Nintendo Wants Mobile Games To Help Sell Consoles, But Still Won’t Bring Mario To iPhone


Nintendo -- stamping on your hopes for an iOS port of Mario since 2007. Photo: Nintendo
Nintendo -- stamping on your hopes for an iOS port of Mario since 2007. Photo: Nintendo

Since the dawn of the App Store, and by extension, gaming on smartphones and tablets, one iconic brand has remained absent from the revolution: Nintendo. Perhaps the most beloved and historically innovative game maker in the world will have nothing to do with the idea of Super Mario Bros. for iOS.

The daring decision to not ride the success of the App Store is starting to come at a cost. Nintendo is bleeding money as sales of living room consoles like the Wii U plummet. And now the Japanese company is wanting mobile game developers to port their titles to the Wii U. Nintendo understands that mobile-centric games could help sell its traditional consoles, and yet we still aren’t getting any of Nintendo’s own games in the App Store. It’s a frustrating conundrum.

Why use this screen when you have the iPhone?
Why use this screen when you have the iPhone?

“Nintendo is trying to modify its game consoles so customers can use smartphone applications on them as it searches for a way to return to profitability,” reported The Japan Times yesterday. “Nintendo hopes smartphone software will help spur console sales, which will in turn lead to an increase in popular game titles for them, the sources said.” As John Gruber puts it, that’s the right road to be on, but the wrong direction to be driving.

The Wii U’s controller has a giant touchscreen that Nintendo wants to use as a way to introduce new methods of gameplay. Apple has been tying mobile games to the big screen for awhile. iOS devices can wirelessly connect to an Apple TV over AirPlay and mirror games from the App Store.

The living room console market isn’t as dominant since the App Store popularized $1 Angry Birds downloads, and portable consoles like the 3DS have all but vanished from the general public’s idea of what constitutes “mobile gaming.”

Nintendo doesn’t want to get trampled by the small game startups that making money hand over fist selling to smartphones only. But we still don’t have mobile versions of Donkey Kong, Mario, Pokémon, or Metroid in the App Store. And unless Nintendo’s upper management starts thinking radically different, we probably never will.

“Nintendo selling its games on other platforms would be very similar to Apple licensing Mac OS X to other PC manufacturers.”

Like Apple, Nintendo’s business revolves around using software (the game characters we all grew up on) to sell hardware. While the profit margin on selling living room consoles is collapsing, Nintendo isn’t ready to abandon the business model. As a corporate culture, Nintendo takes great pride in making great games for its own hardware. Decades of tradition have engrained that pride in the fabric of the company. The business economics involved are obviously more complex than that, but the decision to keep a distance can be boiled down to a philosophy.

Nintendo selling its games on other platforms would be very similar to Apple licensing Mac OS X to other PC manufacturers. That will never happen because Apple’s software helps sell Mac hardware and bring in profit. The difference in the two scenarios is that Apple has $100+ billion in cash, and Nintendo does not.

Japan-based Square Enix is a good example of a traditional game maker effectively using mobile platforms as a strategy to promote console games. Older Final Fantasy titles are sold in the App Store, and players get a taste and want to check out the premium titles for PS3 and Xbox.

It’s sad to think that Nintendo is still innovating, and yet losing its foothold. The company’s executives may have to experience an even louder wake-up call before the iPhone is let into Mushroom Kingdom.

  • bdkennedy

    Phone developers aren’t going to bring their games to the Wii U. The ones that do will be half-assed and if they did decide to bring their games to the Wii and they started right now, they would be lucky to make Christmas. In the end, Nintendo will get out of the hardware business and license their games to other platforms to stay alive just like Sega and Atari had to do.

  • taylorcox

    I understand these articles from a business point of view– all of the money is in App Stores, so why isn’t Nintendo in the App Store? But I’m really tired of seeing them. I do not, repeat, DO NOT want to try and play Mario on a touch screen. Anyone who has ever tried to play Super Mario World on a SNES smartphone emulator will attest to this. It’s an abomination. The minute Nintendo sells out and becomes a smartphone game developer, their games will lose what makes them special.

    Smartphones are great for certain kinds of bite-sized games. But for truly great gaming, you need buttons. I don’t want to see Nintendo leave this behind.

  • RyanTV

    I’ve said for years that Nintendo would be a far more successful company if they shifted to software only. They have such great IP linked to their brand, it is really a shame that they get themselves caught up in hardware wars. Knock that shit out, develop games for all the other platforms and cash in.

  • That_Dan_Person

    But the problem with emulator is that they are badly coded and don’t care much for the user experience. If Nintendo where to create a App for us to play their games I am sure they will create a more enjoyable controls for it. Or even a Nintendo controller that plugs into the iPad.

  • Valse


    Honestly, I don’t see why Nintendo should drop out of the hardware game. They seem to have a pattern of success-failure-success-failure for home consoles, but it generally ends up working out. The failures are still profitable, even. And they have consistently done well in the handheld space; the DS is one of the best selling consoles (if not the best, can’t remember) of all time.

    Nintendo has consistently innovated in the hardware space, and like Apple, has brought unique (though at times not exactly their own) ideas and features into the mainstream, like the Wiimote, two-screen gameplay with the DS, and now the Gamepad for the Wii U. Their hardware has the support of a multitude of great developers, which is something people often fail to realise… Nintendo may publish most of the games for their consoles, but Pokemon for example is developed by GameFreak, and Professor Layton by Level-5. The vast majority of these companies’ games are for Nintendo hardware. ATLUS has been inconsistent but seems to be leaning more towards Nintendo recently with SMT releases, and some even speculate the next Persona title may be for 3DS. I could keep going: Monster hunter series, Phoenix Wright games, Golden Sun, Kingdom Hearts, Fire Emblem… everyone says that the only good games for Nintendo systems are games Nintendo makes themselves, but it’s really not true. They earn boatloads off publishing all these games, and if they stopped with their hardware they wouldn’t be able to do so any longer.

    They may not make the most technologically advanced gaming hardware, but the combination of hardware and gameplay innovation, great first-party development, and strong Japanese 3rd party support make any Nintendo system a great buy, at least for me. The 3DS, though it had a slow start, now has a great library of games and many new ones are coming out soon (Animal Crossing, SMT IV, Luigi’s Mansion, Fantasy Life, Bravely Default, Zelda 3DS, Majora’s Mask remake, etc). I’m sure given a year or two, the Wii U’s library will significantly improve. I haven’t bought one yet because there just aren’t enough games I’m interested in playing on it, but as soon as the new Zelda for it comes out (plus Fire Emblem x SMT) I’m sure I could justify it.

  • technochick

    Anyone who has ever tried to play Super Mario World on a SNES smartphone emulator will attest to this. It’s an abomination.

    1. most emulators suck. Games that are rewritten for touch to play and often very nicely
    2. there are a lot of folks that just don’t care

  • IncredibleJackG

    App Store has several good platform games, Incredible Jack, for example :)