Will Nintendo lose its last life by ignoring mobile gaming?

by: Robert TriggsJanuary 30, 2014

Ninteno and Android 2000px

There’s been a little bit of confusion about the future of Nintendo and mobile devices these past few days, but the company has now made it quite clear that it won’t be developing games for smartphones or tablets. Instead, Nintendo is planning to release a new platform, with accompanying software, which focuses on improving the customer’s health and “quality of life”. This has left many business analysts concerned about the future of the gaming company, especially as Nintendo’s Wii U console looks to be a total failure.

Recently, Nintendo estimated it would sell 9 million Wii U units in 2014 but has now cut its forecast by nearly 70% to 2.8 million units. The company also reduced the sales forecast for its 3DS console from 18 million to 13.5 million units. The chart below, which shows quarterly sales following each console’s launch, demonstrating why Nintendo has had to reduce its forecast.

Nintendo Hardware Launch Sales 2000px Above: sales statistics for the first year and a half following the latest Nintendo console launch dates.

Nintendo’s latest console, the Wii U, is underperforming by a huge margin, which has led many analysts to suggest that the company should stop selling hardware and move into the mobile space. A bit of a strange conclusion considering that Nintendo’s newest handheld device, the 3DS, is outselling its predecessor.

If we think 20 years down the line, we may look back at the decision not to supply Nintendo games to smartphones and think that is the reason why the company is still here. Satoru Iwata

There’s no need for the company to resort to drastic changes at the moment, Nintendo’s handheld devices are selling well and its next living room console might be a massive success.

Iwata gives a pretty clear message that the company isn’t interested in making games for mobile, and there are plenty of good reasons why Nintendo isn’t ready to make the leap, yet. Most importantly, Nintendo probably wants to maintain control over its software and ecosystem, going mobile would give Google or Apple a slice which Nintendo would rather keep to itself, and not to mention the fear of its titles disappearing amongst the sea of casual mobile games. There’s also the “freemium” aspect of mobile gaming to consider too.

There’s also no need for the company to resort to drastic changes at the moment, Nintendo’s handheld devices are selling well and its next living room console might be a massive success. However, the latest update from Nintendo suggests that things could be about to go from bad to worse, as CEO Satoru Iwata has just outlined the company’s plan to create a third, health orientated platform to run alongside its existing products.

What Nintendo will try to achieve in the next 10 years is a platform business that improves people’s [quality of life] in enjoyable ways, Satoru Iwata

Wii Fit might have been a short lived success, but surely a niche health orientated product is a much more risky venture than smartphone gaming. Is Nintendo about to make another big mistake, whilst simultaneously missing out on the opportunity to leap in early on the next big thing in gaming?


Nvidia Shield Hands On 1600 aa

A few of years ago I probably would have agreed with Nintendo’s sentiments. The tablet market was still small, mobile operating systems were still maturing, but mainly the hardware wasn’t really worth investing in. However the world of smartphones is now very different, processor and graphics technology has come a long way, and not to mention that digital distribution has reinvigorated software development.

Could the company be missing out on the opportunity to leap in early on the next big thing in gaming?

Nvidia’s upcoming Tegra K1 chipset goes to show just how far mobile graphics hardware as come, and where it’s likely to be heading in the future. We won’t delve into specs here, but the important stuff to know is that the Tegra K1 will supposedly offer performance around the level of the Playstation 3 and Xbox360, and brings full support for technologies used in high-end PC and console GPU technology.

Qualcomm’s Adreno 420 and Imagination Technologies’ upcoming PowerVR Series6 chips are also promising big boosts in gaming performance for mobile devices. Nvidia Shield has already given us a glimpse at what Android gaming could be like, and with better hardware and improved software support things can only improve.

NVIDIA Tegra K1 Benchmarks Specs-15

Remember that this is just the first generation of truly powerful mobile GPUs, Nvidia’s upcoming high-end Maxwell design is on the way to mobile devices too. Whilst mobile technology isn’t quite up to scratch with the new Xbox One or Playstation 4, in a couple of years’ time the gap might not seem so large, and the generation after that will probably be even closer still.

There are also other mobile hardware developments that are of interest to gamers. Even higher resolution displays and 64-bit mobile processors are both coming to mobile soon and could give a hardware developer a big advantage over existing handheld gaming platforms. Innovative virtual reality companies, like Oculus Rift, are also potentially big game changers which are working in more open platforms than consoles, which could also be making their way to Android.

Intel’s quick switch dual-OS is also very promising. A Nintendo/Android dual-OS tablet or handheld could be a very tempting prospect for gamers, and wouldn’t see Nintendo give up control of its franchises to Google’s platform. There’s bags of potential on the horizon, but Nintendo seems content in its own world.

