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Yes, Nintendo really will use its star franchises for smartphone games

Nintendo management has said time and again that its IP is up for grabs when it comes to making mobile games, despite what you may have read.

Christian Nutt, Contributor

November 9, 2015

6 Min Read

The announcement of Miitomo as Nintendo's first mobile game seems to have confused some people. If you look around the web, you'll read that Nintendo never intended to use its popular franchises in the mobile sphere -- presumably as an explanation of why we got Miitomo.

The company's president, Tatsumi Kimishima, has already offered an explanation for that, of course. And the idea that Mii is not a "Nintendo IP" flies in the face of the company's own view of Miitomo, according to Kimishima: "We believe that smart device users will enjoy Miitomo as we are offering Nintendo IP called Mii with which anyone can feel an affinity," he said, in Nintendo's latest earnings Q&A, following his presentation.

But I can still understand why people aren't quite getting it. The Mii is not Mario or Zelda. It's not a longstanding, top-tier Nintendo game franchise with a decades-long history; it's a cute part of the Nintendo identity, but not a cherished star.

But still, the company has been up-front about its desire to turn its IP into smartphone games. During that same presentation, Kimishima said this: "... we will provide people with new applications on their smart devices by utilizing our Nintendo IP." Seems pretty clear, doesn't it?

Here's a visual aid, from Nintendo's latest investor presentation

All the same, I decided to take a quick tour through its archives and dig up some illustrative quotes from a variety of its senior staff, and I present them here, with a bit of context:

The company's most vaunted designer, Shigeru Miyamoto, pivoted from a discussion of the success of Amiibo -- the company's first plan to leverage its IP profitably -- to the question of smartphone games.

"Just as this Amiibo example shows, Nintendo's proactive use of its IP is to improve its business performance by taking advantage of Nintendo IP in a variety of ways... For example, this is one of the objectives of deploying our IP on smart devices but it includes our attempt to increase the awareness of Nintendo by delivering our messages to people whom we have not been able to communicate with when deploying our IP on dedicated game systems," he said.

If you look at the range of Nintendo IP available as Amiibos (pretty much everything notable from the past 30-plus years) this quote, from that same recent Q&A, is even more suggestive. Especially when you consider that Nintendo has already said it has, after Miitomo, four more smartphone apps to release by March 2017.

The initial wave of Amiibo was broadly representative of Nintendo's most famous IP

"Other than creating new IP, we believe that one of the challenges of developing and expanding character IP is how we can popularize existing IP such as Mario and Link even more among young consumers. Thus, as Mr. Miyamoto mentioned previously, we would like to actively consider measures such as using smart devices and utilizing Nintendo 3DS even more." Those are the words of Shinya Takahashi, the general manager of Nintendo's game development division, EPD. Evocative, no? Getting Nintendo's IP onto smartphones is fundamental to the company's future.

It's worth stopping to point out that, at multiple times, Nintendo has said that it'll be the one developing the smartphone games, while its partner DeNA handles the back-end analytics and network infrastructure. If you understand that Nintendo itself is creating the games, its software bosses' comments gain more weight, and the idea that cherished Nintendo IP will be used seems much more reasonable. This isn't a licensing arrangement; it's the real deal.

But comments like these are not really new, as it turns out; what else have Nintendo's spokespeople said? Late president Satoru Iwata spoke at length on the topic on multiple occasions; his words are extremely clear and informative on the topic.

"As we confirmed on March 17" -- the date of the initial DeNA announcement -- "all of our IP can be considered for a smart device game," he said, in an  investor presentation. So what exactly did he have to say about using that IP at the time of the initial announcement, then?

"... if we are to maximize the value of Nintendo IP while the competition to attract consumers' attention is fierce, we must deliver the value of Nintendo IP in a stress-free fashion to our consumers around the world who are living in varying environments.

"This is why Nintendo has decided to utilize smart devices aggressively."

And Iwata spoke very specifically about the company's intentions just a little bit later: "Of course, Nintendo will utilize smart devices as communication media for Nintendo IP. In addition, so that our consumers will be closely connected with them, we will deploy a game business which takes advantage of Nintendo IP."

In other words, the strategy -- as has been repeatedly outlined -- will be to meet smartphone audiences on the devices they prefer, with Nintendo's IP. And that strategy will, apparently, be aggressive. Miitomo doesn't look aggressive the way a mobile Zelda game would, but it's catered to an audience of LINE-loving mainstream mobile users.

And it's not just to make money from them on those devices, or to drive them to its consoles -- which, yes, is a clearly stated part of its plans. It's also to increase the value of Nintendo's IP by making it more recognizable, a plan Iwata outlined in May, at another investor event.

"Furthermore, if our IP is recognized by a great number of people thanks to its exposure in the smart device application, Nintendo will be able to make better use of the IP in other business areas, including Nintendo's main dedicated game system business and other activities such as the Universal Parks & Resorts attraction we just announced and, who knows, the IP may be used in movies and other visual businesses as well. Overall, it will be beneficial for our Nintendo IP activities, so we hope our smart device applications will become evergreen."

He went on to say this: "If several of the Nintendo applications we initially release for smart devices effectively use the popularity of Nintendo IP and are recognized and appreciated by many as 'hit titles' in a short period, many in the world will become aware of that and hopefully appreciate our endeavors."

"Evergreen" "hit titles." Sounds pretty serious, if you ask me.

And just in case you're not getting the picture: "The active use of Nintendo IP is our strategy for the sake of Nintendo's game software business of the dedicated game systems and, from now on, of the smart device business too."

To wrap things up, I'll leave you with this slide taken from one of Iwata's presentations to investors:

You can ignore the "this calendar year" bit -- the slide is old, and Miitomo debuts in 2016. The rest is relevant, however.

I think that's probably enough; the point is, if Miitomo gave you the shakes -- as it did the stock market -- it's far too early to say the sky is falling, or to proclaim there's something Nintendo would never do with its IP.

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