If one had to describe Nintendo’s first mobile venture with one word, the word would be “lackluster”. Miitomo is a social game that allows players to interact with each other in a virtual universe using customized Mii avatars. Free to download and use, Miitomo shot to the top ranks of both iOS and Android app stores immediately upon its launch. The app attracted almost 15 million unique users, according to Nintendo’s claims. However, surveys indicated that those users were not there to stay: less than 50% of users who downloaded Miitomo would come back to play it again after the first week. With a rapidly declining user count, the game plummeted to 67th in stores only a month after its release. As of now, it resembles more a ghost town than the bustling social hub it was supposed to be.
Perhaps Miitomo’s role in Nintendo’s foray into mobile gaming was simply to draw as many people as possible into the Nintendo network, to gather their social profiles and to facilitate their contact with future releases. Regarding their mobile gaming business, Nintendo had highlighted three main goals. Of course, the business should be a lucrative one on its own. But beyond that, smart devices are to serve as a platform for Nintendo’s entertainment to reach a broader audience; newly reached users will be directed back to original Nintendo software, creating a synergy between the two businesses and hence maximizing Nintendo’s overall performance.
Here, the keyword is mutualism. The deciding point of this unusual strategy would be finding a point of balance that will neither devalue the original product nor squander money on mobile flops. Take the game that took last summer by a storm, for instance. The phenomenal success of Pokémon Go earned Nintendo more than just the 100 million USD of licensing fees. It rekindled interest in Pokémon-related software, leading to a resurgence of sales for the Pokémon series. Nintendo reported that previously released Pokémon titles, regardless of how long they’ve been on the market, all saw significant increases in sales. What’s more, Pokémon Go’s halo effect brought about a 19% increase in 3DS family hardware sales from the previous year. Nice move, Nintendo!
Unfortunately, Nintendo’s stand-alone second step into the mobile business with this strategy did not turn out as well. Super Mario Run, like its predecessor, debuted with high ranks in the iOS App Store and recorded 25 million downloads within four days. Despite this remarkable performance, the reviews that followed were largely tepid, brimming with criticism. Most complaints concerned the game’s deceptive pricing. Users could download the game for free, but all content past the first three levels were blocked by a 9.99 USD paywall. Then, there was the game’s requirement to connect to the internet before launching, Nintendo’s odd solution against piracy that came across as an inconvenience to most users. Although the game was successful in that those who bought the full version were generally satisfied and that Mario game sales saw a small boost after its release, Super Mario Run’s overall performance was not up to Nintendo’s expectations. In fact, Nintendo shares rapidly went downhill after Super Mario Run’s release was met by critical reviews.
The issue with Miitomo and Super Mario Run was that Nintendo tried to have mobile audiences assimilate to the Nintendo way of games, instead of vice versa. With Fire Emblem Heroes, their latest release, Nintendo seems to be adopting an approach more suited to the mobile gaming market trends. The game’s monetization system is well in line with conventional systems: unlike Super Mario Run, it is indeed free from start to end, with optional microtransactions for extra stamina and gacha draws. Meanwhile, the game also manages to conserve the key components of the original Fire Emblem series, for which it is receiving high acclaim.
Fire Emblem Heroes is currently raking in significant profits for Nintendo, and shows promises of becoming the company’s first complete success on mobile markets. Nintendo has announced that Animal Crossing is next in line to be brought to mobile, and that it plans to release 2-3 mobile titles a year in the future. How Nintendo evolves in its mobile ventures and whether it manages to carry on the small success of Heroes will be worth keeping an eye on.