Development and APIs

Best Android Games

One of the biggest problems with bringing console-like gaming to mobile devices is the huge array of hardware. Fortunately, Android is now starting to receive a decent level of API support with new pieces of graphics hardware, which is making Android a much more appealing platform for developers.

For those unfamiliar with the lingo, graphics APIs act as common libraries of code used to develop game engines. Hardware needs to support the same libraries as the software, so newer games tend to require newer hardware.

Nintendo has been struggling to secure third party development and ports from other platforms for its Wii and Wii U home consoles, but opening up development to the latest graphics APIs would go a long way to bring more developers to its platform.

Android API support isn’t a new thing, and most mobile SoCs support some version of OpenGL ES. However, console developers use platform specific API’s designed for specific hardware, and PC developers have been moving on to newer versions of DirectX and OpenGL. It’s only recently that mobile hardware has started to catch up with the common software technologies being used by high-end game developers.

Unreal Engine 4, the successor to Epic’s game development engine that powers popular console titles like Gears of War, makes use of OpenGL 4.3 and has already been demoed running on Nvidia’s new Tegra K1. If you look closely in the video below, you can see the familiar Android onscreen navigation buttons.

Nintendo has been struggling to secure third party development and ports from other platforms for its Wii and Wii U home consoles, but opening up development to the latest graphics APIs would go a long way to bring more developers to its platform. In the future, shared development tools between mobile, consoles, and PCs, are likely to make cross-platform development much more common.

Multi-platform gaming is on the rise, mobile gaming needs a leader

But perhaps one of the biggest reasons to bridge the gap between mobile and existing platforms is the sheer number of consumers that can be reached. With yearly smartphone shipments having reached the one billion mark, there’s money to be made even if you can reach just a tiny percentage of consumers.

Console vs Smartphone shipments 2000px

Amazingly, yearly smartphone shipments eclipse that of games consoles, despite the newly released Playstation 4 and Xbox One shipping at the end of last year. These two new consoles have sold a respectable 8 million combined units so far. Looking at the combined lifetime sales of all the current and last-gen consoles, yearly smartphone shipments still dominate by a factor of almost 3 to 1. Even if a developer could reach just 1% of people who buy a new phone each year, that’s still more potential customers than the total number of people who own next-gen devices.

There’s also plenty of evidence to suggest that smartphone users are quite into gaming. On average, users spend most of their time playing games on their smartphones, and games represent around 40% of application downloads from Apple’s Appstore and Google Play. It’s plain to see that there’s a massive market for mobile based games out there.

Time Spent on Android

It won’t be long before Android has the hardware and software support needed to branch out from simple casual gaming.

But it’s not just smartphone gaming that’s on the move, there’s also an interesting shift in gaming which is putting more focus on open platforms, such as Linux. Valve’s SteamOS and Steam Machines have been making the news recently, and developers seem keen to sell their wares across as many platforms as possible. The age of exclusive platforms might soon be on the decline.

According to the Steam Database, there are already 383 games with Linux support, even though a lot of them are either indie developments or ports of older games. However a few AAA quality games, like Metro: Last Light, are making their way onto Linux, via SteamOS, as well as PC and games consoles. Open graphics developments, such as OpenGL, are helping developers diversify away from Microsoft’s DirectX and thereby reaching a wider range of consumers. This trend is only likely to increase as mobile technology catches up to consoles.

We build our games with OpenGL and C#, so porting to Linux only consists of a few days of figuring how to package the damn thing up. Zach Barth, developer behind SpaceChem and Ironclad Tactics

Android still has a way to go

Moga Pro Power aa 2

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, it takes more than some hardware and a few developers to build a successful platform. What smartphone/tablet gaming is really missing is a unified front for gamers. Nvidia is probing in the right direction with its TegraZone software, and platforms like OUYA have tried to offer some of the services that gamers need. Perhaps it will be Nvidia, or maybe Amazon, that finally breaks free from the idea that porting Angry Birds to the big screen is the end-game for mobile gaming.

There’s little doubt, in my mind, that it won’t be long before Android has the hardware and software support needed to branch out from simple casual gaming. But if Android is ever to capture a decent gaming market it needs companies that are willing to do much more than stick a controller in a box and call it a console. Someone has to be willing to work on a proper eco-system, with hardware, a marketplace, and a library of content that offers gamers what they really need.

With its experience of hardware development and a library of popular game titles behind it, Nintendo could have been the first company to embrace the changing nature of mobile gaming. Porting Mario to Android probably would be a mistake, but writing off the range of hardware and business potentials that exist in the mobile space could be an even more costly error.

Gaming is already here on Android, and the future is only looking brighter. Sadly, it doesn’t seem like Nintendo is keen to be a part of it, instead we’ll have to see which company, if any, will be able to grasp these trends and offer gamers something that may just change the nature of the industry. Do you shed a tear for Mario?

