With all the hubbub around mobile phones and tablets, everyone wants to get in on the action with all sorts of companies investing in making their ‘iPhone killer’. Everyone except Nintendo that is. In an interview with CNN (via My Nintendo News), top dog Reggie Fils-Aime told the news corporation that the Smartphone market is something they’re not interested in. “We have no desire to get into telephony,” he said. “We believe that we will earn our way into someone’s pocket without having to offer that (phone capability) as an additional factor.” So far Nintendo has done just that. Europe’s 3DS launch was a personal best for the company, selling over 300,000 units so that’s more than quarter of a million people walking around with one of Nintendo’s products.
As a traditional video game and console manufacture, Nintendo are very good at what they do with all but their early consoles being profitable. As for handhelds, no-one has been able to best them yet, even with more powerful machines. Leaping into the mobile space when so many others do are already doing it so well doesn’t make sense to Nintendo right now: “We don’t want to be in the phone business. We don’t see that as an opportunity. Phones are utilities. Phones are not by definition entertainment devices,” said Fils-Aime adding, “It makes sense to enter a market when you feel you’ve got some sort of competitive advantage. From Nintendo’s perspective, we don’t see that we have a competitive advantage in telephony.”
One thing Nintendo like to do with every machine is innovate. The NES had the d-pad, SNES added shoulder buttons and the now obligatory face button layout, the N64 came with rumble and analog stick, the GameCube featured buttons with a ‘double-press’ function and of course the Wii has waggle. The handhelds followed alongside the home consoles for a while until the DS added a touchscreen, altering the way we play game once again with the revolution of the Smartphone’s own touchscreens taking that even further. So why would Nintendo want to make a gaming platform with phone functionality when there’s not a great deal left to innovate on those devices? You could add a real controller to them but Sony are doing that with the Xperia Play and are yet to really figure out who it is the phone is aimed at. Casual gamers aren’t the sort who need tactile buttons as the most appealing games for them have been designed for systems without traditional controls. The hardcore audience would be more concerned whether the games they want to play will be readily available on what is fundamentally a phone so I don’t know exactly who the market will consist of.
But it’s more than just the innovation side of things, money always comes into it. Producer Hideki Konno added to Fils-Aime’s thoughts: “It’s not that I’m uninterested. However, I look at the business model, and I see so many additional costs that come into play. Would we increase the price of the software itself? The distribution couldn’t be free.” It is a little ironic that Konno mentions the additional fees. The very public debate between Nintendo and Rovio in particular about the state of the industry has highlighted the cost of current games with Nintendo questioning the quality of 59p experiences and Rovio hitting back, claiming they’re only trying to sell “$49 pieces of plastic to people.” Some would argue that devices like the 3DS have games that already come with additional costs being considerably more than those on mobile phones whereas others protest how cheaper games offer cheaper experiences.
It never once crossed my mind that Nintendo would ever be interested in making a mobile phone. They’re console makers with console games. I don’t think just because something can play games means it should be the only way we play them. Mobile phones are entertainment devices, there’s no doubt about that but first and foremost they should be phones. Nintendo are good at offering a different kind of entertainment experience and continuing to better that model can only lead to even better experiences for gamers.