If you have any aspiring Pokemon masters as friends, or happened to open Google Maps up today, chances are you found out about Google’s April Fools prank this year:
Granted, there actually ARE Pokemon in Google maps today: just in sprite form and no traveling required. (Unless you count hopping from Harajuku to Old Faithful via the Maps app travel)
While a collaboration between Google, the Pokemon Company, and Nintendo was a rather ingenious prank to tug on any kid-at-heart’s nostalgia and gain some excellent publicity for all parties, what might not have been expected of the prank was the conversations it brought about to the future of Pokemon, and well – Nintendo games in general.
Nintendo franchises are some of the most beloved and memorable games: Mario, Donkey Kong, Pikachu, and Link (Legend of Zelda) easily spring to mind among others when one is asked to think of a video game. One of Nintendo’s best selling points for its games is the exclusivity of its characters: typically confined to Nintendo only titles with rare cameos to outside titles, and exclusively playable on Nintendo console systems.
Does that exclusivity exclude Nintendo from some successful business ventures? Any console junkie will tell you that when it comes to hardware, Nintendo may have innovative ideas (a controller with a screen? Some of the first motion detection titles?), but their processing power can lag years behind Sony PlayStation or Microsoft XBox. Some mobile devices may even have better processing capabilities and features than current generation Nintendo devices.
Would it be better business for Nintendo to farm out their franchise characters? Or start developing and selling for mobile? Maybe opening up a retro games section of the Play store filled with mobile formatted nostalgia-inducers?
Think of the possibilities mobile could offer: the augmented reality type game described in the Google Maps trailer isn’t so far off – granted it might have to be scaled down a bit since it’s unlikely one will hop a plane to Egypt to finish a game.
Mobile could hit a base of users Nintendo is missing too. Users who love Mario and Pikachu, but can’t bring themselves to shell out the money for a console just to play one or two titles, but would gladly pay the money for those titles on their mobile device. Or even users who would play more classic mobile games a la CandySwipe, Cut the Rope, etc. that would buy extra levels or make a micropurchase for a small game with their favorite characters starring. There’s a potential market left untapped.
Yet for all the possibilities, and all the frustrated Nintendo lovers but non-console buyers who would clamor for mobile Nintendo love, there’s some sound strategy to what Nintendo has done so far. As stated at the beginning, Nintendo built its characters partially on their exclusivity. Only seeing Mario in his Nintendo environment gives an expectation and a context, and it gives a level of quality expectation for the product. Letting Mario run around just anywhere willing to shell out the cash for him could dampen the iconic-ness of him and other Nintendo franchise.
Plus, just like Sony and Microsoft, part of Nintendo’s profits come from console sales. While PlayStation and Microsoft have plenty of great third party developers to contract out games to and are known for a vast array of different games being available to them, Nintendo again breeds its consoles in part for the exclusiveness of their franchise titles – third party developers are almost akin to just gravy. Take the franchise titles and put them anywhere, and when stacked against the competitors with better horsepower, who is going to buy the Nintendo console anymore? They may have novel hardware innovations, but given console sales for Nintendo already are less than their competitors, who can say how much more the scales would tip?
None of these conversations are to say Nintendo needs any advice. Their brands speak for themselves: the company has amassed quite spectacular revenue and while their current consoles may seem in trouble, the company itself is far from likely in the same waters. These are what ifs, and exploring the whys.
The bottom line seems to be that for all the excitement and potential new markets Nintendo could open up by expanding its horizons, it could also become a fatal blow to the company. Dwindled to a halt console sales could potentially rip open any gaming company, and beyond that the iconic nature of Nintendo franchise characters could get lost in the mix as they jump from game to game, console to console. While it might seem backwards to those looking at the potential innovations ahead of us, Nintendo sticking to what they know may be exactly what they need to continue on their path of household gaming entity.
Plus, if the technology already exists, that means it can always become a part of the next big Nintendo thing. The 3DS already HAS augmented reality features, for example: they’ve just never been that strongly used in a franchise game to my knowledge. Maybe this Google Maps trailer is opening doors to something right in their backyard?
Regardless of what they choose to do in the future, Nintendo is a savvy company who chose to opt out of the console horsepower war and opt into developing further what was already working for them: their characters. I’m interested to see how their business plan continues to unfold, and I’m actually doing a marketing course research survey project on Nintendo and mobile devices, so you may see more blog posts about this from me.
But until then, I’m going to go back to searching for all these Pokemon in….where am I now, Kyoto? And hoping against hope if I find them all Google sends me a lovely little Pokemon master card to hang on my wall, right next to my pile of Pokemon plushies.
“Video games are bad for you? That’s what they said about rock-n-roll” – Shigeru Miyamoto
Pokemon and respective characters (c) Nintendo, Game Freak, and the Pokemon Company International; Mario, Luigi, and other characters (c) Nintendo