  • asdf

    lets start a petition!!! I dont mean some little petition with thousands, i mean we need a petition with millions of signatures for Nintendo to bring their games to Android(not ios, bc its dying lol) to show how much people would actually buy their games if they did

    • Lisandro O Oocks

      With the sale of Motorola can’t Google just buy Nintendo next?

      • Mayoo

        With all due respect, this is one of the stupidest thing I have ever read.

    • Cole Raney

      I buy games on Nintendo platforms for an entirely different reason I download games on android. I play games on android in my spare time throughout the day. I playb3ds games when I feel like playing some engaging games. Games on my 3ds are better on the 3ds because of the controls. Yeah, touch screens work for some games, but not every game is suited to touch screens. I would rather play Nintendo games on Sony platforms.

  • Jayfeather787

    So a couple things.
    1) According to my friend, he would hate to see games like Mariokart come to Android. When he plays a game like that, he wants the physical buttons and the joystick, not a touchscreen, and I completely agree.
    2) Nintendo has excellent stuff. Their Wii U I heard was a brilliant device, but no one really bought it because everyone is too busy with the new Xbox and PS.
    3) While I would like to see an excellent game come to Android, it might not bee for some. However, Nintendo is certainly struggling, and needs all the help they can get.

    • MadCowOnAStick

      On the bright side the 3DS sold better than the DS

    • Keg Man

      but if you didn’t play mariokart without the wheel, it was considered “cheap.” yet, that is exactly what playing mariokart on the phone would be like.

  • Michael McGrade

    As long as they implemented controller support I wouldn’t think twice about getting some classic Nintendo games or even newer ones…I know there are emulators but I’d definitely support Nintendo in their endeavors of coming to the mobile gaming world. I wouldn’t care to play with only touchscreen capability but if it had controller support would be awesome…all games should support controllers.

    • Keg Man

      the key to this would be for google to release a controller. There is no controller standard and there needs to be

  • Schala

    Nintendo only need a few things to success in mobile gaming:
    1. Release Virtual Console to Android.
    That way poeple can play classic games LEGALLY on smartphone. Forget iOS & WP, they clearly disallow emulator. Android is the only way to go.
    2. Relaunch Wii Fit apps & peripherals for smartphone/tablet.
    I believe launching wii fit on mobile will pose no risk for current Nintendo’s console/handheld sales, because people will need to buy Wii Fit peripherals after all. There’s ipad user willing to buy hardware peripherals for their entertainment.

  • steve jobs

    Mobile games in my opinion are short and not that fun. Real gamers play on consoles or hand helds

  • I reckon they would have to do it sooner or later.

  • acashe42

    Mobile games will never, I repeat…will never replace console gaming. Please stop with that argument.
    ….But most, if not all nintendo games with touchscreen implementation would be perfect for a phone! I wouldn’t be stuck with just playing Candy Crush all damn day…

    • Alex James Simon

      Yes, they will never replace console gaming, because people will always buy console games and consoles, that is a fact, but smartphones and tablets, are becoming extremely powerful devices. Its been shown in leaked benchmarks that the Tegra K1 is in-fact more powerful then some good laptops in benchmarks, what this means is that pretty soon tablets and smartphones could at some point run recent full console games/PC games at a good playable framerate (60 fps?). Still a few years off for it to take off at all more then likely. The Tegra K1 for example has the same Keplar GPU that is in the GTX 780 TI for PCs which can run Crysis 3 at the max PC settings with extremely good framerate, some said they get over 100 fps for that game, with that graphics card. Yes, there is the controller argument, but there are other options out there other then touch screens for Mobile. Bluetooth controllers, PS3 controllers and Xbox 360 controllers all work with Android, Xbox 360 controllers need OTG though. The point is, the gap is closing, whether you or I want it to or not, I would like to see it happen as it shows how far tech has come in the past few years.

      • acashe42

        If consoles can’t catch up to pc’s(mainly because of price), phones never will. My argument though is not the fact that people will always buy consoles, but the fact that consoles own the living room. Gamers would never downgrade the experience of a full game even if Battlefield 5 could possibly be ran to the max on a tablet. Now if somehow lets say sony’s playstation now service was so beefed up that it could run crysis at least 60fps on some awesome ass phone, with miniscule input lag using a controller or tab through their cloud. you now have an argument because with hdmi, the phone becomes the console. I’d love that….but the Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo loves money.

      • Nova

        it’s not about the power of mobile platforms, it’s about the interactions. for 90% of gaming touch is not as good as physical controls for games. it’s just not.

        there are some games in which touch is as good as and in some cases better than physical buttons, but those are usually games that are played solely with your mouse. x,y controls and 1 or 2 buttons. the rest of the games don’t translate well.

