Nintendo's Plans to Grow its Mobile Games Business Shouldn't Be Surprising

Nintendo's Plans to Grow its Mobile Games Business Shouldn't Be Surprising

Nintendo's not playing a zero-sum game by supporting mobile in addition to Switch.

Using the words "Nintendo" and "mobile" in the same sentence is like constructing another sentence that uses the words "cake" and "cyanide." People might react with curiosity, but they're likelier to respond with caution—maybe revulsion. It's been two years since Miitomo kindled Nintendo's mobile development efforts, but there are still a lot of people who just want to see Nintendo turn its back on phones and tablets (again) and focus exclusively on console game development.

Let's be real, though: That's not happening. Especially not with Nintendo's young new President, Shuntaro Furukawa, at the company's helm. Furukawa recently told Japanese newspaper Nikkei that he wants to grow the mobile arm of Nintendo's development into a 100 billion yen business (approximately $910 million USD). He hopes to use Pokémon GO's massive success as a template for what Nintendo should be doing with its mobile games.

"The idea that something will emerge that transforms into something big, in the same manner as game consoles, is the defining motive of the Nintendo business," Furukawa said. Departing Nintendo President Tatsumi Kimishima concurs. "Pokémon GO, which transformed the story and gameplay for the smartphone, became a huge realization," he told Nikkei.

Brace yourselves: We're going to have to believe Nintendo's new President has no desire to tear down the super-duper profits the Switch has built up.

There's been some garment-tearing about how Furukawa's ambition will cause Nintendo to lose focus on its console games, but I think Furukawa deserves a little more credit than that. He's not an upstart who's burrowing into Nintendo from the outside; he's been with the company since 1994 in various leadership roles. It's safe to assume he's noticed the Switch's success as much as anyone (he told Nikkei he plans to expand the Switch's territory to include more of Southeast Asia and the Middle East). There's no indication he plans to sacrifice the Switch's health for the sake of Nintendo's mobile projects.

In fact, it'd be a terrible business decision if Fukukawa didn't draw up plans to improve Nintendo's presence on the App Store and Google Play. According to the Nikkei article, mobile profits had very little contribution to Nintendo's healthy earnings in the last fiscal year—39.3 billion yen (approximately $35,513,400 USD) of a 1 trillion yen gross (9,107,000,000 USD), about 4% of the total.

So far, Fire Emblem Heroes seems to be Nintendo's only mobile champion.

Nintendo's low mobile earnings are due to its still-diminutive presence in the mobile market, as well as the failure of its games to earn much cash. The Gatcha-powered Fire Emblem Heroes seems to be the only game with staying power: It earned $300 million USD in its first year of life. Everything else—Super Mario Run, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, and Miitomo—dropped off the charts ages ago, and they're not coming back. Some of Nintendo's mobile games will be long-term hits, while others will miss. Either way, they need to keep on coming.

We already know Mario Kart Tour is on its way to phones, as is a mobile Zelda game. But Nintendo will probably have to think beyond its established properties if it's intent on really stacking up some sweet mobile cheddar. That's likely why it's teaming up with Cygames to make an original mobile RPG.

I'm not a financial wizard. I took one business class in high school and spent most of it passing notes to my friends about the teacher's weird voice. But from my point of view, Nintendo leaving money on the table would just be bad business. Mobile games are huge in East Asian countries, and interestingly, that market seemingly doesn't cross over with the Switch. The console / handheld hybrid is popular in Japan but it's too unwieldly to bring on a bus, so the ever-commuting Japanese population still turns to its phones to be entertained while on the move. There's seemingly no good financial reason for Nintendo to avoid making games for that sizable audience.

Is there a chance Furukawa's intentions might go horribly awry? Maybe. I'm about as good at predicting the future as I am at paying attention in business class. But mobile scandals on a level comparable to the Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery cash-in are rarer than you might think. That's why they make the news to begin with. I'm content to wait and see what Nintendo has in store for my phone.

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Nadia Oxford

Staff Writer

Nadia has been writing about games for so long, only the wind and the rain (or the digital facsimiles thereof) remember her true name. She's written for Nerve,, Gamepro, IGN, 1UP, PlayStation Official Magazine, and other sites and magazines that sling words about video games. She co-hosts the Axe of the Blood God podcast, where she mostly screams about Dragon Quest.

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