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After much heckling and nagging from investors, Nintendo has finally entered the mobile phone game market with popular mobile developer DeNA. With usual reactionaries and doomsayers about, what does the Inverseman think of the situation? Find out!
In Nintendo’s partnership with DeNA, the gaming giant purchased about 10% of the entire company, giving it major sway in the smartphone developer’s business. With this merger in mind, we can make some insightful inferences as to what forms Nintendo’s phone applications will and will not probably look like.
Nintendo has a track record of touting itself as very family friendly, but of course, in-app purchases and free-to-play models are not. In an interview with Time, Iwata gave his views and probably some skepticism regarding the business model. While some games would perform best under the “free-to-start” model, others would not, and that the two models can coexist under one developer. From Iwata’s tone in the interview, I personally believe he and the company are searching for a third route for a business model that won’t leave us being asked to purchase Heart Pieces for just $0.99. If anything, at least The Pokemon Company has let the FtP model only stay with Pokemon Shuffle, not infecting the mainline games.
Speaking of business models, we can’t leave out the 3DS. While it struggled in its first year, the handheld sprung back, rivaling the successes of its predecessor with hit after hit during 2013 and 2014. To take all of Nintendo’s handheld prowess and shift them to iOS and Android would be shooting themselves in the foot, especially with the recent release of the New 3DS and all the killer app games both on the platform and still rolling out on it. Therefore, I believe the mobile offerings will be somewhat different from the handheld offerings. The phrase “explore more premium experiences on Nintendo’s dedicated video game platforms” sticks out like a sore thumb.
Taking away the dedicated console removes Nintendo’s trump card over other developers, how intimately they know their hardware. Just last week, yours truly was at a Super Smash Bros Melee tournament getting pummeled to death. Somewhere between being 3 and 4 stocked by some of the best players ever, I realized something; it would be virtually impossible to play Smash on anything but a Gamecube controller (if at least, SSBM). If you attempted to play Smash on a typical arcade stick, short-hopping and light-shielding would be awkward in the former and impossible for the latter. Given a humdrum 360 pad clone (or Wii U Pro Controller) and players of any experience level will still opt for the GCN pad.
The trend has continued further to the current generation of consoles. Zelda games have pulled off motion control near-perfectly while other games floundered with waggling. The Gamepad in the recent Mario Party 10 introduces a completely new form of 4 on 1 gameplay in Bowswer Mode, creating unique experiences in asymmetrical gameplay where one player using Bowser has all the control as four other players try to take him out with Wiimotes. Whatever the weather, Nintendo software is developed with maximizing the function of Nintendo hardware, putting it on anything else only dilutes the experience. Of course, this is also Nintendo’s biggest weakness since third party developers don’t know the hardware as well, and this issue exacerbated with Nintendo’s other track record of bad relations with third parties.
So with hardware still being a focus, at least for the time being, what will the Nintendo apps probably look like? My thoughts tend towards integration and those “more premium experiences”. What if Nintendo apps didn’t serve to replace the 3DS but instead enhance it? Imagine you could have your 3DS communicate with your phone. You could use the game application to find items, gain support from other players, or change something within your game. Then you go whip out your 3DS or head home to your Wii U and have it interface with your phone, transferring your accomplishments to the full game. Gathering items is only the most dull of the possibilities. Try imagining say raising a Chao-like or Pokemon-like character on your phone and then going home to upload your characters in glorious HD for an intense arena-style battle. Your phone is now a super-charged N64 Transfer Pak.
Outside of integration, the phrase “seek more premium experiences” can allude to demos or samples of games put on phones to tease people into buying full games or exploring more of a game series on Wii U or 3DS. Failing that, the Virtual Console is an excellent addition to the mobile library, since people already break open their phones to run emulators anyway, this move would be akin to Steam deterring piracy with an affordable and convenient system. Personally, I dislike the lack of control I have on a touchscreen, but this would be a “legal” out to generating more revenue.
In essence, the phone becomes an enhancement to the game rather than a replacement, but to accomplish any of what I mentioned above, you need serious network organization. Fortuantely, Nintendo is finally taking the leap into the 21s century with a fully fleshed-out account service akin to Live and the PSN because let’s face it, Facebook integration with the Wii U wasn’t cutting it.
The last piece of the puzzle is the mysterious “NX” hardware Nintendo has planned. Whether this is an add-on to the Wii U or a whole new console is still a mystery, but my hypothesis is that it will very likely link up with users’ phones to further support this initiative. You can always count on Nintendo to shake things up in the game industry, and hopefully as a “hardcore” gamer they will be able to use their partnership with DeNA to create those premium experiences they touted and new experiences that do not sacrifice the integrity of their games. Join me next time as I wait for the next Godfest.
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