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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The opportunities for Nintendo with smartphones and tablets

Nintendo is a big corporation that is usually run intelligently. At a time where the world economy (and Japan more than most) is diving better than the Chinese Olympic team can Nintendo has held things together and not suffered too badly.

But that’s not to say it’s incapable of making absurd decisions. The insistence that Nintendo doesn’t need a smart phone and tablet play is nothing more than stubborn arrogance, and in doing so Nintendo is missing out on a massive opportunity.

But to clarify from the outset – no one is suggesting Nintendo should abandon its own platforms and become a smart phone developer. That would be just as silly. There is a middle ground, though, and Nintendo needs to see that.

Handled correctly, a mobile strategy by Nintendo could be a wonderful branding strategy. Consider this – Nintendo could acquire a small, creative iOS developer/ publisher (thus ensuring that none of Nintendo’s internal resources are distracted by iOS development), and set it the task of using some of Nintendo’s characters and licenses for iOS-designed game experiences. When EA released The Simpsons Hit and Run on the iOS the social game was so instantly popular it crashed EA’s servers. Nintendo releasing a similar thing starring Nintendo characters could grind the entire Internet to a stop.

Or Nintendo could acquire a talented little developer like Skip, and set it the task of bringing some WiiWare games to iOS. Skip’s Art Style games would be brilliant on iPad.

Even if Nintendo didn’t want to “cheapen” its brand by putting games on the tablets there are still opportunities to get people with iPhones and tablets engaging with Nintendo’s brand. Sony and Microsoft have both released applications (and in Microsoft’s case, games) on the iPhone. This isn’t because Sony and Microsoft are conceding defeat to Apple. Quite the opposite. Sony and Microsoft want people using their brands, even while using an Apple device. Nintendo’s Miiverse has to be available on iPhones and tablets in some capacity.

Branding is an exercise in visibility – those brands that are popular are the brands that the largest number of people can engage with. Sony’s Music Unlimited has to be available on iPhone because Spotify is. If Music Unlimited wasn’t there, I know I would be tempted to throw my lot in with Spotify instead, because I like to use music on my phone. If Nintendo's brand were on smartphones and tablets, those "casual" customers that Apple captured from Nintendo would be again encouraged to buy into the Japanese vendor; in other words, Nintendo could use its presence on these devices to push marketing or engagement deeper into its existing audience, or acquire new fans.

So, for instance, Nintendo insists that it doesn’t want to have paper manuals in the future. So why not set up an app with a database of game manuals? People would download it for free and may well be encouraged to buy a game they didn’t previously have if the digital manual was attractive enough. Instant marketing collateral.

Smart phones and tablets could also be used to greatly enhance Nintendo’s lifestyle products. An iPhone app could feature a few exercise and data tracking capabilities that users could then upload to a Cloud that also held their Wii Fit data. That way, people would be able to use “Wii Fit” wherever they are, but there’s the encouragement to get the full game and play it at home for the balance board and broader range of activities.

Another example? Imagine a hypothetical (we wish) Wii Music 2, where players could, again, upload their completed music to a Cloud, and then access those tracks from an iPhone or tablet anywhere. Those of us who got really good at Wii Music would appreciate the opportunity to extend our creativity beyond the living room.

So yes, there’s no reason to think that Nintendo needs to produce Super Mario Galaxy 3 for the iPad, but this doesn’t need to be an “all or nothing” approach. Nintendo can – and should – take a strategic approach to smartphone and tablet applications, using them to enhance branding and gamer engagement. This would cause Nintendo no harm whatsoever, and would likely earn the company additional resources for future investments.

Time to open the floor – what do you think Nintendo could do with smart phones and tablets to enhance the Nintendo experience while not adversely affecting the console fans?
The opportunities for Nintendo with smartphones and tablets
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