Mobile Mavens

How will Nintendo's beloved franchises go F2P?

Mobile Mavens debate Nintendo's entry to mobile games

How will Nintendo's beloved franchises go F2P?

Given today's surprising news - or the "unexpected alliance" in the words of Nintendo boss Satoru Iwata - we go straight to the point with our Mobile Mavens, asking them:

Do you think this partnership between Nintendo and DeNA is too little, too late?

Or will the arrival of Mario, Metroid, Donkey Kong, Zelda etc totally shake up the mobile games industry?


John Ozimek Co-founder Big Games Machine

John is co-founder of PR and marketing company Big Ideas Machine. Also an all-round nice guy...

What caught my eye is that this agreement is based around a subscription service covering different platforms.

This approach of launching IP across mobile, web and PC is something that we are hearing quite a few developers talk about, and is a major shift for a company like Nintendo that has always tied its IP to its own devices.

Far from being too little too late, my sense is that this is a smart move that effectively outsources the financial risk to DeNA, whist delivering some of the best-known gaming IP to a fresh audience.

Is someone about to buy a Blue Shell?

The nightmare scenario for me as a long-time fan of Nintendo games would be shoving F2P mechanics into cherished franchises like Zelda or Mario Kart.

So a lot will depend on the quality of the new games, and to what extent they stick to Nintendo's preference for a premium experience at a premium price.

David MacQueen Executive Director Strategy Analytics

At last! It's late, or later than it should have been, but I don't think it'll be too little.

That is a stable of the best IP in the business. I'm sure the quality will be right up there, Nintendo games have always been extremely polished. They also have a strong history of using technology in a great way for games:

  • The "D-Pad" (first appeared on the NES console, 1983)
  • Wireless controllers (NES, 1989)
  • Vibration feedback (N64, 1997)
  • Touch control (Nintendo DS, 2002)
  • Motion sensor controls (Wii, 2006)
  • 3D and AR (3DS, 2010)

I can't wait to see how they use all the sensors available on a phone or tablet given that Nintendo/Miyamoto pretty much invented all the ways that most games use the tech I've listed above.

I think the biggest risk is going to be managing Nintendo's child-friendly image while using freemium models.

Looking forward to playing them myself, especially Zelda!

Dan Gray Chief Creative Officer Ustwo games

The thought of seeing "Buy Squirtle for $4.99" and "Repair your Hyrulian Shield for .99c or wait for blacksmith?" kills me a little on inside.

Christopher Kassulke CEO HandyGames

It is very late already and they cooperate with DeNA now so lets see what will come out of the powerhouse.

I welcome Nintendo in the field and hope they will learn fast.

Have F2P games like Seabeard already stolen Nintendo's thunder?

I am quite sure this also mean the death of the DS very soon. So I guess we will see some TCG [trading card game] soon with the Nintendo characters.

Buying Mario Karts anyone? I really want to see how Nintendo will keep the family-friendly company in the evil mobile F2P world.

Good luck Nintendo, you will need it!

William D. Volk Chief Futurist Forward Reality

I called this in 2011.

It’s not too late. These are valuable properties well suited to the mobile form factor.

I am impressed that Nintendo partnered with a strong mobile publisher, as opposed to doing it on their own. That’s a wise move.

This, in a way, caps the ascendency of mobile as a game platform. I also think you’ll start to see more triple-A titles from the major video game publishers end up on the better devices.

Scott Foe Chief Product Officer Ignited Artists

It's not too late. We're talking about Nintendo and their war chest of worldwide beloved entertainment properties, here: Sounds, stories, symbols, characters, and themes are the only real enduring business assets in the games industry.

There will be transitional pain
Scott Foe

Selling kids games is difficult on account of having to convince two different customers: You have to sell the kids and you have to sell the parents.

Nintendo has spent the last three generations selling the parents. Nintendo might as well be Japanese for, "family friendly."

There will be transitional pain, but even if Nintendo stubbornly makes every amateur mistake that a new-to-mobile publisher can make, Mario will still be out there, stomping Koopas for the next decade and beyond.

Paul Farley CEO / Founder Firestoke Games

Since founding Tag Games in 2006 Paul has built the studio from humble beginnings to become one of the most respected and successful mobile and handheld developers in Europe.

He began a long, and some might say, distinguished, games industry career at legendary developer DMA Design, playing a key role in the development of the GTA series

It's never too late is it? Whether or not the wait has been a strategic move on Nintendo's part, or they are genuinely late to the party, the timing cannot be seen as bad at this stage.

