There’s no question that Nintendo (NTDOY) has been going through some tough times as of late. However, the company’s most popular video game franchise might be able to turn it all around.
Super Mario Maker, which launched earlier this month, is breathing new life into the company’s troubled Wii U gaming console. The game, which launched in the U.S. on Sept. 11, allows players to create their own custom courses based on those found in Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, and New Super Mario Bros. U, among others.
In just one week users have already created over 1 million courses in Super Mario Maker, according to the video game company. The news was followed by early reports that not only is the game selling well, but also proving popular with gamers both young and old.
“One of the things that I think Nintendo really hit [with Super Mario Maker] was the nostalgia factor in their marketing,” says Christine Arrington, games analyst at IHS. “You see them hitting the market that has been a fan of Mario since they were kids 30 years ago and now many of them have young children. There is a significant ‘family moment’ that Nintendo is really selling around the experience.”
While actual sales data isn’t available yet, “early” market checks suggest the game is also helping Nintendo sell more Wii U units, she adds.
The Super Mario franchise, which was created by famed developer Shigeru Miyamoto, turned 30 on Sept. 13 and helping Nintendo weather the industry’s unpredictable ups and downs.
When Super Mario Bros. launched in 1985 game industry revenue was down nearly 97% from $3.2 billion in 1983 to $100 million in 1985. Not long after its release, Super Mario Bros. became a hit, selling 40 million units over its lifetime and arguably resurrecting the industry all on its own.
“It is a very well-known and loved franchise,” Arrington said.
With each new iteration, Super Mario games have successful helped Nintendo in one way or another. Super Mario 64, for instance proved Nintendo could make an appealing 3D video game, and sold like gangbusters, notching nearly 12 million unit sales. And it was New Super Mario Bros. Wii—and its 29 million units sold—that cemented the Wii as a next generation console.
“Mario is, by far, the single largest video game property ever,” John Taylor, managing director at Arcadia Investment Corp, told Fortune earlier this month. “It’s where you start in scaling the size of the market globally for games.”
But now, Nintendo finds itself in a difficult situation, and calling on Mario once again to turn things around. The company announced in June that after nearly three years on store shelves, its Wii U had finally hit 10 million unit sales. Meanwhile, Sony
(SNE) announced in March that it had sold 20 million PlayStation 4 units since its console launched in Nov. 2013, with Microsoft’s
(MSFT) Xbox One hot on the PlayStation 4’s heels.
While Super Mario has worked wonders for Nintendo in the past, at least one industry analyst believes it won’t create magic this time around.
“I doubt that anything can save the Wii U,” says Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter. “Anyone who has waited this long is unlikely to be swayed by this game, although I would imagine you’ll see a sales spike of a few hundred thousand units over the next several months.”
Pachter expects Nintendo to sell fewer than 5 million Super Mario Maker units over its lifetime due to the Wii U’s (and Nintendo’s) troubles.
That said, Nintendo may have one more trick up its sleeve: mobile platforms. Earlier this year, the company announced that it would bring its top franchises, including Super Mario, to Android and iOS. While it’s currently not known when a Super Mario mobile game will launch, mobile is largely viewed as the next frontier for the company. Success on mobile could bring Nintendo new riches in the crowded gaming market.
“Eventually, I do think that Super Mario will be a driver for mobile revenue,” Arrington explains. “It is part of a strong portfolio of content that will translate well to mobile devices.”
A strong portfolio indeed. But it’s the Super Mario franchise that ultimately carries the most weight and matters most to the millions of people around the globe who still look to Nintendo for their gaming needs.
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