Why Nintendo is giving up on mobile games

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Nintendo announced that it’s ‘retreating’ from the mobile games market.

When the Wii U failed, only selling 13 million units worldwide, Nintendo was financially pinched.  The success of the Nintendo 3DS was enough to keep the company afloat, but with the Nintendo Switch still on the horizon, it didn’t shock me at all when Nintendo announced in 2015 it would be jumping into the mobile market.

Little did Nintendo know that the Nintendo Switch would be an immensely successful piece of hardware, already outselling many of the company’s previous consoles and be on pace perhaps to become its most successful console of all time.

Personally, I love my Switch.  It is easily my favorite gaming console of all time, and I play it almost daily.  Many of the Switch’s exclusives like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and others have become some of the most beloved games in my library.  The Switch’s unique and robust lineup of first-party games makes it one of the best gaming machines on the market, not to mention how great it is to play these games both at home and on the go.

It’s obvious how much love and care Nintendo puts into their first-party Switch games, but the same cannot be said for their mobile applications.   I felt optimistic that Nintendo would put the same level of care into their mobile efforts and not fall prey to predatory systems or microtransactions, but I was unfortunately wrong.

It seems Nintendo realizes that the flame of their mobile games is beginning to die out. The company recently announced that it would be “retreating” from the mobile market and not looking to make many new mobile games in the future, as reported by Bloomberg on June 21, 2020.

Nintendo’s mobile efforts began harmless enough in early 2016 with the release of Miitomo and Super Mario Run, which didn’t feature any microtransactions.  While Super Mario Run did cost money, it was “free to start” and only featured a one-time purchase price of $9.99 to access the remainder of the content.

Unfortunately, both of these games did not meet Nintendo’s sales expectations, with Miitomo receiving around 15 million downloads and Super Mario Run making about $60 million in total sales.  This would lead to further experimentation on how to monetize their mobile games best.

Nintendo gained much greater success with Pokémon Go and Fire Emblem: Heroes. While these games were free to play and featured microtransactions, they were much less in your face than many other “freemium” applications out at the time.  Nintendo continued to receive on and off success with future mobile releases with Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, Dragolia Lost, and Dr. Mario World.

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In 2019, Nintendo released Mario Kart Tour, which is one of the most egregious implementations of microtransactions in a mobile game I have ever seen.  Not only does the game implement a loot box-style “gotchya” system, but players can also subscribe to a “gold pass” subscription, which gives better rewards for completing races, exclusive vehicles, equipment, and access to more challenging races.  The game’s in-game currency, “rubies,” also carries a hefty price tag. Just three rubies cost $1.99, but players can purchase up to 135 rubies for $69.99, a higher price than most full-price console games at release.

It’s a legitimate shame that Nintendo appeared to be separating itself from other mobile developers at the start but eventually fell prey to the temptation to make quick money and use the love of their properties to entice players to spend as much money as possible.

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Unfortunately for Nintendo, the implementation of microtransactions is not the only reason their mobile games are not doing well, but the inevitable comparison of the mobile titles to their counterparts on the Switch.

As of early 2020, there have been 57 million Nintendo Switch consoles sold. Many of these 57 million gamers, myself included, are asking themselves why we would want to play a game like Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, a half-baked Animal Crossing experience with microtransactions, instead of just playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

The reason why Nintendo’s first-party Switch games are of such high quality is that Nintendo wants consumers to buy a Switch.  With mobile games, there is no hardware to sell, therefore little incentive to make these games of the same quality as on their central piece of hardware.

I can understand the temptation of those who don’t yet own a Switch, wanting to experience Nintendo’s properties in the most accessible way possible.  Still, with the number of Switch sales only going up, the incentive to play these less-than experiences isn’t there anymore, and I think it’s a smart choice for Nintendo to cut their losses in the mobile market.  Let’s hope the Nintendo Switch continues to find success, and Nintendo never implements their over-aggressive mobile monetization on the platform anytime soon.