Smartphones: Not the Answer for Nintendo

Smartphones: Not the Answer for Nintendo

Given the Wii’s skimpy holiday roster, the 3DS’s slow launch and subsequent price cut, and the big question mark that is the Wii U, it’s no wonder people have been penning funeral dirges for Nintendo. What they forget, however, and what long-time fans of Nintendo know well, is that this is hardly the Big N’s darkest hour. Nintendo has fallen out of favor a few times in its long history–though always while remaining comfortably in the black–and it has always righted itself on its own time.

Wired’s Chris Kohler recently pointed out that Nintendo strictly marches to its own beat, not to the whims of investors, which is “something that those who own stock in the company should probably have known, going in.” The result is a company with a history that’s pitted with industry-changing revolutions, enormous successes–and the occasional flop that still breeds industry change. The N64 “lost” the 32- and- 64 bit console race, but it forever changed the way we play 3D games thanks to the combination of Super Mario 64 and the analogue stick that was built into its controller.

“[N]intendo’s games are excellent only because the company takes several distinct and unique approaches to making them so,” Kohler wrote. “One example: The company crafts its hardware and software in tandem; abandoning this practice would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

In other words, if Nintendo allowed its properties to be ported to smartphones, the resultant games would immediately sate investors, analysts, and probably cut back on a lot of the doom and gloom that’s been wafting from the gaming community. But that would prove only a short term solution to Nintendo’s recent problems, and a relatively poor one at that. It may be a trite comparison, but taking Nintendo away from its consoles would be like clipping the wings of an exotic bird. Third parties are having an increasingly hard time finding success on Nintendo’s consoles, but Nintendo itself is at its very best when it can engineer its games according to its domain. That’s how we ended up with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. That’s how we ended up with Wii Sports. That’s how we ended up with Nintendogs and Brain Age. And that’s why it’s a safe bet Super Mario 3D Land will demonstrate this winter that the Nintendo 3DS’s 3D screen is indeed more than a gimmick.

But there’s no denying that Nintendo is holding out on all forms of compromise, and it’s painful to watch. Kohler is correct, Nintendo doesn’t need a smartphone, but it does need to get over its superstition of downloadable and lower-priced games.

“It’s not that Nintendo has been made irrelevant by Apple, it’s that old methods of game distribution are dying faster than Nintendo expected them to,” Kohler wrote. To be fair, the old ways are dying off faster than any of us imagined. But that’s why Nintendo needs to be on the ball instead of digging in its heels while the industry changes around it.

Nothing is going to change Nintendo’s mind about keeping Mario as a $40-per-game property. That’s fine: Mario games are typically excellent and wholly worth $40. However, Nintendo needs to think differently about its downloadable market. That includes making the Nintendo eShop less of a living hell to navigate. It also means more playable demos, letting third party developers price content lower than $2 if they’d like to, and maybe pricing classic Game Boy games at increments lower than “Ouch!”.

Kohler believes that Nintendo will respond to the changing market (presumably in its own good time), and in a few years from now, the company will “have everything it now derides as being useless and/or harmful: a flourishing digital store with persistent user accounts across devices, a wide variety of inexpensive games, downloadable versions of retail games and more power in the hands of developers to set and adjust pricing and content.”

Nintendo has problems, yes, but Nintendo also has the power to fix most of its problems. And none of those fixes involve engineering a Nintendo-brand smartphone, or begging Steve Jobs to give Mario a home on iOS devices.

(Image from Wired)

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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