Nintendo celebrated a number of major milestones in 2016, from the 20th anniversary of Pokémon to Mario’s mobile gaming debut and the announcement of its seventh home gaming console. Through a number of strategic partnerships and announcements this past year, Nintendo proves that the gaming brand of our youth has all grown up.
It’s no secret that Nintendo has its sights set on the mobile realm. As smartphones are the most popular gaming devices today, the strategy makes sense . . . if done right. Miitomo tested the waters with an explosive debut in March, attracting over three million users within 24 hours of launch. While the messaging app failed to hold users’ attention after a while, Pokémon GO changed the way brands (gaming or otherwise) thought about augmented reality forever. The game was such a hit that the world had a fever, and the only prescription was more pokéballs. This free-to-play mobile phenomenon brought in a staggering $788 million in microtransactions within its first five months.
Super Mario Run, on the other hand, launched for iOS on December 15 and has already been downloaded over 90 million times, according to estimates by Newzoo. The infamous plumber’s mobile debut is the embodiment of the “freemium” dilemma—while consumers are willing to pay for microtransactions, charging $10 upfront denies Nintendo the opportunity of earning future income from existing users . . . something Pokémon GO illustrates by earning a cool two million dollars per day. Launching only for Apple devices to start with may also have attributed to the game’s early fizzle, limiting its reach and dooming potential Android users to read reviews instead of trying it out for themselves.
Despite this fact, industry experts predict strong ties between Nintendo and the mobile gaming industry over the coming years. Peter Warman, CEO at Newzoo, sees Super Mario Run as part of the big picture for Nintendo rather than a standalone hit. “We anticipate that in a couple of years from now, smartphone and tablet games will account for at least half of Nintendo’s software revenues,” he said.
The late, great Nintendo president, Satoru Iwata agreed. “All of our IP can be considered for a smart device game,” he told investors during a 2015 call. “On the other hand, since the game business on smart devices is already severely competitive, even with highly popular IP, the odds of success are quite low if consumers cannot appreciate the quality of a game.” During the call, Nintendo revealed plans to release five mobile games through its partnership with DeNA by March of 2017.
Nintendo’s overall branding message seems to be, “adapt and live forever.” The company’s flagship store in New York was renamed Nintendo New York, which implies that other locations could be in the works. The brand has also partnered with Universal Studios for a major development of theme park experiences in Orlando, Hollywood and Osaka, Japan.
While nostalgia plays a major role in Nintendo’s promotional efforts—the NES Classic Edition, for example—the company has historically focused on innovation and exploring new ways to enjoy their products. Such is the case with the Nintendo Switch (formally NX) console. The device, which is a gaming tablet with a dedicated docking station, brings together the big screen experience of console systems and the portability and convenience of a mobile device. In addition to being able to play anywhere, the Switch console announcement trailer demonstrated the potential of eSports—a growing arena that many other publishers have already explored in greater depth.
“ESports is a big and vibrant community,” Nintendo president, Reggie Fils-Aimé told [a]listdaily. “We view it as a community. We’re fortunate that we have one of the most acknowledged eSports games in Smash Bros. We’re also fortunate that various eSports leagues have experimented with Splatoon and that looks promising. They’ve experimented with Mario Kart, which could be fun for the younger consumer tier within the eSports area. So we’ve got the content to leverage into this area. It’s something that we’ve continued to look at, and it’s something that we believe can be a great way to reach out to our consumers.”
Going into a new year, things are looking bright for the gaming giant, but as always, the company will learn through trial and error. A Pokémon feature film is in development, the Switch releases this spring and we look forward to what other surprises the brand has to offer. Fils-Aimé said it best when he told us, “Nintendo has a quite appropriate reputation of doing its own thing.”