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Friday, April 27, 2012

Yes, Nintendo should be making smartphone and tablet games

It’s happened again: an analyst has come out and questioned why Nintendo is not involving itself in the smartphone space. That comment was in response to Nintendo’s year-end financial loss, which was a first for the company, and predictably the Nintendo community is up in arms over the comment.

But here’s the fact of the matter: Nintendo is missing out by not working on smartphone platforms. Missing out on a massive opportunity, and in doing so it is being enormously irresponsible to the people who invest real money in Nintendo, the company.

That’s not to say that Nintendo should give up on its own hardware, or make its premier games multiconsole (I’m quite willing to have that argument that Nintendo should indeed get out of the low margin hardware business before the crushing weight of bigger companies ruin it, but it’s a debate for a different day). The analyst, contrary to the way a lot of fans have interpreted it, did not suggest that the New Super Mario Brothers 2 should launch on the iPhone. But there’s no reason that Nintendo can’t get involved in the smartphone business with smaller projects, and indeed from a marketing point of view, this would make a lot of sense.

For instance, it would be easy and relatively inexpensive for Nintendo to acquire a talented, small smartphone/ tablet specialist developer (there’s enough of them out there these days), and then license its characters to that developer. The developer could then go away and make a Canabalt-but-better clone and call it “Super Mario Brothers Jump,” or something similar. Stick it on the App store and it would sell bucket loads. Nintendo could then use that presence in the iOS space to encourage people to look at the “real deal” running on its own hardware in its marketing initiatives.

Or Nintendo could build non-gaming apps that help people engage with their favourite games more deeply. Companion apps are becoming popular – look at what Activision is doing through Facebook with the upcoming James Bond game, for instance. The more engaged an audience with a game the greater its presence and reputation becomes amongst gaming circles. A Pokemon community app immediately springs to mind there as an example of something that would go down really well.

In neither case would Nintendo be releasing its major games and properties on the smart phones and tablets. It would simply be mirroring what its rivals are doing in the space. Microsoft has released Kinectimals on the iPhone and iPad. It isn’t releasing Halo 4, but Kinectimals proved to be a minor commercial hit on tablets. Activision has resisted releasing its main games on iPhone and iPad, but it had a chart topper in the Skylanders companion game. Sony won’t release an Uncharted game on smartphones or tablets, but that hasn’t stopped it sticking some PlayStation Network features on its own Android devices.

It would not be cannibalising Nintendo’s market share to use the iPhone, iPad and Android devices as a branding exercise. Indeed, Nintendo and its fans like to claim that there’s no competition between the iOS and “real gaming” on handheld consoles anyway, so by that very rationale releasing a game on the iPhone or iPad would not be an act of competition with Nintendo’s 3DS and Wii/ Wii U games. And there’s a very good reason to do it: Nintendo could use the revenues pulled in from its apps (and they would be guaranteed to be chart toppers) to fund further acquisitions or IP development.

Bluetooth controller. Big problem solved
For some reason, though, those that call themselves “Nintendo fans,” seem to get upset at the merest suggestion that Nintendo should act like an intelligent, responsible business. Much of that seems to stem from a personal distaste of iOS gaming, which is fine, but if Nintendo were to start releasing iOS titles there would be no requirement for existing fans to buy them. The millions of people that would buy the game, however, would give Nintendo the means to deliver even more games to said fan.

So, where exactly is the harm in this virtuous circle? And more importantly, why the heck is Nintendo so stubbornly resisting an entire market trend when there would be no real consequences to getting involved?
Yes, Nintendo should be making smartphone and tablet games
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