If Nintendo had hoped that launching its Wii U gaming console a year earlier than rivals and integrating a touchscreen controller would boost sales, it was wrong. The past week the company announced that it expected to lose millions thanks to the console. Now Nintendo’s leaders say that they’re finally ready to take a look at the company’s business model, leaving many to interpret that language as it finally embracing the world of smartphones. Unfortunately for Nintendo and its longtime fans, simply creating iPhone and Android ports of storied franchises like Mario and Zelda might not be the answer.
Nintendo President Satoru Iwata’s comments about Nintendo looking into other business models came a day after Nintendo announced that it would lose $240 million thanks to the Wii U and other operations, according to Bloomberg. For comparison, Nintendo originally forecasted that it would sell $9 million Wii U consoles. That forecast now sits at around 2.8 million consoles.
Naturally, gaming and wireless industry insiders have taken Iwata’s comments as a sign that Nintendo is finally ready to embrace mobile gaming in some way. Possibly, a new business model could include less hardware-specific titles and more games for users of the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. As gaming has become a big industry in the Google Play App Store, iTunes App Store and Windows Phone Store, it’s easy to see why casual industry watchers would jump to that conclusion.
However, that makes less sense when you take Nintendo’s properties and the reality of the casual gaming market into account. Though most of Nintendo’s games are meant for families and users who aren’t necessarily into violent titles like Call of Duty, that market of casual gamers doesn’t exactly overlap with smartphones.
Nintendo’s more storied franchises include game mechanics and story lines that aren’t strongholds of phone-based games. For example, most Mario titles involve jumping from one platform to another and killing enemies with precise timing. That’s something that’s not easily done on a touchscreen.
The other issue is one of control. Even if Nintendo was able to water down its titles to the point where they were playable on a mobile phone or tablet, it’s unlikely that the company would be able to build a mobile platform on its own. That would leave it with just three platforms to choose from: Android, iOS and Windows. Nintendo, who is used to having complete end-to-end control of its games and users, is unlikely to get concessions from either of those platform’s makers.
If there was a chance that Nintendo could turn its hardware business around, it’s fading fast. Sales of the $299.99 Wii U slipped even as sales of the Xbox One and PS4 took off. Both of those consoles happen to be more expensive than the Wii U and don’t include an attachment like the Wii U’s tablet controller.