Nintendo takes a step back in mobile gaming

Nintendo takes a step back in mobile gaming

This summer Nintendo will be shutting down another of its mobile titles: Dragalia Lost, a JRPG developed in collaboration with CyGames, which was launched in late 2018.

Mobile games come and go, so it's no wonder that a relatively high-profile title to be removed after a few years if its community struggles to grow. But the demise of Dragalia Lost is noteworthy for a number of reasons, with the most notable being the closure of two Nintendo mobile games within a couple of years (the other being Dr. Mario World), two years in which the Kyoto house has not launched any new games.

Far from being a growth factor for the corporate economy, Nintendo's mobile games division is shrinking: the only new internal IP recently released on smartphones was Pikmin Bloom, developed under license from Niantic (the creators of Pokémon Go).

The closure of Dragalia Lost is also interesting for what it represented, namely the only original IP from Nintendo for mobile. All the other games are in fact porting of already long-lived and tested franchises. A new game therefore, unrelated to historical IPs, except during events when, for example, themed crossovers such as the one with Fire Emblem Heroes were made. Nintendo's hand has been seen mostly in production, with a decidedly high budget for a smartphone game of this type.

The success of the Switch may have raised concerns about a loss of reputation: the possibility that a mobile business could damage the Nintendo brand has become less and less acceptable In addition to the undoubted convenience inherent in creating a new potential franchise, launching an exclusive IP for smartphones seemed perfect for Nintendo to shake off the problem it had with this platform. A game born on mobile, would have allowed (at least in theory) to experiment with a free to play model not suited to the prestigious IPs that appeared on the platform.

Dragalia Lost was anything but a flop, at least at the beginning . The title has in fact generated a turnover of over 100 million dollars in the first year, always appearing among the most prolific mobile titles of the company even in the following years. Although community involvement has practically collapsed in recent years, the decision to remove the game from the mobile platform suggests that Nintendo has lost interest in mobile gaming, an idea corroborated by the fact that there is no title in development on the horizon.

Thinking about this scenario is also easy because there is certainly a grain of truth. The narrative arc of Nintendo's adventure in the mobile universe is, moreover, simple to trace. The company over the years has been cornered by investors, both publicly and privately, for not being able to capitalize on the boom in mobile gaming, so when the Wii U failed dramatically, investor demands became impossible to ignore. .

The incredible success of Pokémon Go also played a crucial role in this story. Niantec's game was launched in 2016, the same year that Wii U was facing its worst year in sales and it was obvious that it needed to be replaced by a new console. However, many investors feared that any new console would meet the same fate. Pokémon Go became the result of a collaboration, being a licensed product to Niantic, and has surprisingly become the most successful "Nintendo" launch product of recent years; with the Kyoto house struggling with their hardware, many people were convinced that this would be a hypothetical future business model for the creators of Super Mario.

The Niantec game was launched in 2016, the same year that Wii U was facing its worst year in sales. So the company embarked on a strategy to turn mobile gaming into a mainstay of its business, and while it was never very clear how extensive the company's support for this sector was, it can be said that at least it has been taken. seriously. Serious enough to have Mario, Mario Kart, Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem games on Android and iOS smartphones, which many thought would never happen. This was possible thanks to the commercial agreements signed with furniture specialists such as DeNA.

But then the wheel of fortune began to turn for the company's economy: Switch made its debut on the market with a huge success that has been growing year after year, while the porting of various Nintendo IPs on mobile proved more problematic than the undisputed success of Pokémon Go. With its console business returning to full health, the company has increasingly lost interest in the mobile universe, and this brings us to the last two to three years, in which Nintendo hasn't launched any new products, and those already active are slowly starting up at sunset.

Dragalia Lost was more refined than many mobile RPGs A linear and sincere narrative then. But there are two aspects that require more attention. The first is that Nintendo has not totally lost interest in mobile gaming; rather, it has decided that the most prolific way to manage it is to fire its IPs.

The expansion of relationships with Niantic that led to the developer creating a licensed Pikmin game is one example. This is a slow process that is unlikely to accelerate, but it seems likely that Nintendo's commitment to the mobile universe extends towards this business model (collaborating with an experienced developer who manages a licensed IP for a single project from time to time ). It is a model that allows you to stay engaged in the sector without actually consuming internal (human) resources within the company.

We must also ask ourselves what obstacles Nintendo has encountered in the mobile world, obstacles that have denied the explosion of IP of planetary success with a practically unlimited catchment area. There must be important reasons why Nintendo has decided to prevent mobile gaming from becoming a mainstay of its business. In this sense, the story of Dragalia Lost itself can provide us with clues.

The production of the game was particularly expensive for a mobile RPG, with the aim of conquering fans of the genre, a very numerous and prolific category especially in Asia. Just think of similar games played by many people and therefore become very profitable, such as GranBlue Fantasy (created by Nintendo partners for Dragalia Lost, CyGames) or Shironeko Project, and more recently to Genshin Impact.

Nintendo has embraced some aspects of the mobile universe in the making of this title, such as opening up to crossovers with great games, and adopting a gacha approach in unlocking characters. On paper, the idea of ​​a new game to be launched as a mobile exclusive that would bring a breath of fresh air to Nintendo seemed valid.

Pokémon Go has become the result of a principle of collaboration, being a product licensed to Niantic, and has surprisingly become the most successful 'Nintendo' product at launch in recent years. But I'm not sure Nintendo was totally happy with this game. While it was an instant hit, it never launched in certain territories around the world, and its monetization approach has remained oddly well balanced. Dragalia has adopted standard free to play mechanics, which hinge on the most avid players (the so-called big fish). In a nutshell, most users don't spend a cent on the game, and all income comes from a few spenders (so ARPU balances).

As a result, many players have never spent anything on this game, despite playing it daily for months, but due to the balancing system, even the 'easy wallet' users paid relatively little. From a certain point of view this can be considered a welcome approach, and this perhaps also explains why the game has been received so well. With Dragalia it was never felt that to play well I had to spend, but on the other hand this caused revenue to drop well before the number of active players started to decline, as they understood that it was possible to get everyone. the characters, all the objects and also access other features of the game without actually spending anything.

This factor tells us a lot about how Nintendo doesn't culturally adapt to mobile gaming. The company found CyGames to be a great partner, collaborating effectively to create a high quality mobile game. But collaborations are a boon when it comes to gacha games, while Nintendo has drawn lines not to be crossed so as not to ruin its image of a company that pleases families, which does not push us to empty our credit card into objects in game.

It can therefore be said that Dragalia Lost is a mirror of the history of Nintendo and of mobile in general. Most Read Now

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Even if it was not an IP that could be immediately associated with Nintendo, the risk that the his name was associated with children (or adults) who empty their parents' credit card in micro transactions has undoubtedly influenced the company's choices. The Switch's success may have raised concerns about a loss of reputation: the possibility that a mobile business could harm the Nintendo brand has become less and less acceptable.

It can therefore be said that Dragalia Lost is a mirror of the history of Nintendo and of mobile in general. What made sense in the difficult era of the Wii U failure makes a lot less sense now that the company is thriving and dominating thanks to the global success of Switch, and the lesson from this experience could permanently change the attitude of ' company regarding the mobile universe.

For how Nintendo manages its IPs and the kind of value it places on them, there is too much incompatibility with the way mobile games work today. This is not a judgment but simply a certificate of incompatibility. And as long as things stay that way (which could last forever considering how difficult it is for a new business model to creep into the mobile gaming paradigm), Nintendo's involvement in this universe will remain very limited, a universe to be who will take care to get too involved.

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