Nintendo’s announcement today that it would start developing software for mobile platforms came as a major shock to say the least. The company has been actively denying that it planned to develop games for mobile platforms for years and has consistently argued that controlling both hardware and software is key to it’s success.
Yet, here we are.
Unsurprisingly, reactions have been all over the place, and my personal feelings toward the news have mirrored that chaos for most of the day. However, when I took the time to look closely at Nintendo’s official presentation notes, my nerves steadied and I started to feel more comfortable with the company’s plans. I originally outlined my reaction to some of the most interesting excerpts for an upcoming episode of Nintendo Fun Club, but I don’t want to wait until we record to weigh in on the subject. So here are my thoughts, point by point:
Iwata: “On the other hand, if we are to maximize the value of Nintendo IP while the competition to attract consumers’ attention is fierce, we must deliver the value of Nintendo IP in a stress-free fashion to our consumers around the world who are living in varying environments.
This is why Nintendo has decided to utilize smart devices aggressively. Very simply put, it is structurally the same as when Nintendo, which was founded 125 years ago when there were no TVs, started to aggressively take advantage of TV as a communication channel. Now that smart devices have grown to become the window for so many people to personally connect with society, it would be a waste not to use these devices.”
I’m not sure I’m on board with the company’s analogy here, but I think I see it’s point. Nintendo moving from one type of electronic media delivery platform to another (the tv to the mobile device) isn’t nearly as drastic as moving into developing video games from toys and playing cards, but if it’s arguing that simply pretending smart phones don’t exist isn’t wise, I agree. That being said, there are a variety of ways to be on smart phones without developing games for smart phones.
Iwata: “Nintendo and DeNA will jointly develop and operate gaming applications for smart devices in global markets. With this alliance, new entertainment that utilizes Nintendo’s IP will be provided globally via smart devices.”
Nintendo joining forces with DeNA is one of the more surprising aspects of today’s announcements, but what really interests me here is the phrasing regarding the type of software that will be developed for smart devices. Nintendo refers to these upcoming software titles as “new entertainment.” This could refer to the fact that the software will be new and not ports of existing games, or it could mean that Nintendo views this upcoming software as a type of experience that is different (thus new) from the games it currently produces. The devil in those details is key to my feelings toward today’s announcement.
Iwata: “On the other hand, as I just said, games on smart devices require ever-evolving services rather than just being a finished product. A combined effort will be necessary to operate them. People’s attention would only be dispersed if we simply increased the number of the titles we simultaneously released, and we could not expect to expand our business. Accordingly, we will narrow down the titles for development and operation to some extent.”
So what does this mean? Does narrowing down the titles for development mean fewer titles developed for Nintendo’s dedicated hardware? If so, this is the first truly concerning part of the presentation for me.
Iwata: “Please also note that, even if we use the same IP on our dedicated video game systems and smart devices, we will not port the titles for the former to the latter just as they are. There are significant differences in the controls, strengths and weaknesses between the controllers for dedicated game systems and the touchscreens of smart devices. We have no intention at all to port existing game titles for dedicated game platforms to smart devices because if we cannot provide our consumers with the best possible play experiences, it would just ruin the value of Nintendo’s IP. And, if I can talk a bit further about our game development plan, we will continue doing our best to develop dedicated game titles for our dedicated game hardware platforms just as we have been doing. For smart devices, even in the case where we utilize the same IP, we will create completely new game software that will perfectly match the play styles of smart devices.”
It appears that Nintendo’s intention is to release what I would deem to be companion or ancillary software which will not replace or compete with the dedicated hardware software titles featuring the same IP. The best way I can understand this now is that Nintendo intends to release games like Pokemon Shuffle on smart devices, not Pokemon.
Iwata: “Nintendo has made this decision because we have concluded that the approach of making use of smart devices is a rational way for us to encourage even more people around the world to recognize the great value of the wonderful game software available on our dedicated game systems.”
Again, Nintendo is clearly communicating its intention to use smart phone games to act as companion software that will encourage customers to play the accompanying dedicated hardware games.
Iwata: “As proof that Nintendo maintains strong enthusiasm for the dedicated game system business, let me confirm that Nintendo is currently developing a dedicated game platform with a brand-new concept under the development codename “NX.” It is too early to elaborate on the details of this project, but we hope to share more information with you next year.”
This one is a no-brainer. Even most critics who argued Nintendo should release games on smart phones and tablets knew it would continue to develop and market its own dedicated hardware. From my limited perspective on Nintendo’s business model, ceasing to sell hardware makes very little sense. There will be a follow up to the Wii U and the 3DS, and that is comforting to hear.
Iwata: “Nintendo, together with DeNA, will jointly develop a new membership service which encompasses the existing Nintendo 3DS and Wii U systems, the new hardware system with a brand-new concept, NX, and smart devices and PCs, and Nintendo will be the primary party to operate this new membership service.”
This should be welcome news to all. Nintendo has never been known for its proficiency with online services, so some help from an outside source is well-advised. It feels like Iwata has been teasing a smart phone app for ages, and yet no app has materialized to date. I’m excited to see Nintendo is prioritizing developing this new membership service and providing access to it from a variety of devices.
Iwata: “Also, until now, when we said, “platform,” it meant a specific video game platform. Now that we are going to release games on smart devices and make use of globally widespread PCs and smart devices for our new membership service, we would like to offer more consumers with software that is suited to their tastes. In other words, we are challenging ourselves to redefine what “Nintendo platforms” mean.”
And this final note leaves me a bit perplexed. Will “NX” software tie in with or be playable on other devices? Will new mainline software still be primarily developed for Nintendo hardware while other content (Virtual Console software, perhaps) may be playable on smartphones or PCs? What exactly does Nintendo mean when it states that it will have to rethink what a Nintendo platform means? Many fans of the company expect the next generation of home console and handheld hardware to be cross-compatible with each other, but is Nintendo also suggesting some software (other than the titles developed primarily for smart devices/PCs) may be playable outside of its dedicated hardware?
I’m not convinced Nintendo is making the right call by moving into the mobile space. Though it is usually a company that defies conventional wisdom and bucks contemporary trends while carving its own unique path, here we are presented with a Nintendo that appears to be caving in to investor and analyst pressure to follow the same trajectory as the rest of the industry. The company argues that software developed for non-Nintendo hardware will be used to drive customers to its main event, Nintendo-produced and controlled machines, yet many of its strongest supporters see today’s announcements as a first step away from Nintendo’s unique approach to games development and delivery. The impact of today’s announcement won’t be fully understood for years to come, but surely today will prove to be an incredibly important moment in Nintendo history. Even after analyzing and annotating Nintendo’s presentation, I’m not sure where I stand, but I’m very much looking forward to seeing what’s next for the company, its games, and its fans.