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Nintendo open to more mobile partnerships

DeNA could be just the start; company has also merged its console and handheld software development teams

In a recent investor Q&A following Nintendo's nine-month fiscal results, management responded to a number of queries about the company's future plans in the mobile games space, how it's approaching development with the upcoming Switch console and more. As our own Rob Fahey has pointed out, Nintendo has parallel business risks to manage at the same time - mobile and the upcoming Switch launch. How the company moves forward in mobile will be particularly interesting as Super Mario Run did not follow the typical F2P model. What is clear, however, is that Nintendo still views mobile as a gateway to its IP, especially for younger players.

"I believe that smart devices, particularly bigger ones like tablets, are easy for smaller children to use which makes it easier for them to experience Nintendoʼs IP (intellectual property), so we have been planning to create synergy between smart devices and our dedicated video game systems," said director and managing executive officer Shinya Takahashi.

Shigeru Miyamoto added, "We are continuing to work to maximize the impact of the connection with smart devices while actively spreading Nintendoʼs IP further, and (after experiencing the impact of Pokémon GO,) I am starting to see reactions that affirm this was not a mistake." Miyamoto also noted, referring not only to mobile but also to the NES mini, that "we are realizing anew how important it is for Nintendo to catch the attention of both new consumers and consumers who stopped playing video games, and provide ways to overcome generational gaps so parents and children can play together."

Nintendo's expertise, of course, is not in mobile gaming, and CEO Tatsumi Kimishima acknowledged that it would not have been able to enter the space without DeNA's help. That said, Nintendo isn't exclusively committed to DeNA. "I do not think that we would have been able to provide smart-device applications to our consumers without DeNAʼs support, so in that sense our partnership with them is going extremely well. I will not deny that in the future, depending on the status of our smart-device business and what consumers are asking for, we may ask for additional support from other companies, but we are not currently pursuing partnerships opportunities with any other specific companies," he stated.

Both Miyamoto and Takahashi said that another Mario game on mobile in the next fiscal year is not a sure thing at this moment. That said, Kimishima noted that the plan is to release two to three titles per year for smart devices.

As for Nintendo's other big business risk, the company indicated that it ultimately designed Switch to offer PC-level gaming in a portable form. Director and technology fellow Genya Takeda commented, "If I can sum up my impression in one short phrase, I would use 'high performance but low power consumption' to describe Nintendo Switch. The PC has been a major gaming device, especially outside of Japan, and my top priority in the development of the Nintendo Switch hardware was to bring NVIDIAʼs GeForce, which has played a key role in realizing high-performance graphics for PC gaming, to our hardware with low power consumption.

"The term 'crossover' is sometimes used to describe the unprecedented value that is realized when merging two different attractive things (such as, in this case, high performance and low power consumption, and playing both indoors and outdoors). I feel that Nintendo Switch is a new and unique crossover in its achievement of high performance, comparable to that of PC, both in front of your TV set and in your hands."

In support of the Switch, Nintendo has streamlined its software development teams, merging what was once two distinct groups. And to Takeda's point, Nintendo wants to make it as easy as possible for developers to bring PC titles to Switch. Miyamoto remarked, "Regarding our software development environment, we have taken the software development teams for home console systems and for handheld systems, which used to be two different departments, and integrated them into one, and this has been very beneficial as they are now developing software as a team in the same environment. In addition, third-party developers who are making software for PC can now easily adapt that software to work on our platform. In the current development environment, Iʼd say that it would take less than a year for them to port a PC game to Nintendo Switch.

"That ease of software development has also been felt by Nintendoʼs internal developers. Also, even though game software developers in the U.S. and E.U. are often said to have superior skills to their Japanese counterparts when it comes to software development techniques, Nintendoʼs software developers have mastered state-of-the-art technologies such as Unreal engine, and their skills can now be compared with those of Western developers. Our developers are more excited than ever to create software."

Merging of software teams should not be taken as a sign that 3DS is done or that future portables have been replaced by Switch, however. "...we believe [3DS] can coexist with Nintendo Switch for the time being," Kimishima said. "Nintendo 3DS is a different system from Nintendo Switch in terms of its shape, weight, price and the types and number of available software titles. From this perspective, I believe parents will opt to choose Nintendo 3DS as their childrenʼs first video game system. So we recognize that Nintendo 3DS as a portable game device meets different needs and fits different markets than Nintendo Switch, and we will keep this recognition in mind as we consider the future of our dedicated portable video game business."

You can read the entire Q&A with Nintendo management here.

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James Brightman avatar
James Brightman: James Brightman has been covering the games industry since 2003 and has been an avid gamer since the days of Atari and Intellivision. He was previously EIC and co-founder of IndustryGamers and spent several years leading GameDaily Biz at AOL prior to that.
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