I’ve written about Nintendo before. I used to be a huge fan of Nintendo in mobile, from the original Game Boy through to the DS. However, from the GBA onwards, I noticed a pattern, in that I’d increasingly end up noodling about with homebrew and emulators, through first-party games slowing to a trickle of recycled content, and third-party games largely being expensive crap. iOS then spoiled me. In just a few years, Apple’s hardware went from being quite interesting to utterly essential for anyone with a genuine interest in gaming. It reinvigorated the indie space on mobile, forced innovation through its lack of traditional controls, and although there was a gatekeeper, it was one that was far more likely to fling you the keys to the store than Nintendo or Sony.
Every quarter, we now hear some kind of bad news from Nintendo: its hardware isn’t selling as well as it hoped, and the profits the company is making aren’t high enough (or, in some cases, don’t exist at all). Marco Arment recently covered the various options for Nintendo, and his conclusion was much the same as what I said last summer: Nintendo cannot or will not deal with the challenges required to truly compete in the existing mobile marketplace, and there’s a good chance we’ll see the company exit hardware and become another Sega.
Arment’s final words, however, were particularly interesting:
I don’t think Nintendo has a bright future. I see them staying in the shrinking hardware business until the bitter end, and then becoming roughly like Sega today: a shell of the former company, probably acquired for relatively little by someone big, endlessly whoring out their old franchises in mostly mediocre games that will leave their old fans longing for the good old days.
To some extent, “endlessly whoring out their old franchises” is precisely what Nintendo’s business model on mobile has been for years. New console? Quick: crank out another Mario Bros. platformer that’s almost identical to the last! Rinse and repeat. Still, as the company responsible for so much innovation to mobile gaming with the DS, I’d like to think Nintendo has something brewing—something amazing that will kickstart its fortunes on mobile again. However, I’m not going to be shocked if we see an official Super Mario for iPhone on the App Store for $9.99 in a year or two.