The industry has had time to mature, and there are many great examples to draw from and lessons learnt; the key thing here is getting it right.

As the Mavens very recently discussed, it's quality over quantity

These are precious, beloved franchises so the pressure will be on to retain the essence of the IP whilst ensuring that the experience translates to a new platform and business model.

How will Nintendo bring Super Mario Bros. to mobile?

This is a huge and very exciting opportunity for both companies and it definitely has the opportunity not only to shake up the mobile industry, but also to redefine Nintendo in the mobile space.

It's possibly a better deal for DeNA who now don't need to worry about breaking their own new IP so much, when they have a vast back catalogue of Nintendo content to plunder!

Will Luton Founder/CPO Village Studio Games Village Studio

Too late is not the question.

It's how thoroughly they embrace and correctly execute mobile that will dictate if their products will succeed.

Andreas Vahsen CEO / CCO / Game Economist MachineWorks Northwest

I think it will be a long time before these games see the light of day in any app store, my guess is ~ 2016.

Nintendo will be extremely picky and each game's port will be a serious challenge.

And the games might take damage instead of letting the mobile experts do their job.

Jared Steffes Co-founder Muxy

Totally not too late for Nintendo based on the value of their IP.

My first guess is we can expect to see virtual console titles on mobile, but I really don't think they will go that simple of a route. Putting my self in the shoes of Nintendo would mean much deeper thinking and a premium pricing tier like Square Enix.

The F2P Pokemon TCG has not been a success on iPad

They will try a lesser property first on mobile before bringing over the Mario/Pokemon franchises. The results from the Pokemon TCG on iPad has not been so stellar.

I'd like to see a Pokemon game that involves GPS and ARG.

What this means for consoles and equipment from Nintendo is a gamble.

They have been losing money and most likely have the next console in development according to rumors. There is possibly a plan to tie the experiences of console and mobile together further, especially with their Amiibos and successful past with quick mini games from the WarioWare and Mario Party series.

Phil Larsen MD Prettygreat

The addition of Nintendo IP to the world of mobile will give smartphones and tablets an incredible new audience.
Phil Larsen

It's not too late whatsoever. I really respect Nintendo for committing to its hardware and vision through such an incredible transition in the games industry.

They may have stayed quiet for a long time, but I'm sure they have been gathering data and formulating a plan all along.

If anything this is great timing, the addition of Nintendo IP to the world of mobile will give smartphones and tablets an incredible new audience that will really help prospects of developers who emulate (at least in part) Nintendo's philosophy of development and design.

If Nintendo sticks to its guns in terms of quality, it's one of the few companies powerful enough to potentially shift how consumers perceive value in mobile content.

If I can buy rare Pokemon through IAP, that might just tempt me :)

Dave Castelnuovo Owner Bolt Creative

Let us not forget that DeNA is creating these games. Nintendo hasn’t said how involved they will be in their design and DeNA does not have a great track record of making good games.

They have a great track record of milking users out of money. Great games? No.

I think the most likely outcome is DeNA will make a bunch of crappy games using Nintendo IP.
Dave Castlenuovo

If Nintendo was to actually put thought into the design of the games and use DeNA purely as distribution, then it will probably work out well.

There are a lot of ideas that Nintendo could bring to the table that would work on mobile much better than even the 3DS. Mario: March of the Minis would actually be quite good on the iPhone.

Although, it sounds like Nintendo wants to reserve a certain class of game for console only so I’m not sure if that just means we won’t find Super Mario Bros. and a real Zelda adventure come to mobile or if that will also extend to games like March of the Minis which could fare well on both platforms.

The Wii U title Nintendo Land had some really engaging mini games like Donkey Kong’s Crash Course that would work really well on mobile but would be too simple of a concept to work as a console title on its own. If we see more than that, then I‘m pretty excited about the partnership.

On the other hand, I think the most likely outcome is DeNA will make a bunch of crappy games using Nintendo IP.

It’s enough to keep the dumb game analysts off their back while they work on their next gen. If it turns out bad enough, no one will ever ask Nintendo to bail on their console roots again.

Thomas Nielsen Osao Games

What I really WOULD like to see though is Nintendo dedicating internal design resources to new products.

There is so much ground to break in terms of maturing F2P into a genre where gameplay counts too, and there's bound to be design ressources within Nintendo that could take things to a whole new level.

