Nintendo is reportedly stepping away from mobile game development after their existing titles have failed to hit the monetary goals they initially put in place when they set out on the endeavour. Also, since Animal Crossing on the Switch has been so successful, putting the company at the highest priced shares they’ve seen in twelve years, they feel it’s in their best interest to stop creating games for phones. Does that mean they’re never going to release another mobile game? Actually, that’s where it may get interesting.
Over the last week, Nintendo has been in the news several times for mobile game releases, which seems odd given all of the news floating around that they’re halting development in this space. Are these reports conflicting? Well, no, but there could be a very good explanation for this. They are in fact throwing in the towel for mobile development themselves, but instead of quitting altogether, they could continue to outsource their intellectual property to third parties in order to experiment on the platform.
Historically, Nintendo has worked extensively with third party game developers. They value their characters highly and choose very carefully only those who understand their character personas and are less likely to besmirch them. They’re a lot like Disney in this regard. They’re not perfect, but their track record has cemented their characters in history as household names. In fact, the legendary Shigeru Miyamoto wants to make Mario as famous as Mickey Mouse himself. However, in recent years, Nintendo has partnered with several third party companies who understand mobile better than they do, but don’t exactly seem to understand success the way they do.
In 2015, Nintendo signed a deal with a company named DeNA who went on to create Mario Kart Tour on their behalf. The game looked and played as though Nintendo had created it themselves, but received backlash for their monetization practices which included a $5/mo. subscription just to play as Mario, who was the face of the game’s marketing. Many fans saw this as deceitful on the company’s part. This, along with Nintendo’s extremely high sales projections may soon mean the end of their partnership with DeNA. In fact, almost all of their mobile games have been met with similarly disappointing sales and criticism. Many had hoped that Nintendo would be the knight in shining armor who would innovate and reinvent the mobile market and its practices in the same way that they reinvented and saved console gaming so many times over, but each game they released seemed to have the same pitfalls.
Nintendo has previously said that it will now concentrate on its current mobile games, such as Mario Kart Tour and Animal Crossing: Pocket CampSEE DEAL. The company’s mobile development partner, DeNA, has reportedly also said not to expect new games until the end of the Japanese fiscal year (31st March 2021), implying there’s no Nintendo mobile games coming anytime soon.Source – DeNA may have a new game coming next year which should be published by Nintendo.
Just this week, Nintendo released Pokemon Cafe Mix for mobile and Switch, a puzzle game that allows you to serve drinks to pokemon and run a cafe. The game was developed by Genius Sonority, the creators of the Dragon Quest series and Pokemon Colosseum.
During yesterday’s livestream, Nintendo also revealed a MOBA style Pokemon game called Pokemon Unite which was created in partnership with the massive mobile industry giant Tencent who pretty much has their hands in all of the games and companies you know and love. Tencent and Nintendo signed a deal years ago, but it’s just starting to show results with this announcement.
With these two releases, we’re starting to see a trend. Nintendo is releasing their experimental off-shoot games on mobile and Switch simultaneously. Is this a strategy to phase out mobile? Online time will tell. In any case, it’s likely that these partnerships just haven’t proven to be successful ventures for Nintendo. While their development slate for games has been empty since last year, we’re still seeing mobile games release from their third party partners as evidenced above. This may mean that they still have contracts in place with these developers which need to to be fulfilled before they’re cut, but perhaps they’re going to continue to outsource development of these games in order to reduce risks. While it’s true that Nintendo still needs to report to investors on these partnerships, they do reduce overhead while maintaining the ability to experiment with interesting ideas that their core audience may not exactly be interested in, but that’s a talk for another time. A handful of the core games in their portfolio, such as Pokemon Snap, began as experiments that weren’t guaranteed to succeed, so their desire to play with ideas using the mobile games space is understandable.
It’s likely that their step away from mobile may only be for a season. As the platform continues to see massive success with ports of many popular games coming in seemingly by the week, they can only excuse themselves for so long. Mobile games have a long and dirty history of unethical loot box and microtransaction practices that have unfortunately defined it, but it’s unlikely to change any time soon. Micro-transactions are extremely profitable, especially in Eastern countries as gaming has a very different identity and approach than that of Western countries like the United States.
As an industry, mobile is defined by experiences which can be played in small sessions and on the go. We think that in the future, we will see a convergence of devices insomuch that each person has only one or two devices for most things gaming. Touch control improvements, gamepad support, more graphically intensive games coming to mobile and the sheer power of our phones are all clear signs of this future. Not to mention Chromebooks which have the unique potential and position of hopefully one day being used for both mobile and desktop gaming so long as developers start to make a few vital changes first. Until many of these things change though, it’s likely that Nintendo will distance themselves from the platform.
Are you enjoying any of Nintendo’s mobile back catalog? Are you looking forward to Pokemon Unite? What do you think of Nintendo’s mobile future? Let us know in the comments below!