After a storming opening week in Japan during which it led the download charts on iTunes and Google Play, Miitomo has started to slide back a little from those giddy highs. That's no surprise, as its regular rival at launch - the new Puzzle & Dragons title - has actually fallen further back; after the initial boom apps start to slide backwards as fresh releases take their place. It would seem that, in the battle to establish a sizeable userbase while having great store placement, Miitomo has done rather well; besides, it's still top 10 on Google Play and 11th on iPhone (at the time of writing) in the free app charts.
Of course we still await the app in the West, and it's fair to say that plenty reading these pages only want it to land as it'll also bring the My Nintendo loyalty programme with it. The wait for a Club Nintendo replacement has been rather long, and time is running out for the promised March arrival. The removal of references to a March release on the official website has some wondering whether that points to a delay - that's a potential outcome, of course.
It'd be nice to know what's causing the roadblock. It's a strange one, as the app itself is already in English (for example) and the My Nintendo infrastructure is established in Japan. Presumably further localisation (and languages) are part of the equation, and perhaps there's a disconnect between the experience and clout Nintendo and DeNA have in dealing with Google and Apple in Japan and then doing the same globally. If Nintendo is being held up by a desire for a universal Western launch then that's also a very Nintendo thing to do - smartphone apps often have 'soft launches' split up globally, even between Western markets, but the desire to get My Nintendo ducks in a row adds more complications.
In any case, I check Google Play here in the UK on a daily basis in case Miitomo has randomly dropped - as mentioned above, smart device apps often land before companies even realise or announce it. In doing so I've had a glimpse of the weird world of smart device stores, and how they must terrify Nintendo.
When searching for Miitomo today, for example, the following were the top results.
- Pokémon Shuffle Mobile
- Rayman Adventures
- Random news aggregate app
- Bizarre meme-infested (and unofficial) Sonic runner
- Smash Bros. wallpaper
- N64 emulator
- DS emulator
- An app for cheating in Pokémon
- A fan Splatoon app that shows stage rotations (nice idea)
- SNES emulator
- ANOTHER DS EMULATOR
- Super Mario Bros. rip-off
- A 3DS emulator that's fake and apparently doesn't even work
- More of the same...
That's just Google Play in one country, but for Nintendo - a company renowned for being a corporate control freak - these smart device stores must be terrifying and distressing. I've no doubt it was worse in the past, too, as Nintendo has been attempting to assert its rights over its trademarked properties in various ways in recent years. Yet environments with little control or quality assessment, like iOS and Google Play, are Wild Wests that can be near-impossible to fully contain.
I have spent some amusing time looking into these apps, too, particularly the emulators. I've never downloaded an emulator in my life - well, ok, I downloaded a Spectrum ZX one in the past - because I'm an annoying holier-than-thou type on the topic, but reading the comments was enough for me. The 3DS 'emulator' had hilarious comments, mainly as it's either non-functional or completely fake, while people I assume are involved with the project or buddies with its creator give it five-star reviews. It seems to be an app that simply tries to earn ad revenue from those trying to get it to work, but seeing people complain that they can't play a current-gen system for free on their phone gives me a true feeling of schadenfreude.
That sort of self-assured entitlement fits well with a world of free apps for playing games that are still on sale, however. When it comes to emulators it's a debate with grey areas, as I do know people that use them to play games they bought 'back in the day', but there are also plenty that use them for free games they've never owned.
In any case, back to the topic, browsing Google Play is a trip to the wild side when compared to the heavily controlled and curated world of the eShop. Even the garbage eShop games that shouldn't really be there have proper product pages and we can be sure they won't hack our devices, but with smart devices you dive in at your own risk. As a heavy smartphone user but one who mainly checks emails and uses mainstream apps by major companies, it's an eye-opener.
Yet for all of the chaos, silliness and occasional ugliness to be found in stores like Google Play and iOS, it's a market that has to be embraced in the modern gaming scene. Most gaming platform holders, publishers and developers are involved in smart devices in some form, and Nintendo has merely bowed to the inevitable. While the company can focus on quality, it'll also be entering strange lands that it can't control - as much as Nintendo likes, it won't be able to stop the constant stream of knock-offs, trademark infringements and emulators that flood the app stores. It can only take the high road.
It's also worth acknowledging, in addition, that legitimate high profile apps reach general users (of which there are hundreds of millions, perhaps over a billion) through store placements and promotions. Rip-offs, fan apps and emulators do not have this exposure. A search for Miitomo after it launches will also place it right at the top, and the vast majority won't be scrolling down to see the weirdness that somehow gets into those manual search results. Companies like Nintendo probably don't lose a great deal for having all of these bizarre apps as rivals. We can imagine that, nevertheless, there are some within Nintendo's Kyoto HQ that look at the new world the company's trying to inhabit with a mix of curiosity, wonder and a little horror.
If Nintendo's next smartphone game is a Mario Bros. release, meanwhile, the battle with the clones will only be more amusing.