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March 20, 2015

Nintendo: Now You're Playing With Smartphones?

Those who follow the video game market know that, for the last couple years, Nintendo has been little more than a footnote in the console wars. Sales of the Wii U and its accompanying games often pale against the numbers coming out of Sony and Microsoft, with some exceptions. But there are new indications that Nintendo has plans to take on a whole new market: smartphones. Nintendo's CEO, Satoru Iwata, offered up some comment on just what the plan was, and how soon, mobile devices everywhere may have Nintendo connections.

For Nintendo buffs, the news was welcome: some of Nintendo's biggest names—powerhouses in gaming since the eighties—like Donkey Kong, Zelda, and of course Mario would be arriving on smart devices. Iwata revealed that Nintendo regarded the biggest problem with digital releasing as the loss of value in content that tends to happen, and so Nintendo spent a long time considering how to make the best use of such devices. Nintendo subsequently brought out an official announcement after having, as Iwata put it “finally found solutions to the problems we identified.”

Those hoping that Nintendo would finally open up the vault and make it a little easier to play the classics would be immediately sucker-punched; Iwata detailed that there were no plans to “merely port games developed for our dedicated game systems to smart devices just as they are...” but rather, there would be whole new games developed, and its efforts would be backed up by DeNA, a Japanese provider of mobile portal and e-commerce websites that reportedly spent quite a bit of time courting Nintendo in a bid to work together on a similar front.

The actual form of the system would involve a likely mix of formats, with some games being released under the “free-to-start” model with microtransactions available later, while others would go for the “premium” strategy where everything was released up front. DeNA would also be joining in on developing a new membership service for multiple devices, including Nintendo's stand-alone game systems, so there would likely be quite a bit of change to follow in the near term.

The unanswered question—one that likely won't be answered for a while; some reports suggest that the first such game under this new plan might be ready sometime this year—is just what form these new games and the like will ultimately take, and just what Nintendo will do about its older titles that still have some clear interest from players. It's fairly well known that Nintendo's older titles are routine piracy targets, and ROM versions of classic games are floating around like no tomorrow, as well as some unusual online versions. But Nintendo appears more interested in putting its IP to work on future development rather than rehashing the past, which may ultimately serve as a better method for Nintendo to succeed.

The console market has wildly changed since Nintendo was king thereof; Sony and Microsoft have each made excellent plays for the “core gamer” market, and Nintendo's systems haven't proven quite so persuasive. Still, there's quite a bit of room in the market for the unusual, and Nintendo's plan to more aggressively pursue mobile gaming might well prove to pay off. Only time will tell just how well such a strategy works, but it's not time to call “game over” on Nintendo yet.

Edited by Dominick Sorrentino

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