After a bit of negativity, time to deploy some cheer and optimism! YAY!
The success that Pokémon Go has already had in the last few days is pretty crazy.
With daily earnings from microtransactions totalling $1.6 million, and Nintendo’s own stock value increasing by about 10% as a result of that success (adding an extra couple of billion dollars into Nintendo’s impressive warchest), people have been perplexed and confused at just how Nintendo has managed to capitalise on the Smartphone market.
Nintendo’s success with Pokémon Go and also with Miitomo isn’t surprising in the most basic definition of the term; the industry was shocked that Miitomo grew into a huge thing, but of course they forgot that Miitomo was a stripped down, simpler variation of an already established Nintendo craze from 2014; Tomodachi Life, where people shared answers to questions and some silly screenshots and pictures. Pokémon Go… well… it’s real-world augmented reality Pokémon, the sort of thing kids back in the late 90’s and early 00’s could only have dreamed of, and now they and the new kids on the block (that pun hurt to make) can all get together and catch Pokémon, have gym battles and generally just waste their lives hunting ’em all down. There was a demand for this kind of thing, though often left unspoken because who’d ever think of making a real-world Pokémon hunt, right? Right?
The surprise, however, is also justified. Few will want to recall back a few years, when the Wii U was being revealed and Sony and Microsoft were going all guns blazing into smartphone functionality for their big releases. Capcom, EA, UbiSoft and others have all sacrificed themselves on the alter of the Smartphone Market, with little overall impact. Yet here is Nintendo – Nintendo, ladies and gents. An old-fashioned lumbering gaming behemoth crashing into the Smartphone market years after others tried their hands in it and making money from it all by giving the market things it wants to play, and things it wants to buy in them.
Obviously, it’s not for me. I have a complete Pokédex, after all, and I’d much rather Nintendo allowed a mass Pokébank Transfer (or even Pokédex Transfer) in Sun and Moon. I’m also… well, disabled. Getting around isn’t exactly an easy thing for me these days with my spine seven shades of stuffed, and the idea of cavorting around my locale finding Pokémon is just a complete non-starter. I thought the Microtransactions would and were terrible, but most seem quite happy with them so I guess I was also wrong there.
But I am happy for this success.
There are some who are afraid Nintendo will drop their console business if their Smartphone games make so much money. I doubt this is a well-founded fear; the business culture in Japan is very different to that of the United States, and Nintendo has at huge expense merged its arms to one unified site in the last few years. Dropping all of that because Smartphones are making bank is ludicrous – rather, any success of Nintendo’s smartphone titles is likely to merely augment their annual returns, with some business analysts claiming it could increase annual profits by a third (though this may be presumptuous).
With financial security, or the perception thereof, Nintendo can focus on taking some larger risks than it has been willing to take for a good decade now. Nintendo knows that it has lots of well-loved cult classic IP buried deep inside its archives, but has always been fearful of digging it out because those games… didn’t exactly sell brilliantly well in their prime. Eternal Darkness has become a darling of the classic horror genre, but it only sold 440,000 copies overall. Hardly a ringing endorsement, and despite fans crying out for more (or even just an HD Remastering), Nintendo as a company has been reluctant to take a gamble on reviving such things. The numbers simply don’t add up.
I’d hope, with success in the Smartphone App world, that this will change. Nintendo already has an awkward habit of making annual profits, even during its darkest Wii U years, so having increasingly large incomes from this market (with at least three more apps to come) is actually a boon for those of us of a more traditional gaming mindset. Nintendo can have the likes of DeNA and other studios turning out profitable apps of various franchises, whilst Nintendo’s share of the income can be used to directly fund new projects or revive older properties for a new audience. This will be important because Nintendo’s app success is likely to also help with pushing Nintendo NX sales; with talk that smartphones can interact with it, and by that we assume any and all Nintendo apps, it attracts people in. But unless Nintendo has the games to back that up, like the Wii and Wii U, they’re not likely to stay around for long.
This should, in theory, also attract third parties.
Nintendo has always had a third party problem; a curiously Nintendo problem, as I’ve come to describe it. Nintendo can get them there at the start but keeping them long-term has been a real struggle for the company – a similar problem to its user retention. Amiibo are one branch of this; a toy manufacturing arm directly built up by Nintendo, ready for third parties to use if they want to bring something to the Nintendo NX. But smartphone apps could be another – with so many having already failed in this arena, Nintendo’s success will attract propositions from third parties to if not utilise Nintendo’s developmental network, then to at the very least utilise these channels to promote upcoming games… which would obviously have to be on the NX, so think of Assassin’s Creed costumes in Miitomo as an example. It’s good for third parties, it builds up familiarity in these app communities which, one hopes, would translate into game sales on the NX in the future.
Nintendo just needs to keep giving the Smartphone market good apps that it wants. And that’s so easy to say, but may prove a tougher task to accomplish. The smartphone market can be a fickle beast, and trends can shift overnight, leaving even the most well-constructed foundations ruined.
Pokémon Go isn’t likely to be a quick flash in the pan; this is a monolithic franchise that has seen 297 million unit sales for its games since inception, and covered pretty much every medium from comics to cartoon shows to trading cards to every kind of merchandising imaginable (and some you really don’t want to imagine as well). Nintendo just needs to keep adding Pokémon with new generational iterations, so the Sun and Moon critters will eventually have to find their way into Pokémon Go and that’s fine too. With the aim of allowing Pokémon Go to interact with future mainline Pokémon games, there’s clearly no risk of it crippling the mainline game sales either, if anything it could begin to enhance those sales further than before.
For me, it just offers security for Nintendo that it hasn’t had for a while. It’s a safety net of money that should, one hopes, allow Nintendo to start financing more projects and taking far more calculated risks than it has done for some time. It’s a good thing for app stores, a good thing for people and their health, a good thing for Nintendo… and a good thing for those of us who aren’t interested in the apps as well.
Most of all however, I feel that it vindicates Mr. Satoru Iwata. After the Wii U fiasco, and a pretty tough Gen-8, Mr. Iwata was the person who laid out this groundwork for the company to follow and build on in the coming years. And though he is no longer with us, his plan is being followed and executed with a military-grade precision that is impressive to behold. It’s not an easy road, and there’ll be stumbles, but it’s a positive development and even the most hardened of Nintendo haters must admit that by hook or by crook, Nintendo has been forced to modernise, and whilst we don’t know what will happen next, we certainly know what would have happened if they didn’t.
I think it’s overall incredibly positive, and paints for me an optimistic outlook for the company.
But seriously Nintendo, it’s time to revisit Eternal Darkness.