Nintendo has dropped a bombshell that perfectly embodies the old saying, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” For years the company has resisted bringing Mario, Zelda, Pokémon, and other franchises to smartphones and tablets, focusing instead on its own hardware. That hasn’t been working out financially in recent years, prompting analysts and shareholders to urge Nintendo to bring its titles to the mobile space. At long last, Nintendo has conceded. That’s right, Mario is coming to iPhone.
The best part for fans is that Nintendo is entering into mobile gaming in a really smart way, thanks to a deal with the mobile game company DeNA.
The Nintendo/DeNA partnership
According to the deal, Nintendo and DeNA will co-develop mobile games starring Nintendo characters, while the rest of the company will continue its primary focus on making games for Wii U and Nintendo 3DS.
Another part of the DeNA deal includes both companies buying $181.5 million worth of stock in each other. This amounts to Nintendo gaining a 10% share in DeNA and DeNA gaining a 1.24% share in Nintendo.
At a press conference in Tokyo to announce the partnership, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata said, “This collaboration will create the best prospects for both DeNA and Nintendo. As for which Nintendo IP will be used, we do not intend to make any exceptions. Potentially, any Nintendo IP could be used in our smart device software.”
These mobile Nintendo games will not be ports of existing games. DeNA said in a statement, “To ensure the quality of game experience that consumers expect from this alliance of Nintendo and DeNA, only new original games optimized for smart device functionality will be created, rather than porting games created specifically for the Wii U home console or the Nintendo 3DS portable system.”
The last pice of the DeNA partnership is a membership program that will be accessible from mobile devices and PCs, as well as Nintendo’s hardware. It’s set to launch this fall. No other details are available yet, but Nintendo has long struggled with is its online features when compared to Microsoft and Sony. This, too, could be a step in the right direction for the company.
Why this is a smart move for Nintendo
This is a smart move because the deal offers the best of both worlds for Nintendo. The company gets to tap into (and profit from) the mobile gaming industry without putting too many resources into it. Meanwhile, DeNA has been massively successful in mobile gaming and knows the market well.
Also, Nintendo could use the boost. Over the years, mobile gaming has risen in popularity and chipped away at Nintendo’s bottom line. Just look at the sales of Nintendo’s handheld gaming devices before and after the arrival of mobile gaming. The Nintendo DS — first released in 2004, well before the rise of mobile games — sold about 154 million units in its lifetime. Sales of the Nintendo 3DS, which was released during the mobile gaming surge in 2011, has sold about 50 million units and looks unlikely to come anywhere near its predecessor’s sales.
In other words, Nintendo had no choice but to make changes. It’s too early to know if Nintendo franchises are in good hands with DeNA, but as long as Nintendo continues to focus on making games for its own hardware, fans will have little room to complain.
As for the future, Iwata also said at the press conference that the company is working on new hardware of its own. The device, currently codenamed NX, is “new hardware with a brand new concept.” It’s unclear if the NX will be a console or a handheld device, or some combination of both. Iwata said Nintendo will release more information about NX next year.