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Why Nintendo Is Launching a Social App

Nintendo's first mobile app, Miitomo.Nintendo's first mobile app, Miitomo.
Nintendo's first mobile app, Miitomo.Nintendo

Nintendo is launching its first-ever mobile game, Miitomo, this March. It’s part of a partnership with Japanese mobile publisher DeNA that will see an additional four iOS and Android games released by the end of March 2017.

While Nintendo CEO Tatsumi Kimishima told investors the company’s second game will feature a popular Nintendo character, this first offering is a communications app. Gamers can upload their custom Mii avatars from other Nintendo devices, or create their own with the social app.

Miitomo is expected to be a free app, with in-app purchases to further customize the Mii avatars. Users will use their Miis to communicate with friends as well as take and share photos via Miifoto. Additionally, the app will feature mini-games, although details haven’t been released yet.

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Nintendo is going to use these mobile games to connect with its large global fan base, which currently plays games across Wii U and a variety of portable Nintendo DS devices. All of these new apps will allow fans to register for the new My Nintendo rewards program, which launches in March alongside Miitomo.

“Considering the value of the Japanese mobile games market at $6.2 billion last year, Nintendo would be crazy to ignore the opportunity,” SuperData Research CEO Joost van Dreunen says. “Moreover, Nintendo has seen a strong rise in overall digital sales.”

Van Dreunen says the challenge Nintendo faces is in gaining vertical control, where Miitomo operates as a single point of entry for games played across mobile, console, and handheld devices.

“To do this successfully, Nintendo will need two things: a strong line-up and a timely release schedule,” van Dreunen says. “Its ability to do well with Mario on mobile can only be hindered by the scope of its platform ambitions.”

Mario is actually the frontrunner to be that popular character Kimishima referenced as the star of Nintendo’s next mobile game.

But Lewis Ward, video game analyst at IDC, says it doesn’t matter which popular character Nintendo focuses on. The company is building out its infrastructure for communication across devices, including the upcoming Nintendo NX.

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“If you overlay a social networking and text messaging social environment with Nintendo IP, you have something that can run across Wii U, Nintendo DS, tablets, and smartphones,” Ward says. “You can bulletproof that messaging, micro-transactions, and rewards will work across all platforms.”

As to why Nintendo and DeNA are leading with a social app, DeNA already had the basic technology from its discontinued Comm messaging app, which failed to find an audience in Japan.

“This is primarily viewed by DeNA as a way to get back into the messaging business, which is huge in Japan,” Ward says.

Ward also believes if this mobile play works between DeNA and Nintendo, the two companies will extend the partnership and Nintendo could invest additional money into the mobile game company.

“Nintendo clearly sees an opportunity to create a community that they can market their games towards,” Newzoo CEO Peter Warman says.

Warman says the key moment in this partnership will be when Pokemon and Mario are released on mobile devices.

“If Nintendo gets the business model and gameplay right, they will have tens of millions fans in that community for a long time going forward,” Warman says.