo’s various platforms have been, it has almost nothing to do with the hardware. If anything, Nintendo has earned its medal on hoarding strong games. Mario Bros., Zelda, Donkey Kong, Metroid, Mario Kart and a handful of Nintendo’s other intellectual property is the gold standard of gaming. Every time Nintendo has hit rocky revenue waters, the industry has wondered if Nintendo would save itself by licensing Mario to XBox or PlayStation — and until now they’ve never relented.
The difference is mobile gaming — specifically smartphone gaming — is too big to be ignored. As a whole, mobile gaming is now generating more than $3 billion, and none of that money is being spent on Mario, Luigi or Link. Imagine if Nintendo dropped the biggest names in gaming into that pool? So, starting late this year, Nintendo will release its first mobile game, and within the next two years, it plans to release a total of 10 games.
Oddly enough, Nintendo’s slow release model, which has hurt the company in the past, may actually be the perfect plan as not to flood the market and string out its revenue. Truthfully, the sky is the limit on the revenue Nintendo could rake in from ravenous iOS and Android gamers. And as far as gaming competition goes, Xbox and Playstation frontline gaming properties don’t come close to name recognition, so being the first platform giant to fully embrace mobile could put them back in first place.
Of course, there also is the issue of access. Nintendo has sold roughly only 10 million of its latest platform, the Wii U. Comparatively, more than 200 million Americans own a smartphone — an incredible amount of potential Mario players. Better still if Nintendo gives its games away for free, there are hoards of cash to rake in through the common premium model. The most popular mobile games — Angry Birds, Candy Crush, and Clash of Clans — have each raked in hundreds of millions of dollars through in-app purchases and advertisements.
As horrifying as it sounds to envision ads affixed to Mario’s quest, or the need to pay $0.99 to unlock special Metroid canons, it’s a ridiculously small price to pay to play Nintendo on our smartphones.CV
Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. Follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.