        People want mobile to do well because they want to play games on their phones. it sounds great. i carry my phone with me anyways if i could play games on it i’d be happy.

        if mobile is going to succeed as a gaming platform, it needs games specifically designed for the types of interactions it provides, it requires developers to be creative. the issue is developers don’t want to be creative, they want to release the same shit they do on other platforms, or design f2p games where you have to spend ridiculous amounts of money just to tap your screen a bit more.

        here’s a list of genres that do well on mobile because their game styles are well suited for the interactions you can get on a touch device.

        turn based strategy games.
        puzzle games.
        turn based role playing games.
        point and click adventure games.
        pretty much anything ‘on rails’ where your movement is limited.

        nintendo could do well on android if they wanted to, they have a number of ds games that translate really well into the mobile space… but i don’t think they should. nintendo makes money from licensing and console sales as well as software sales. if they release games on other platforms it would undermine confidence in their own systems.

        • Alex James Simon

          I did point out that you can use controllers on mobile… It’s just that there needs to be a universal way that developers could easily implement a controller option for mobile, yes there is moga, but that still is very limited. Maybe eventually Google or Apple will release their own controllers and api, which could make it easy for developers to implement physical controls into their games. This would probably allow physical controls to really take off on mobile. This wouldn’t exactly mean you would have to take your controller everywhere you go, I would love to be able to play console games and hook up my controller and play maybe when other people are using a TV, and I can’t play my console. Or even set up an area outside and relax and play on a nice day. Once they figure out the physical controls issue, I see no reason why mobile can’t be a strong platform to game. It would take time, as people at first would not want to spend $40-$50 on a mobile game, but I’m sure eventually everyone would get used to it, just like $50 was the standard for console games a few years back and now $60 is the standard. Most tablets have better screen resolutions then TVs people can afford, I’d love to be able to play my Xbox games at full true 1080p, but can’t because I don’t have a 1080p TV, but I do have a 1080p tablet. Pretty soon tablets may even have 2k displays, it would be years before I get my hands on a 2k display TV.

          • Nova

            why would you want to carry a controller around? either you have a bulky comfortable controller to carry around, or you have a poorly designed controller/case, or nintendo could design a nice slim handheld. too bad nobody wants to do the first two and nintendo doesn’t seem to want to do the third.

          • Alex James Simon

            I wouldn’t but like I just said in the before post, that it wouldn’t mean you have to carry around a controller everywhere you go. Lets say, I would like to be able to play say for example Crysis 3, and someone is using the big TV in my house, to play Crysis 3 now, I have to now unplug everything behind my TV, move my console downstairs to the smaller TV, and replug everything back in. However, let’s say I was able to play Crysis 3 on my tablet, I could just sync my bulky well built controller up to my tablet and play almost instantly.

          • Nova

            well then why wouldn’t nintendo just release for xbox or ps4? if you’re playing games on another console in your house there are other choices that make far more sense.

            edit: and nintendo’s console currently lets you do that, bring your game anywhere in the house. thanks to the tablet/controller.

          • Alex James Simon

            Its just an example lol I don’t actually have Crysis 3, it was just the first game I could think of off of the top of my head. My point is, is that it could possibly be more convenient for people at times.

          • Keg Man

            you have the option to carry around a controller where a console you dont have portable option. And you never lose the phone function. Dont forget women can carry around a bulky controller no problem. No one is going to go full console gaming while waiting for their wife to leave the dressing room so carrying around a controller really isn’t an issue, its going to be in a desk drawer, near the couch or bed etc.

  • Doug

    This is stupid, you can already play all the roms on Android. If Nintendo leaves hardware it’s bad for the entire gaming industry period. Unfortunately the ignorant media only want to talk about Nintendo making iOS and Android games which is the worse decision they could ever make.

    For a logical look at what Nintendo on mobile means please see the link below.


  • EliasAlucard

    Mobil gaming sucks anyway. Nintendo’s problem isn’t ignoring it; Nintendo SHOULD ignore mobile gaming, as should Sony. Nintendo’s problem is overpriced shitty hardware. The Wii had some novelty going for it, but that novelty has been replicated by PlayStation Move and Kinect, and the PS3/PS4 have remote play which is very much like the Wii U control screen. So there’s no incentive to buy the Wii U, other than Mario and Zeldo, if you’re into such games.

    • Cole Raney

      The remote play requires a PlayStation vita, so that is a minimum of $500 and a maximum of $600 to get some kind of functionality of the $300 Wii U. Nintendo consoles aren’t overpriced (except for when the 3ds was $250). Their problems are that their platforms are underpowered, and their online system still isn’t up to par.

  • Sugeng Aria

    A new analysis from Flurry Analytics paints a grim revenue picture for Sony and Nintendo compared to the combined market power of Android and iOS. According to Flurry (which bases its analysis on figures from market research firm NPD), in 2009 Sony and Nintendo’s portable gaming platforms reaped 81 percent of the software revenue in the portable gaming market.