Nintendo has many titles that are a good fit for mobile, said Carl Livie, managing director at AppLovin, Dr. Mario and Mario Kart among them. Dr. Mario fits the Candy Crush model as a puzzle game, while Mario Kart fits well within the 5- to 10-minute play time for mobile gaming experience. Dr. Mario mirrors the Candy Crush style of game play, but it also brings the brand name and recognition of a video game legend, which will allow it to quickly gain a large audience, especially with women over 25, Livie said. Once thought to be a peripheral demographic, women between 25 and 65 have catapulted Candy Crush to r revenue over $1 billion in 2018.
Nintendo has a strategic issue that some of its largest competitors do not: The console remains its financial driver, whereas huge technology companies have grown gaming as one among many business efforts, and niche game developers don’t rely on the console to drive revenue. Microsoft and Epic have released big console game titles, Minecraft and Fortnite, on mobile to huge success, but van Dreunen said he does not think popular Nintendo console titles such as Legend of Zelda will be showing up on mobile in the next few years.
The competition for control of the gaming platform of choice continues to grow. Netflix and Hulu already changed the role of mobile devices in streaming content by allowing users to seamlessly move from watching a movie or show on their home TV, mobile device and laptop. Gaming is going through a similar evolution. Microsoft’s new xCloud will let users play Xbox games on Android phones, and Alphabet’s new Google streaming game service, Stadia, has a similar focus. Apple is releasing Arcade, a gaming subscription service for use on PCs, mobile and in living rooms. Amazon also is at work on a streaming service.
Adam Bankhurst, a writer for gaming industry publication IGN, said part of Nintendo’s strategy is to offer companion games for mobile devices that will pair with console games. Bankhurst believes that this is both an opportunity to prep development teams for eventually moving their more complex titles to mobile and also creating a seamless playing experience where players can unlock characters and missions only from the mobile game. Bankhurst pointed to Nintendo’s Animal Crossing as a recent example and suggested that we may see a Dr. Mario console game come out soon with similar features.
“As cloud computing allows for increasingly advanced games to be played on mobile, the opportunity for Nintendo to add its more complex titles to mobile increases, but so does the competition in the mobile gaming sector.”
Newzoo analyst Guilherme Fernandes said Nintendo’s partnership with LINE to co-develop Dr. Mario and other projects “strongly hints at the company’s mobile strategy going forward.”
The question for Nintendo going forward is how much of its IP is it willing to put on mobile, and how much success they can expect.
“Nintendo may be slow to the game, but when they get there … they’re going to kill it,” van Dreunen said.
—By Christopher Chutko, special to CNBC.com