Opinion: Should Nintendo enter the mobile phone market?

Features Damien McFerran 13:27, 19 Dec 2011

The House that Mario built is on rocky ground right now, but does that mean it should enter the mobile phone arena? Damien McFerran investigates

There once was a time when portable gaming was associated almost exclusively with Nintendo. From the launch of the original monochrome Game Boy in 1989 to the release of the groundbreaking dual-core DS over fifteen years later, this Japanese company effortlessly dominated the arena of handheld gaming.

Then the iPhone happened.

Apple’s device wasn’t intended to be a world-beating gaming device - that was merely a bonus. However, slowly but surely the App Store began to fill with games and developers realised that they could bypass the old-fashioned publishing method and earn thousands using iOS as a platform. The rest is history; iOS has sparked a gold-rush and a new era of experimentation which calls to mind the glory days of the Spectrum and C64.

Where does this leave the previously unstoppable Nintendo? Looking at the firm’s recent financials, it’s not a pretty place. Nintendo posted some depressing figures lately and had to hack down the price of its new 3DS console to kick-start sales. The machine is now selling well, thanks to a combination of the aforementioned reduction and a flood of amazing games, such as Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7.

Despite the upturn in fortunes, Nintendo still seems to be on the back-foot. Surveys reveal that the aspirations of many children have changed; they want iPhones and iPads now, with the 3DS ranking much further down the wish list.

Nintendo has long claimed that it is not in competition with smartphones, but that argument isn’t really holding water any more. Given that arch rival Sony has dipped a toe into smartphone waters with the Xperia Play, is it now time for Nintendo to consider a move into mobile? Investors seem to think so - they recently said that they’d like the firm to diversify and move into smartphone development.

The market obviously agrees - when it was mistakenly reported that a Nintendo development team was producing an title for iOS and Android, Nintendo’s share prices rose. When the truth came out, the shares quickly dropped again.

Of course, given Nintendo’s history, it’s unlikely that the Kyoto firm would be happy to develop for a device like the iPhone. The company has traditionally seen hardware and software as a union, not only because it allows for some amazing games, but because it leads to larger profits. If Nintendo did take a step into mobile, it would do so under its own steam, rather than using an existing platform like iOS or Android.

Sponsored Links