Nintendo just declared the beginning of a new direction for itself, with a patent that could bring Mario and other copyrighted Nintendo characters to smartphones and other devices. The patent, published November 23rd, proposes that Nintendo games could run on non-Nintendo hardware via “a software emulator for emulating a handheld video game platform such as GAME BOY.RTM., GAME BOY COLOR.RTM. and/or GAME BOY ADVANCE.RTM.” The patent then lists examples such as “a low-capability target platform (e.g., a seat-back display for airline or train use, a personal digital assistant, [and] a cell phone)”.
If you read the patent down to the last branch of technical detail, you’ll see that Nintendo wants to use these platforms without compromising the functionality of the games. That’s good for the average gamer, who probably doesn’t want to play a laggy New Super Mario Bros. during a red-eye flight.
It’s interesting that Nintendo, after all this time, would finally get around to putting Mario on smartphones. Fans have been clamoring, illegal ROMS have been downloading, and yet Nintendo has stepped back this whole time, purposefully missing the bus. Nintendo offered the excuse that this new patent remedies several times (the excuse being that these non-Nintendo devices wouldn’t achieve parity with Nintendo’s original devices, thus creating a cruddy gameplay experience). Nintendo also said that the control scheme just wasn’t good enough on most smartphones.
And the issue went even deeper than that: it was difficult to convince Nintendo to even lend its characters to other games series, tournaments, etc. etc. You may remember the minor issue of Nintendo declining the tournament request for Smash Bros. Melee at EVO 2013. When approached, a former Nintendo marketing employee tried to shed light on the situation:
“From a Marketing perspective, Smash is dangerous because of the content/playstyle of the game. Iconic Nintendo mascots beating the hell out of each other is an awesome gameplay experience, no one will challenge that fact, but from an overall Marketing view it’s, well, dangerous.”
Smash Bros. at EVO 2013 was a example of Nintendo being over-protective of its characters. Rather than consider free publicity, Nintendo was concerned that having these characters outside of their original game series might create a sphere of negativity around the entire intellectual property.
So now that the patent’s been announced, what’s really changed?
Maybe Nintendo decided that the risk was finally worth taking inside the smartphone industry.
A quick look and research shows that the smartphone gaming industry in 2013 was worth over 5.4 billion Yen (45.5 millon dollars) in Japan alone. Well, maybe that has something to do with it. If Nintendo could grab even a quarter of that market with Nintendo mobile gaming, they’d make around 1.5 billion Yen, easy.
So how fast could Nintendo grab that size of a market in Japan? If you think about it, really fast. Japan’s infrastructure of connectivity, smartphones, subways, and city life is a fertile ground for putting Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and other Nintendo IPs in front of Japanese residents all the time.
Nintendo could literally have you playing Mario on the way home from work in a subway, at work on your smartphone, and finally at home on your Nintendo systems. Nintendo smartphone gaming would be more popular in spread-out areas like Europe and North America.
The only issue is the technology involved to make this happen. While this announcements signals the arrival of Nintendo characters to our smartphones and the like, the patent itself mainly covers the technical aspects.
For instance, the patent explains that for there to be a seamless experience with Nintendo games, system differences must be overcome. The patent mentions differences like:
- Screen size
- Screen resolution
- Processing power/architecture of CPU and GPU
Screen size and resolution won’t be the main problems. Thankfully, the patent mentions a system by which Nintendo could control frame rate and other computing-dependent features of a game. Unfortunately, the patent doesn’t go in enough detail for easy confidence. Also, I may be getting ahead of myself here, but if Nintendo ever wants to go beyond complete retro games – games that perhaps use even more processing power or RAM or other technical specifications, lots more work will need to go into the implementation to create a more seamless experience. Setting up a control scheme alone for touchscreens alone will be a challenge to overcome.
However, I don’t think I’m going to far out in saying that, because once Nintendo hops in the smartphone industry, consumers will demand more and more content in the form of Nintendo first party games. Perhaps at that point Nintendo will consider publishing some of its games the absolute latest smartphones, tablets, or other tech.
To summarize: if everything goes according to plan, Nintendo would make a ton of money, and raise awareness of its characters. Getting Nintendo characters like Mario into smartphones, and into the hands of even more kids, will only boost Nintendo’s profits and brand recognition. \
But on the other hand, it’s worth thinking about what would happen in the worst case scenario. If Nintendo didn’t invest the right time into ensuring high quality retro games across platforms, or if Nintendo waited too long to add the Gameboy console’s (and other past Nintendo system’s) libraries to the smartphone market, there’s issues. While none of these things seem likely from what we’ve come to expect from Nintendo, the problem is that Nintendo has waited so long that there is more of a risk of entering this established market where games about birds and crushing candy rule.
When Mario hits the app store, there’s going to be some form of major impact to the smartphone gaming industry. Whether that is good or bad for Nintendo still needs to be seen.