Nintendo investors have been grumbling about Nintendo’s tendency to release flagship games only for their own platforms for years. Mario and Zelda have, in general, spent their entire lives on some sort of Nintendo hardware, barring a few odd versions released years ago. Why? Because Nintendo has long tried to control everything about their part of the gaming ecosphere, from developer licensing to hardware sales. Sadly, benighted investors don’t see the method to Nintendo’s madness, especially considering the 3DS’ slow sales as well as the rise of the smartphone market and are now asking the giant to branch out into smartphones.
This is a terrible idea.
Bloomberg has a short piece on the unrest and quotes one investor who says:
“Smartphones are the new battlefield for the gaming industry,” said Ohki, a fund manager at Tokyo-based Stats Investment Management Co. “Nintendo should try to either buy its way into this platform or develop something totally new.”
To be clear, Nintendo could, conceivably, “buy” its way into this market by releasing its own games for the various smartphone platforms. But why? Mario makes a lot of money two ways – by selling cheap hardware to the masses and by selling expensive software to those same masses. Mario Kart on the iPhone would be a hoot but Mario Kart Wii costs $30 and Mario Kart DS costs $18. The closest MK analog on the App Store is a $4.99 copy of Sega All Stars Racing, a good game to be sure but hardly a Nintendo-caliber release… and price.
There are two or three companies out there who can, for the most part, write their own ticket in the electronics market. Sony used to be one of them but, with the slow trickle-down of the Playstation brand into phones it’s clear they’re listening to their shareholders and not following their core competencies. Nintendo and Apple are the last “walled garden”-type manufacturers in existence and it will be a long time before they pollute their brand by deigning to port their flagship titles to smartphones.
Could they release a smartphone? Sure they could, but why? The 3DS already has Wi-Fi so they could clearly add Skype or a similar chat service to their devices and maybe a cellular radio to some. However, they’re not a chat company and their audience – school-age kids, for the most part – probably aren’t allowed to be chatting in school and the safety issues associated with letting kids appear on video are enormous. So a smartphone play is out.
So what are shareholders really saying? To use a sports analogy, they’re telling Nintendo to trade their best players because of a down season. Nintendo’s real treasure isn’t the hardware or even the software, per se. It’s the good will, brand awareness, and nostalgia associated with their top games. Nintendo has more console exclusives than any other device manufacturer and they’re going to keep it that way for as long as they can, investors (hopefully) be damned.