You Might Not Like The Company Making Nintendo’s Mobile Games

You Might Not Like The Company Making Nintendo’s Mobile Games

This morning, Nintendo announced a partnership with Japanese company DeNA to produce games using Nintendo properties on mobile platforms. As the owner of mobile platform Mobage, DeNA is one of the most powerful names in mobile gaming, but the sort of games it’s known for won’t make traditional console gamers happy.

DeNA (pronounced DNA) has been a big name in Japanese eCommerce since it was founded in 1999. In December of that year it launched Bidders, an online auction site that would eventually become a more general service named DeNA Shopping.

The company entered the mobile gaming market in 2006 with the launch of Mobage Toww, these days simply known as Mobage, a social mobile gaming platform where users can play together and share new games with each other. Imagine it like Xbox Live for mobile gamers. Mobage has its own developers creating mobile games, and also allows third parties to develop freemium games using its mobile API (application programming interface).

DeNA took the Mobage network worldwide in 2011. A constant stream of Android and iOS games have been released in the US since.

Here’s a sample of some of the DeNA games available on the US iTunes App Store today.

You Might Not Like The Company Making Nintendo’s Mobile Games

And here’s some of the games published under Mobage.

You Might Not Like The Company Making Nintendo’s Mobile Games

We’ve got some pretty huge names here. Three Transformers games. Something Star Wars. Blood Brothers. Rage of Bahamut, one of the top-grossing mobile games of all time. There’s Peter Molyneux’s Godus up top. The Drowning, an innovative mobile FPS from former DICE Sweden creative director Ben Cousins. A few years back they released Final Fantasy Airborne Brigade in North America. They’re about to release Final Fantasy: Record Keeper.

This is a company the owners of of beloved properties trust with their brands. Why? Because DeNA knows how to make free-to-play work.

Look at those two screenshots. Every one of the games there is free-to-play. Every one of them features in-app purchases. Several of them have been among the top-grossing free-to-play games in the world.

Many of DeNA and Mobage’s most popular games rely on collectible card tactics to make revenue, building on rampant success of Rage of Bahamut. Players are given certain items for free — trading cards, Transformers, G.I. Joe squad members — and can play though a large portion of each game using them, but to be competitive they must purchase a chance at a rare item using real money.

It’s that “chance” that sweetens the pot for mobile gamers. If players could outright purchase better equipment of rare cards, that would feel more like straight-up pay-to-win ti the player base, and it would also mean a one-and-done sale for the publisher. Randomising loot purchases makes them feel more like gambling, and it’s easy to get swept up in virtual gambling as it is sitting in front of a slot machine in Vegas.

Many of DeNA’s games, Ben Cousins’ The Drowning included, also incorporate an energy meter mechanic on top of the random item purchases, making players wait for a timer to refill a meter or pay up in order to continue paying.

Between DeNA’s pedigree as a purveyor of microtransaction-heavy free-to-play mobile titles and Nintendo’s own recent experiment with the format, I feel safe in saying that we’re in for a flood of friendly faces mixed with the sort of free-to-play mechanics that make console gamers cringe every time I mention the name “Mobage” in an article. There will be no premium ports, as Nintendo mentioned in its official announcement: “only new original games optimised for smart device functionality will be created, rather than porting games created specifically for the Wii U home console or the Nintendo 3DS portable system.”

Should Nintendo console and handheld fans be upset about the partnership? I wouldn’t worry too much about it. While games containing free-to-play features and mechanics they won’t be happy about are surely on the way, they shouldn’t impact development of games for the 3DS, Wii U and the upcoming NX.

They’re making games traditional fans might not like, sure, but traditional fans aren’t the audience they’re gunning for. They have already got them. Now they want more, and with DeNA in their corner, they will likely get it.


  • I guess it’s a good thing Nintendo is continuing to make their usual games then. Let’s not jump to any conclusions just yet.

    • I’d say we’ll see what Dena call a card game with Pokemon on them or other Nintendo characters.

