SIDESHOW: Is Nintendo backing away from mobile apps?

Let’s talk about it for a sec.

Welcome to Sideshow, a column where we (briefly) analyze and discuss various topics that may not otherwise fit into news coverage, but is not quite qualified to be an opinion. Some statements in this article may be speculation, and therefore, should not be taken as fact. Opinions may be shared here by the author — and they are not necessarily reflective of the opinion of this publication as a whole.

When Nintendo first announced their foray into mobile apps with Miitomo, I was quite excited. I was thinking “if any company could do this correctly, it’s them.” They were even working with companies like DeNA and LINE to make it happen. But Miitomo wasn’t exactly a smash hit, it was a social networking app with odd quirks. Unique ones, but odd all-the-same, even in the mid-2010s. It was shut down around a year later.

An approach Nintendo took to preventing copyright infringement and all that fun stuff was requiring their apps to be always connected to the internet. That meant, if the servers went down, you couldn’t play the game despite having the entire thing downloaded to your phone. It had to phone home. A lot of folks, myself included, have indeed protested this as DRM can be included fairly easily on modern iOS and Android versions if you so wish. (Especially on iOS.) It made no sense for them to do this.

As you could imagine, once those servers are done for, so are the games. They’re pulled from the app stores and can’t be used officially again. I’m sure hackers and other technical ninjas have cooked up some methods to get into it, but I won’t discuss, vouch, nor endorse those methods.

Now, several years since, two mobile apps – Miitomo and Dr. Mario World – have come and gone, with their mobile-only IP Dragalia Lost to follow suit in just a few short months. It’s made me ponder a question so obvious, yet complicated, that I haven’t really been able to answer… Is Nintendo backing away from mobile apps? Think about it: their business strategy a few years ago was to create a new IP that would be specifically for mobile. They did that with Dragalia Lost, and it’s due to disappear in July.

Since that was their business strategy when it came to mobile, it makes you wonder whether or not Nintendo will be continuing in the space and instead focus their attention elsewhere. This, indeed, seems to be the direction they’re taking with this. It’s entirely possible that they’re just making room on their teams’ tables for new mobile titles, but it seems unlikely to me. Nintendo has treated mobile as a pop-up shop filled with soak test of all sorts: ways to test new ideas they wouldn’t be able to otherwise.

With the number of apps published by them beginning to climb down – two apps now taking causality in just the past year alone – it appears to me like Nintendo could begin to close up the mobile app shop soon.