For years Nintendo has made a point of sticking with proprietary consoles instead of flinging itself into mobile gaming. This has been a controversial approach that has spawned countless think pieces and explainers over the years. But on Tuesday the company announced that it is partnering with the Japanese mobile game developer DeNA to create smartphone games and other mobile features.
The two companies are each putting $18 million into purchasing each other’s stock, which will give Nintendo a 10 percent stake in DeNA and will give DeNA a 1.24 percent stake in Nintendo. Along with using Nintendo characters in mobile games, the partnership will also lead to a new type of digital membership that will allow Nintendo users to transition more seamlessly between mobile devices, PCs, and dedicated game consoles.
The company said in a statement, “Leveraging the strength of Nintendo’s intellectual property and game development skills in combination with DeNA’s world-class expertise in mobile games, both companies will develop and operate new game apps … including its iconic game characters, for smart devices.” Nintendo says, though, that only new games will get mobile versions. The company doesn’t seem to be focusing on bringing classic favorites to your smartphone (unfortunately).
As Kotaku points out, DeNA already makes a steady stream of free-to-play games that come out in the iOS and Android apps stores. The company’s strategy is to make money by offering tempting in-app purchases that help users with the game or make it more fun in some way. To some this will feel like the obvious partner for Nintendo, but others may interpret it as cheapening the Nintendo experience and diluting the brand. “I worry that micro-transactions could destroy the Nintendo brand and its reputation among gamers,” Erik Kain wrote in Forbes on Tuesday. “I believed Nintendo could make a comeback if they stayed true to their core mission. … This was not meant to be.”
And some have been cautioning against a Nintendo mobile transition since long before this partnership was announced. “It is not an inevitability that Nintendo must put its games on rival hardware or die,” Chris Kohler wrote in Wired UK more than a year ago. “It takes time, effort, talent and care to create successful mobile games. It’s not free money, it’s a significant diversion of resources from Nintendo’s platforms.”
It’s good to see Nintendo innovating, and hopefully DeNA is the right partner to make Nintendo some money in mobile without destroying its empire. Investors seem happy, at least: Nintendo shares finished up 27.5 percent on Tuesday at $18.22. But it’s hard not to be wary of something that the company has always said would never happen.