The past few years haven’t been kind to Nintendo. The Wii U has been a major failure, and the Nintendo 3DS has sold in drastically lower numbers than its predecessor. Nintendo knew it had to get creative to become profitable again. That’s why we’re seeing the Amiibo line of figurines, the NES Classic Edition, and the early introduction of its next console, the Switch. That’s also why Nintendo caved to investor pressure to bring its properties to smartphones. The first real game to hit the platform is Super Mario Run, coming to iOS in December and Android sometime next year.
Super Mario Run is all but guaranteed to be an enormous success, which means it will generate tons of money for Nintendo. Just the game’s announcement made Nintendo’s stock surge. That’s good news for investors, but it could be bad news for gamers who grew up playing Nintendo games. It could signal the beginning of the end for the Nintendo we love.
Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto made a surprise appearance during Apple’s iPhone press conference to announce Super Mario Run. The game looks fantastic, with colorful graphics based on the New Super Mario Bros. series. In it, Mario runs forward automatically, leaving players to tap the screen to make him jump. You’ll work your way through levels and worlds strewn with coins, enemies, pipes, and secrets, just as you’d expect from a Mario game. The only difference is, you won’t be holding a piece of Nintendo hardware while you do it.
The app will be free to download, but you’ll have to make an in-app purchase to unlock the full game. Since it’s free to try, millions of people will download it, just like a record 500 million mobile gamers downloaded Pokémon GO. And Pokémon is less popular than Mario, making it safe to assume even more people will download Super Mario Run. One respected analyst, Serkan Toto, predicts the game will rack up 1.5 billion downloads all told. If only a fraction of those people pay to unlock it, and a smaller group buys other in-app purchases that will inevitably be in the game, Nintendo stands to make a Scrooge McDuck-worthy amount of money.
Which, for obvious reasons, would be great for Nintendo and its investors. Here’s what I see happening with Super Mario Run: It rakes in far more money than Mario’s last few outings on the Wii U did. And since Super Mario Run is a much smaller-scale game than those, it certainly cost far less to make. Once investors see that, they’ll pressure Nintendo to keep pumping out mobile games.
It’s already happening, in fact. In addition to Super Mario Run and Miitomo, a social app that came out earlier this year, Nintendo currently has at least two other mobile games in the works, based on Fire Emblem and Animal Crossing.
That doesn’t mean Nintendo will stop making games on its own platforms, but if the Switch fails to take off over the next few years, don’t be surprised if mobile becomes the company’s focus.
That’s not what Nintendo wants to happen, of course. Nintendo is banking on its mobile games sparking Nintendo-mania once again, and inspiring us all to run out and buy Switch consoles in droves. That could happen. But even if it does, Switch games are still going to cost more than mobile games to make.
If Nintendo can make record-breaking profits by having small teams make mobile games, mobile gaming could be the core focus of company’s future.