Comment & Opinion

The big game company that couldn't: Nintendo's mobile rethink

Jon Jordan explores Nintendo's decision to scale back on mobile

The big game company that couldn't: Nintendo's mobile rethink

Oh, how excited we all were when in 2015 Nintendo finally admitted the existence of mobile games, announcing it would be working with DeNA to "develop and operate new original games based on its iconic IP".

Clearly with F2P monetisation a rocketship to untold riches, Nintendo's IP combined with DeNA's mobile games know-how meant the pair were onto a winner.

So, despite the very oddly phrased 'free-to-start' (aka $10 DLC) Super Mario Run flopping, Newzoo predicted Nintendo could still generate $2.5 billion annually from its mobile games.

But try as it might - even working with companies other than DeNA - Nintendo's singular mobile gaming success remains super Japanese hardcore RPG Fire Emblem Heroes.

And it remains a long way away from generating $1 billion annually from mobile games that has been its stated aim since 2018.

So, it's finally thrown in the towel and effectively given up: with Switch revenues booming, mobile games only generate less than 5% of annual sales anyhow.

It's a decision that demonstrates an intellectual rigor Nintendo never brought to bear on its mobile strategy, which was best described as "not coherent".

Yet, the sad thing was - at heart - Nintendo did know what it wanted to do, it just couldn't (or didn't) express it, or think through the implications.

It wanted mobile gamers to think of their mobile handsets as little Nintendo portables, and play and pay accordingly.

Nintendo didn't want to play by the rules (especially the monetisation rules) of mobile games. Ultimately, it wanted mobile gamers to become Nintendo gamers, despite playing on non-Nintendo hardware, because they were playing Nintendo games.

It thought - somehow - the magical power of its mobile games could make this transformation occur.

It didn't - and doesn't - understand mobile gamers. Significantly, however, Nintendo's failure with mobile games isn't about mobile games. It's about Nintendo's DNA as a company that only make games for its own hardware.

In that respect, Nintendo's failure wasn't really about its mobile games. It was about its lack of control over everything else.

It could have been so different though. 20 years ago, Nintendo almost agreed with Nokia to make a gaming phone. It was discussed at board level and then rejected.

And that was the point at which Nintendo should have given up on making mobile games.

Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.