Dec 1, 2022 - Technology

Nintendo's mobile games are in decline

Video game screenshot of fantasy characters in  suits of armor

Two images of Dragalia Lost. Screenshots: Nintendo/Cygames

Six years since it started releasing mobile games, Nintendo has at best had meager success despite its proven expertise in game development.

Driving the news: Dragalia Lost, a mobile game co-developed by Nintendo and Cygames, shut down on Wednesday, rendering it unplayable.

  • The game’s creators didn’t say why it was being deactivated, but had given players ample warning and thanked them for their support.
  • Since 2018, Nintendo has shut down as many mobile games as it has launched, three apiece.

State of play: Nintendo’s revenue from mobile games has been dropping all year and remains a miniscule part of its business. From April through September, the company earned $4.5 billion from Nintendo Switch games and hardware, but just $169 million from mobile games and other income related to its intellectual property, according to its most recent financial statement.

  • With Dragalia Lost shuttered, Nintendo is down to five active mobile games: Super Mario Run (2016), Fire Emblem Heroes (2017), Animal Crossing Pocket Camp (2017), Mario Kart Tour (2019), and the Niantic-published Pikmin Bloom (2021).
  • According to mobile tracking firm, the company’s Nintendo Switch Online app was downloaded more this year than all but two of these games: Mario Kart Tour and Super Mario Run.
  • Nintendo itself reports more than 800 million unique downloads of its mobile games.

What they’re saying: Nintendo casts its mobile games as marketing.

  • “While we feel the importance of generating revenue and profit through our mobile business, our basic strategy with the business is to expand the number of people who have access to Nintendo [intellectual property],” a company rep told Axios in a statement.
  • The company says its mobile games reach people in countries where the Switch hasn’t launched, allowing people “to experience new entertainment from Nintendo and get familiar with its IP.“
  • A game such as Dragalia Lost, which was original to mobile and had no spin-off on Switch, doesn’t fit such a plan.

Flashback: Nintendo had approached the mobile market gingerly, resisting and then bowing to investor pressure as its Wii U and 3DS platforms struggled in the post-Wii, pre-Switch era.

  • Nintendo debuted on mobile in 2016 as a disruptor. Its first big game, Super Mario Run, was offered with promises to cap player spending on it, defying the conventional mobile business model of free games that constantly cajoles players to spend more.
  • But subsequent Nintendo mobile releases embraced the microtransaction model.
  • Along the way, its mobile games received solid reviews, but nothing close to the glowing praise for the stellar design of its major releases for its own gaming devices.

Yes, but: The Pokémon series, which is co-owned by Nintendo and managed by The Pokémon Company, has thrived on mobile, primarily via the still-healthy Pokémon Go from Niantic.

  • Pokémon is handled separately from Nintendo’s other business.

What’s next: Nintendo may have plenty of Switch games announced for the coming months, but it hasn’t announced a new mobile game since Pikmin Bloom was unveiled and launched in October 2021.

  • “We are focusing on delivering great experiences for our current mobile games through continued updates and improvements while also considering new applications for the future,” the company said in a statement to Axios.

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