      Some of the only games Nintendo have made that I see working on mobile devices are the simpler game and watch games. And we won’t be seeing them.

  • This is Nintendo targeting a demographic which is unreachable with “traditional” games,. They’re the swarming mass of folks who will never be swayed to purchase a dedicated console, but are happy to kill their bank account with death by a thousand cuts.

    There is no danger to “us”, if anything this new revenue stream will ensure Nintendo can spend even more money on development, and help them stick around for another hundred years.

    • Or they may find that they make so much more money off these F2P mobile games compared to all the expense and hassle of making their own dedicated hardware and their more traditional games that they shift all the way over completely.

      • That won’t happen until there’s no profit to be made in the market, and Nintendo is by far the most cash-efficient publisher.

        We’ll see more thq-style collapses well before Nintendo has a problem.

        • I don’t think companies look at it from the point of view of “let’s keep doing this until there’s no profit to be made”. They look at it from the point of view of “where can we make the most profit on our investment”. It’s not a question of survival – it’s not like Nintendo are going to go out of business any time soon if they don’t do this, just a question of can they make more money this way.

          I’m not suggesting that it’s going to change the nature of the company or their products instantly or anything. In the short term I doubt it will change anything at all, since they’re not actually developing this mobile stuff themselves, just selling a licence to somebody else. But if they get, say, 5 years down the road and find they’re raking in a lot more money from these kinds of mobile games than they are from dedicated console hardware and their more traditional games, then we may see a gradual shift in that direction. Especially when it comes time to look at making a new console – that’s a huge risk for any company, and like any company they’d be looking at whether it’s worth that risk or whether they could invest that money in something less risky that could offer a similar or greater level of profit. Of course the other possibility is that this licencing arrangement fails to perform as well as they hoped, and/or their new NX console ends up selling huge numbers, at which point they find they’re doing better off their traditional approach, and keep going down that path.

          This isn’t something unique to Nintendo, it’s something all publishers and platform holders would be weighing up constantly. But Nintendo’s shareholders do seem to have been agitating more strongly (or at least more publicly) about it. Presumably because their business in recent years has skewed much more strongly towards handhelds with the 3DS, compared to the slump in Wii sales in its last few years, and the Wii U which never really got off the ground, combined with the fact that the Japanese gaming market in general has been moving towards mobile gaming of late.

          • All businesses would rather have a diverse portfolio if they can afford to, which is why I can’t see Nintendo exiting their existing market for a long while, regardless of the impact f2p mobile may have.

            And as long as veteran developers are heading the company, we will never see that shift. Both iwata and miyamoto have pretty much called the mobile platform a wasteland in the past due to the low/f2p expectations of the userbase, and Nintendo is staunchly a company made up of artists, much in the same vein as the big animation studios were in their heyday.

            The day the investors take that leadership structure away is the day the magic dies.

    • I would love to believe you, but Sega thought the same thing years ago and now look what happened… ditched all console games now

      • Sega didn’t think anything, they crushed themselves. Nintendo is not even close to being in the same boat, even if you want to (wrongly) draw parallels between the dreamcast and the wii u.

        • No, I am talking about Sega’s choice to go after mobile and F2P gaming in order to fund their console gaming years ago, and then announcing the ditching of all console games to focus on their mobile strategy

          How the heck did you link that to the Dreamcast?

        • The Dreamcast was a fantastic machine, it was way ahead of it’s time.

          And can I point out Sega still have an Arcade arm, Sega still develop Hardware that they license to other companies, heck all the Sega home consoles where based on Arcade boards.

  • that Star Wars Galactic Defense game was pretty good once you got past the massive tutorial.

  • Because Nintendo wouldn’t have, you know – a license to print money if they just released more on Virtual Console. If they ever put SNES games on 3DS, I’m pretty sure I’d throw an entire monthly pay packet at them.

    • Nobody will buy a console just for VC. If they pla cut down Nintendo games on phone and get addicted and realise they can buy a console to get the full experience, they will sell more.
      They only have limited teams, but it would be nice if they outsourced some more VC ports.

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