After years of stubbornness, Nintendo is finally going to make mobile games, via a new partnership with mobile portal DeNA.
The overnight announcement should put off investor concerns that the iconic creator of Mario and Link would ride its own struggling hardware Thelma-and-Louise-style off a cliff. On Wall Street, over-the-counter Nintendo shares shot up 27 percent following the news.
Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata characterized the deal as a bid to drive more gamers back to its hardware. But the mobile gaming market is way bigger than the install base of any device Nintendo has ever released. In December alone, Candy Crush Saga maker King had 356 million unique players; in the 26 years since the first Game Boy debuted, Nintendo has sold a total of 325 million handheld devices.
If it plays its cards right, bringing its IP to new devices could help Nintendo recapture the broad audience it has long said it wants, but which largely left it behind following the success of the Nintendo Wii in 2006. And partnering with an established mobile player like DeNA will give it inroads to people who have never played, and otherwise would never play, a Nintendo game.
DeNA is also developing an online membership program that will span all of Nintendo’s platforms — including mobile, existing consoles and a new in-development piece of hardware codenamed “NX.”
The big unanswered question is whether Nintendo will be a leader or a follower here. Its nearest approximations of mobile gaming ambitions before have included a Super Mario Bros. Edition of Puzzle & Dragons, a Japanese mobile megahit, released earlier this year for the company’s handheld console Nintendo 3DS; and a free-to-play Pokémon puzzle game that strongly resembled Puzzle & Dragons, also for the 3DS.