The mobile scene has done really well in perfecting retention and monetization, but the type of addiction a lot of titles thrive on at the moment is tightly constructed game loops with little variation ... that is bound to evolve, and I'd love to see big N in that game..

btw, I noticed Oceanhorn climbed up the charts a little after the announcement. So at least someone is monetizing on it already.

Eros Resmini Head of Marketing The Mini Fund

Oh boy...

Dave Castelnuovo Owner Bolt Creative

From what I read he seems to be saying the right things.

  • Nintendo will be developing and designing the games while DeNA will be responsible for the service side of things.
  • Nintendo is open to all monetization models. Except they will never adopt overly aggressive IAP strategies that will make them look bad (unlike DeNA's current models).
  • They want to create unique experiences. This is what Nintendo does best.
  • They won't port existing games to mobile. For the most part this is correct although there are some titles that would work pretty well on mobile.

If this is not just lip service, I think Nintendo could refresh the mobile industry. Maybe even bringing back demand for games that don't rely on a paywall (by being paid, or free to start).

Jason Citron CEO Discord

I dunno what Eros sees, but Dave I think your read on it is mostly correct.

The big red flag there IMO is the notion that "Nintendo makes the games, DeNA runs the service."

As we all know by now, in order to effectively build a game-as-a-service, you make fundamentally different design decisions.

To what extent will Nintendo influence their design decisions to make a proper live game? It can't be a we do X, you do Y type of partnership - the design directors on the games will need to internalize live-ops design.

In order to effectively build a game-as-a-service, you make fundamentally different design decisions.
Jason Citron

Ultimately I suspect it will come down to how much patience Nintendo has relative to the external Wall Street'pressure to deliver a hit product now.

Their designers need to internalize this new way of making games. I could easily see 2-4 years passing without shipping a title in order for them to really grok live-ops design and create something truly remarkable.

My hunch is anything that comes in Super Mario Puzzle & Dragons flavor. It could very well have positive short term financial impact on Nintendo.

Will it reinvigorate their IP for the mass market? I dunno. Certainly not for the existing core base. I could imagine it helping acquire new players to their consoles though.

Anyway - time will tell. They have managed more drastic pivots than this, so history is on their side.

I'm certainly rooting for Nintendo and I always will be :-)

Eros Resmini Head of Marketing The Mini Fund

I'm exactly worried about the service versus content comment.

Seems very hard to separate seeing the way DENA runs it own games. Events, sales, etc.

Harry Holmwood European CEO Marvelous Europe

A 20-year veteran of video games and online space, Harry is European CEO of Marvelous AQL, a Japanese developer and publisher of social, mobile and console games, known for console games like No More Heroes and Harvest Moon, but now highly successful in the free-to-play mobile and web space in Japan and Asia.

A games programmer before joining Sony’s early PlayStation team in 1994, he then founded developer Pure Entertainment, which IPO’d and launched a free-to-play online gaming service way back in 1999.

He was also a director of pioneering motion gaming startup In2Games, which was sold to a US group in 2008.

Along the way, he’s been a corporate VP, troubleshooter, and non-exec to a variety of companies and investors in and around the games sector.

I think there's huge potential there.

Japanese companies are pretty good at striving to create 'win-win' partnerships like this - I'm writing this from our Japan office and always surprised by the constant drive to create harmonious business relationships and proceed with projects only once a consensus is reached that everyone's happy with.

Although that can make things move slowly at first, it also tends to result in great long term partnerships which continue for many years and many products.

From the outside, Nintendo and DeNA seem radically different but I'm sure there's a mutual respect and desire to learn from one another.

Holmwood says a decent Pokemon game is an obvious first step

What I'm seeing at the moment is that Japanese mobile companies are really upping their game now in terms of producing titles with top-notch (I hesitate to say 'console style') production values but which are very much smartphone games (with great monetisation and long-term retention), rather than console-type games ported to smartphone.

Japanese mobile companies are really upping their game now
Harry Holmwood

If they can get this right - retaining the charm, polish and delight we're used to from Nintendo, with the brands they bring, and adding the service approach of the best Japanese mobile games, then they could be onto a huge winner.

Since so many Japanese smartphone games are based on the very popular collection/gacha/fusion mechanics, obviously Pokemon immediately screams out as a candidate for mobile.

We're already seeing Nintendo brands as great collectors' items with the Amiibo range which is popular worldwide - I wouldn't be surprised to see some pretty big products coming out of this collaboration, likely ones which will resonate with a wordwide audience, not just a Japanese one.

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.