When will Nintendo release a full-blown Mario or Zelda game — or any of its popular franchises — for iPhone and Android?
That’s a perennial question, and the consistent answer from the company is “never,” or at least not while the current leadership is in place. But as part of an extensive interview with KING-TV in Seattle, Nintendo’s top North America executive Reggie Fils-Amie answered a series of questions on the topic, providing new insights into the company’s thinking.
Nintendo is experimenting with “little experiences” on smartphones, he said, but that’s more about marketing. Full-blown Nintendo games will always be on Nintendo devices. The reason, he said, is the consumer experience — and Nintendo’s own bottom line.
“What drives us is creating fantastic experiences for consumers that in the end we’re able to monetize as a for-profit company,” he said. “The issue is that, if you have games that are out there on all of these smart devices for very small amounts of money, it’s very difficult to monetize.”
He continued, “And if you look at all of those companies that are trying to do it, there aren’t many that are doing it long-term profitably. And so for us, we really do believe that what’s best for the consumer — these great experiences that play wonderfully on the Wii U or the 3DS — is also great for the company.”
That last point could certainly be debated, given Nintendo’s financial struggles in recent years, stiff competition from Microsoft and Sony in the living room, and the initial challenges faced by the Wii U and the 3DS compared to previous versions of Nintendo hardware.
But for now, at least, it looks like Nintendo is content to be left to its own devices, literally.
San Miguel: I know that exclusivity … has been a strong selling point for you, but I have to tell you, I just downloaded, from my smartphone, a game called Angry Birds Go, which sure looks familiar to me. I don’t know about you, but it sure looks like Mario Kart. All I’m thinking about is, ‘Wow, Nintendo should have been in on this.’ Has the position on taking the Nintendo games and letting them go to different devices, has any of that changed as you’ve seen what’s going on with smartphone and mobile and casual games.
Fils-Amie: So our philosophy that Nintendo games are best played on Nintendo devices has not changed. Just a moment on this: This is all about the consumer experience. This is all about making sure that, when the consumer plays Mario Kart, that they have a great experience. And candidly, it’s tough to do without input devices. It’s tough to do when all you’re doing is touching the screen. It’s this maniacal focus on having a great consumer experience that focuses us on having our products on our devices.
Now, we recognize there are billions and billions of smartphones and tablets out there. So we’re being very smart in, how do we use these devices as marketing tools for our content? That’s everything from the messages we send out, the video content we make available. But we’re also doing a lot of experimentation on what I would call little experiences that you can have on your smartphone or tablet that will drive you back to your Nintendo hardware for the full-blown experience. That’s something that we’re going to continue to experiment on, because that smartphone, that tablet is something that you have with you, and if we can motivate you to have a little taste of a Nintendo experience, and drive you toward the Wii U or the 3Ds, then we’ve run.
San Miguel: What do you mean by little experiences? Any gameplay involved?
Fils-Amie: It’s largely going to be much more marketing-activity oriented. But we’ve done little things where there’s some element of gameplay — a movement, a shaking, something like that — that reminds you of the experience you have with a full-blown Nintendo game. But we believe our games are best played and best enjoyed on our devices. And so the full gameplay will only be on Nintendo devices.
San Miguel: Just one other question on this. You have geniuses working for you. Here and in Tokyo. I’ve been playing 3D World, the golf game, the handheld games. It just seems to me that if you were to unleash that kind of brainpower, those talents, on a smartphone or mobile platform of some kind — I realize the mechanics are different, but it’s a whole new audience that you might be opening up to Mario and Luigi, too.
Fils-Amie: It’s a topic that comes up all the time. It’s a debate that is constantly had. But in the end, what drives Nintendo are two things. What drives us is creating fantastic experiences for consumers that in the end we’re able to monetize as a for-profit company. The issue is that, if you have games that are out there on all of these smart devices for very small amounts of money, it’s very difficult to monetize. And if you look at all of those companies that are trying to do it, there aren’t many that are doing it long-term profitably. And so for us, we really do believe that what’s best for the consumer — these great experiences that play wonderfully on the Wii U or the 3DS — is also great for the company.
Photo by Alex Hansen, via Flickr.