Enthusiast game players have been afraid or dismissive about mobile for a long time now. There's a general fear of the allocation of resources, with more development time spent on making mobile games than console titles. There's the looming spectre of never getting a "real" version of their favorite franchise again. There's also the fact that some won't play mobile games because they feel they lack the depth of console siblings.
In an interview with The Verge, Nintendo designer Shigeru Miyamoto says that lack of depth is the point. To run a successful international publisher, you have to reach a broad audience. And to do that, you have to make things simple.
"Nintendo has been making Mario games for a long time, and the longer you continue to make a series, the more complex the gameplay becomes, and the harder it becomes for new players to be able to get into the series," says Miyamoto. "We felt that by having this simple tap interaction to make Mario jump, we'd be able to make a game that the broadest audience of people could play."
Think of it like a language. Pick up the controller for a platform game, let's say on Xbox One. Which button is jump? Probably A, since it's at the bottom of the controller, near your thumb. We know that because there's a shared lexicon of information that we enthusiasts carry from game to game. Mobile games, like the upcoming Super Mario Run, work because they strip all of that away and focus on a few core ideas. It's about making an instant connection to a new player.
When you've done that, you can bring in those players. Nintendo has found that some of those new mobile players become more interested in playing the more complex console titles.
"Certainly when we first embarked on our mobile strategy, a key element for us was the idea of bringing our characters and [intellectual property] to a much broader audience," Miyamoto explains. "But I think we were surprised by the impact that [Pokémon Go] has had in terms of bringing that audience back to our own games."
In the case of Pokemon Go, the fever surrounding Niantic's mobile actually boosted the visibility of the whole franchise. Pokemon Go pushed sales of older Pokemon games way up. This August, 3DS hardware sales were up 80 percent year-over-year, as were sales of Pokemon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire, which came out in 2014. Pokemon X/Y sales were up 200 percent and that game came out in late 2013. Pokemon Go also helped the latest titles in the series, Pokemon Sun/Moon, reach 7.1 million units sold within a few weeks.
Nintendo wants to replicate that success in the future. Super Mario Run precedes the upcoming, unnamed Mario title for the Nintendo Switch. Likewise, Nintendo is hoping that it can stagger the releases of planned Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem mobile games, so that potential Switch entries can ride the wave of success.
"We have Super Mario Run releasing now, and it's already decided that we'll be making a Mario game for our next system," says Miyamoto. "And similarly with Animal Crossing, the hope is that when we release the Animal Crossing mobile game, we'll have more people who become familiar with the Animal Crossing world and characters, so that when we next release an Animal Crossing game we'll have a much larger audience who will be interested."
Mobile isn't something to be afraid of. Done right, it's something that can make the audience bigger and having more people to play with is a good thing. Mobile games might be the key to the revival of Nintendo's home console business. Who can fault that?