Following Nintendo's financial reports and Tatsumi Kimishima's President's Presentation this week, a relatively clear picture has emerged of what will be the core areas of focus for Nintendo for the rest of 2016. Mobile and the 3DS (and perhaps amiibo) are likely to be at the forefront in terms of major releases that'll drive revenues and interest in the company. The Wii U will have a role and has a handful of promising games to come, of course, but in terms of Nintendo's strategy the home console will have a relatively quiet presence, especially due to the projection that only 800,000 units of the system will be shipped over a 12 month period.
We'll come to 3DS another time, but now that the talk of NX, E3, Legend of Zelda and 2017 issues have been debated, we should switch gear and look at this year - so, we need to talk about mobile. Of course, for some fans of the big N this is an unpleasant topic, as the lukewarm reaction to Miitomo among some in this community demonstrates. A number of us would like to go back in time to a period when Nintendo was prosperous and making nothing but consoles, cool games and occasional accessories, after all.
Yet, whether we like it or not, those days are gone. Nintendo isn't going anywhere in terms of the console space, it will keep making a lot of games, but it's also adjusting to market realities. One of those truths is that mobile is huge, with iOS and Android being potential sources of substantial revenue. With Miitomo doing relatively well as the first Nintendo / DeNA app, the focus now shifts to the next games. What's intriguing is that, in actual fact, Nintendo is gunning for some of its biggest and most loyal fans with its next apps due in Autumn / Fall.
The Fire Emblem app is an interesting choice, as it's a series with very different histories in Japan and globally. As a brand it's established itself in Japan over the course of multiple generations, but it's fair to say it's had a more erratic history in the West. It's well known that Fire Emblem: Awakening was a last-gasp release to try and turn it from a Japan-only success into a global IP. The fact that it succeeded, and that Nintendo bet big and won with Fire Emblem Fates and its multiple campaigns (breaking franchise records in North America), has ensured that the series has rapidly become an important part of Nintendo's business.
It's evidence that a series is only as big as its last hit, with Fire Emblem being a hot property despite its muted overall history (in terms of global sales). What its smart device app may do is give fans a 'serious' game from Nintendo on iOS and Android, and the goal seems to be to make it attractive to consumers of all levels. It'll "offer a more accessible style of gameplay", but at the same time aim to "provide a fully engaging experience".
Of course, turn-based strategy and RPG experiences are popular on mobile all around the world, which has no doubt informed this decision by Nintendo. Basic games with gameplay similarities to Fire Emblem are all over the app stores and often generate substantial revenues, while fantasy settings are also big business. It's actually a bit of a no-brainer in hindsight - in picking money spinning genres and styles for mobile, this is a good fit.
Animal Crossing is another intriguing option and, again, is arguably well-suited to mobile devices. Part of the success of Animal Crossing: New Leaf, in particular, was Nintendo successfully getting players to share images and chat about the game on social media. That can be magnified to a significant degree on mobile.
What's fascinating about this one is that it'll supposedly tie into and interact with main-series games, presumably New Leaf and possibly Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer if that goal is applied to the current generation - Tatsumi Kimishima said the following.
As I mentioned before, the Animal Crossing series for dedicated video game systems is well-loved for its long-term playability, so we want to offer a connection between the smart device application and the world of Animal Crossing on dedicated video game systems. This will make it even more fun to play in both ways, while offering a new style of play for smart devices.
Kimishima-san also spoke of 'synergy', a goal for Nintendo's general approach to mobile. It's in this that Animal Crossing could be a rather clever app - for example aspects like the Turnip market, or fishing contests, could be played on phones and then synchronised with New Leaf (or a successor) for results. If the worlds connect in fun ways, the app could provide three minute diversions on a phone while commuting, for example, before the outcome of that activity is fully realised on the 3DS game.
These two franchises are interesting choices for mobile, and show that Nintendo and DeNA aren't simply going to throw a sloppy Mario game on phones for a quick buck. These are franchises that, traditionally, demand a certain level of depth in experience and appeal to broad, loyal Nintendo demographics. They're both IPs that are also, it must be said, well suited to mobile platforms in simplified, accessible forms.
With these games Nintendo is pitching not only to everyone with a smart device, but notably to those that own and spend a lot of money on its games and systems. If Miitomo is a quirky social experience that some fans have easily shunned, Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem could switch the tone. There's scope for experiences that honour their source material while working a little differently, and could convince naysayers of Nintendo's strategy that, in actual fact, mobile and the big N can be compatible.
Getting the core support (which itself is composed of broad demographics) on board with smart device games, in addition to legions of less committed consumers, is surely a priority for Nintendo and DeNA. Perhaps these are franchises that, if done right, can make a key breakthrough and convince more dedicated platform fans to experience some Nintendo goodness on their phones and tablets. We'll find out in the Autumn / Fall.
What do you think. Are you fascinated by Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem on smart devices, or planning to skip them? Let us know in the polls and comments below.