Nintendo partners with DeNA to develop mobile phone games [Updated]
Update: The investing community seems rather bullish on Nintendo’s decision to move into mobile gaming. Nintendo’s stock was up 27.5 percent in ADR trading for the day, to $18.22 per share. The last time Nintendo’s stock price was that high was at the beginning of 2014.
After years of speculation from industry watchers and hints from Nintendo itself, the console maker finally confirmed its first steps into mobile phone game development today. As part of a “business and capital alliance” with Japanese mobile gaming mega-publisher DeNA, the companies will “develop and operate new game apps based on Nintendo’s IP, including its iconic game characters, for smart devices.”
In a press release announcing the alliance last night, Nintendo was quick to point out that mobile gaming is “intended to complement Nintendo’s dedicated video game system business” rather than replacing the likes of the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS lines. Players that come to love Nintendo’s characters on cell phones “will have the opportunity to explore even more premium experiences on Nintendo’s dedicated video game platforms,” as Nintendo puts it.
As further evidence that Nintendo is not abandoning the console business, Iwata announced that “Nintendo is currently developing a dedicated game platform with a brand-new concept under the development codename ‘NX.'” Later in his remarks, he again referred to NX as “the new hardware system with a brand-new concept” but said we shouldn’t expect more detailed information until “next year.”
The Nintendo/DeNA alliance will also lead to the creation of an “online membership service” spanning smartphones, PCs, and Nintendo consoles, targeted for a fall 2015 launch. The subscription plan “will form one of the core elements of the new Nintendo platform [NX],” Iwata said. It’s unclear what benefits players will get from this subscription, but Iwata compared it to the Club Nintendo bonus program that Nintendo recently shut down, so it may be nothing more than a cross-platform replacement for that kind of service.
No direct console ports
Those hoping that Nintendo’s mobile phone plans will include pocket-sized versions of popular Mario, Zelda, or Pokemon console games should temper their expectations. Nintendo said it would not be making direct ports of existing games for smartphones; “only new original games optimized for smart device functionality will be created.”
“There are significant differences in the controls, strengths, and weaknesses between the controllers for dedicated game systems and the touchscreens of smart devices,” Nintendo President Satoru Iwata explained in a press conference last night. “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.”
As for what specific games or characters we can expect from Nintendo’s new mobile phone push, Nintendo didn’t set any limits: “All Nintendo IP will be eligible for development and exploration by the alliance.” That said, the language being used suggests to use that familiar characters may be used in unfamiliar, smartphone-centric game designs going forward; perhaps something like free-to-play 3DS matching game Pokemon Shuffle, except on mobile phones. It’s all speculation for now, though, as Nintendo is saving specific mobile game announcements for later.
An alliance five years in the making
DeNA first approached Nintendo about using the company’s characters in mobile games back in 2010, Iwata said, and has been passionately pursuing talks on the alliance ever since. Iwata acknowledged that the transition from the Wii and DS lines to the Wii U and 3DS lines has not gone “as smoothly as we had expected,” but he maintained that industry watchers predicting the death of dedicated video game consoles are being too pessimistic.
Iwata tied the move to smartphones to Nintendo’s historical embrace of TV gaming after decades as a physical toy and card game company during a time when TVs didn’t exist. “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.”
While some see the smartphone gaming market as “easy money,” Iwata said he didn’t want Nintendo to dive in to smartphone gaming until he was confident the company could be one of the handful of companies that consistently see “enduring results” at the top of the revenue charts.
“Many content providers who are succeeding on smart devices are depending on single hit titles,” Iwata said. “One of my goals here is, now that we are challenging ourselves with this endeavor by making use of Nintendo IP, to produce multiple hit titles at an early stage after we start releasing our software on smart devices.”