2016 was the year Nintendo finally started to take mobile gaming seriously. They started the year strong with the launch of Pokemon GO and ended the year with Fire Emblem Heroes, the first mobile installment to the long running franchise. Despite being the first mobile Fire Emblem game, I suspect it will out-earn practically every other game in the genre, which is a testament to the power of the platform more so than Nintendo’s game development prowess. Nintendo has been unusually generous with Fire Emblem Heroes as well. As unlike many hero collectors, Nintendo has made it pretty easy to earn orbs (the game’s premium currency) without spending a dime. MMOs.com wrote a nice Guide on how to get free Orbs in Fire Emblem Heroes for those interested. This is noteworthy because some of the most profitable mobile hero collector games give free to play users very little. Just look at Fate Grand Order. It makes hundreds of millions of dollars a year, but getting new heroes without paying is extremely difficult. Final Fantasy Brave Exvius also makes it hard to get new summons in-game without paying. They do have the occasional event to help free to play users out, but my point is that Nintendo has been unusually generous with giving away premium currency to players regularly, and I’m curious to see if it ends up working for them.
From a financial perspective, Nintendo’s embrace of mobile gaming has definitely helped the bottom line. Just to give you guys a perspective, Nintendo earned about $4.4 billion in revenue in 2016, but Pokemon Go by itself earned about $900 million. Unfortunately for Nintendo, they only get a small slice of that sweet sweet Pokemon GO revenue, as Niantic is the game’s developer. Nintendo busts ass all year to churn out hundreds of games for all of their platforms and only makes $4.4 billion in revenue. Is that really worth it? Or they could just make a mobile game like Pokemon GO and make $900 million in 1 shot. Obviously its difficult to make a hit game, but Nintendo has some of the world’s most iconic gaming franchises, so I remain optimistic. I don’t think they’ll be making any mobile MMORPGs, but mobile games surrounding their core franchises could be huge. Even an Advance Wars themed mobile strategy game could give Game of War / Clash of Clans a run for its money.
Nintendo isn’t the only major company embracing mobile either. Nexon, which is best known for MapleStory and Dungeon Fighter Online and been pouring resources into mobile as well. They’ve churned out dozens of titles like DomiNations, Chaos Chronicle, Legion of Heroes, Pocket MapleStory, and more. Unfortunately for Nexon though, their mobile efforts haven’t paid huge dividends just yet, as the majority of their revenue still comes from legacy PC MMORPGs. A common strategy for many developers is to use their desktop franchises and make mobile counterparts. Ankama Games has seen success with Dofus Touch and Gamevil has made Devilian Mobile. Perhaps the biggest recent mobile success belongs to NCSoft, as they’ve done remarkably well with their numerous mobile iterations of Lineage. They have Lineage War, Lineage 2: Revolution, Lineage 2: Blood Oath, and numerous other games.
I think Nintendo has acted wisely to finally start taking mobile gaming more seriously. I suspect in the next 4-5 years, Nintendo’s mobile revenues will surpass everything else combined. All they need is a 4-5 hit games and given their massive portfolio of franchises, It’s not unlikely.