It’s a time of optimism and transition at Nintendo, where brisk sales of the Switch have bolstered its bottom line and new leadership signals a fresh approach to the market. Shuntaro Furukawa, the new president, told the Nikkei that one of his plans is to pursue mobile gaming with more vigor, aiming to build it into a billion-dollar business.
Furukawa is taking over from Tatsumi Kimishima, who took the helm temporarily after the tragic and sudden death of the beloved Satoru Iwata in 2015. He’s only 46, and clearly as a member of the younger generation has a different outlook on mobile, which the company completely avoided until very recently.
“The idea that something will emerge that transforms into something big, in the same manner as game consoles, is the defining motive of the Nintendo business,” he told the Nikkei. “From what I can see, smartphone games are the ones I want to expand the most.”
He said he envisions the smartphone side of the game company to become a 100 billion yen business — short of a billion at the present exchange rate, but why not round up? The company did a trillion yen in sales last year, so it’s not like we’re going to run out of zeroes.
The company’s tentative forays into the field have been a mixed success. Pokémon GO was, of course, a worldwide phenomenon, but widely criticized for half-baked gameplay and other issues. Mario Run was a perfectly fun game, but many mobile players balked at its high up-front price. Then Fire Emblem: Heroes has proven popular and a financial success — but its reliance on “loot box” mechanics and in-game microtransactions soured the experience for many.
A new game and franchise, Dragalia Lost, is coming this summer.
Clearly Nintendo is still finding its feet in this relatively unfamiliar territory, though long practice with the DS (in many ways very like a smartphone) means that mobile gaming, if not a core competency, is at least core-adjacent. And popular franchises like Advance Wars and Professor Layton are great matches for mobile.
No one should expect a smartphone equivalent to sprawling, beautiful games like Breath of the Wild, but Nintendo has handheld fun in its blood, and there’s no reason to think they won’t nail it after a few tries.