Nintendo believed it was poised to become a billion dollar force in the mobile gaming app market a few years ago when it announced its first game developed exclusively for mobile hardware, Super Mario Run, but as Takashi Mochizuki at Bloomburg reports today, the company is retreating from that market following a series of lackluster returns and a question of whether its worth continuing to pursue that market now that the Switch is so successful. As the article points out, Nintendo's mobile projects were announced during the Wii U era when the company needed profitable successes, and with that console never reaching the heights of its predecessor and the handheld Nintendo 3DS approaching its sunset years, the only other option was to strike out into the mobile market.
President Shuntaro Furukawa proclaimed two years ago that smartphone games would be a $1 billion business with growth potential, building on his predecessor’s promise that Nintendo would release two to three mobile titles each year. That spurred hopes among investors that the gaming powerhouse could carve out a substantial slice of the market. In May, however, the president adopted a markedly different tune, saying “We are not necessarily looking to continue releasing many new applications for the mobile market.”
Mobile games are expected to make $77.2 billion this year, which would account for half of the overall video game industry’s sales, according to research from Newzoo. But “since the release of Mario Kart Tour in fall 2019, Nintendo’s mobile pipeline is empty,” said Serkan Toto, a mobile games consultant in Tokyo. “In a sense, Nintendo’s enormous success on console reduced the need and the pressure to put resources into mobile.”
The central problem with Nintendo's mobile games is that to be a highly successful and profitable mobile gaming company, you pretty much have to be a greedy amoral jerk of a company. The most successful mobile games are bottomless pits of endless microtransactions that are designed to entice players to spend more and more money without really thinking about it. That way of doing business has never been Nintendo's style. Super Mario Run required only a one-time ten dollar fee to unlock everything in the game, while other games in the company's mobile realm included microtransactions, they were never as predatory as the other big fish in that pond.
I bought the full game unlock for Super Mario Run, but I haven't played the game in over a year. I tried Dr. Mario World, but never paid any money for it and soon quit playing it. I pay the five dollars a month that it costs for a Mario Kart Tour gold pass which earns me extra bonuses while playing the game, and I feel I get my money's worth out of it as I play multiple races every day. Yes, there are more expensive packs for sale that offer exclusive drivers and vehicles that are priced for the so-called mobile gaming whales out there, but that little five dollar fee is enough for me. It would seem that to be profitable enough to be worthwhile, it's not enough for Nintendo. I'm OK with Nintendo letting mobile go. Their best work has always been found on their own hardware.