The news that Nintendo would be entering the mobile space reads strangely to those of us who have fond memories of Game Boys and the DS. There was literally nothing more mobile than that back when they were new. Fast forward to today and advanced mobile technology and GPUs have nearly made standalone gaming systems obsolete. But not quite. Nintendo’s 3DS outsold both the Xbox One and Playstation 4 this year, which speaks to gamers’ apparent hunger for whatever Nintendo is dishing out.
The big announcement from Nintendo isn’t a flagship device release. The company is clearly looking to capitalize on the fact that the worldwide mobile gaming industry will be worth more than $100 billion by 2017 – and in the US alone may jump to $28.9 billion by 2016. The boom is largely tech driven, with companies like Snapdragon pushing the limits of hardware to the point where modern mobile games are in many cases comparable to sixth gen console titles in look and playability. It sets an almost perfect stage for Nintendo to broadcast its plan to bring its monumental game franchise to mobile.
That doesn’t necessarily mean Nintendo devotees will be rescuing Zelda like they did back in the day. Nintendo President and CEO Satoru Iwata told TIME Magazine that the move is about reaching more players, not necessarily enticing mobile gamers to explore console titles. At least not yet. He said, “…we will not merely port games developed for our dedicated game systems to smart devices just as they are—we will develop brand new software which perfectly matches the play style and control mechanisms of smart devices.”
Classic characters like Mario, Zelda and Donkey Kong will likely make an appearance but otherwise the shape of Nintendo’s advance into the growing mobile market has yet to be revealed. Gaming journalists have plenty of theories, with one common presumption being that the company will concentrate on puzzle games and short-form versions of their classic titles. It’s not clear yet whether Nintendo will use a free-to-play, pay-to-win, or pay-to-play model, or something in between, but they do expect to make serious money on the mobile side.
DeNa, the company’s partner in their evolution into the mobile space, said it expects to generate $25m from releases per month and that’s apparently the conservative estimate. Some critics of Nintendo’s decision not to release smart device optimized versions of its beloved classic titles are skeptical. Claims that the company is turning its back on easy money are showing up on scores of blogs, but veteran developer Kensuke Tanabe responded to the critics in an interview with GameSpot.
“With games like Mario and Donkey Kong, the control input is such an important part of that,” he said. “I think if you’re trying to replicate that feeling of control that you have traditional to those games, translating those to a smart device, that’s a just a really, really difficult task,”
Of course, Nintendo’s head honchos may just be feeling extra cautious in the wake of the announcement that Playstation Mobile, an Android framework for downloading and playing Playstation content on mobile, would be shutting down in September of this year. It could be that when it comes to the modern classics, some things are better left unchanged. Nintendo’s continuing relevance may hinge upon the company’s ability to look forward instead of hedging its bets on the successes of the past. But those who want to reconnect with Mario and his ilk shouldn’t see the company’s announcement as a loss. There are still plenty of solid Nintendo emulators out there – or you could always dust off the old console and play it the old fashioned way.