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Nintendo confirms smartphone apps while restating commitment to game consoles

Nintendo confirms smartphone apps while restating commitment to game consoles

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Nintendo Wii U stock 1020
Nintendo Wii U stock 1020

Nintendo has reiterated its commitment to its strategy of keeping its games exclusive to its own consoles, while acknowledging plans to utilize smartphones and tablets in ways that drive new users to Nintendo hardware. At an investor briefing today, CEO and president Satoru Iwata said that Nintendo will use smart devices to “make connections with customers,” though he ruled out releasing existing games on those platforms, believing the company unable to "show its strength as an integrated hardware-software business" elsewhere.

Nintendo is not expressly restricting its app developers from creating games

Without going into much detail, Iwata said that "service" apps will be released this year, noting that the company would seek to use smart devices for services such as selling games that had previously been confined to games consoles. Iwata recognizes that such devices are likely to provide a better experience than Nintendo's own hardware for certain features unrelated to games, so the company will focus on using them for those purposes. Nintendo is not expressly restricting its app developers from creating games or using the company's characters, but the offerings will be designed to "attract consumer attention and communicate the appeal of our platform."

The Wii U's Nintendo Network ID (NNID) log-in system, which the 3DS portable console only recently started supporting, will also be used across smartphones and tablets. Iwata spoke of the concept of a "platform" spanning devices, where an NNID would carry over between smartphones, current consoles, and future Nintendo systems, noting that the company's efforts in that regard so far have caused a "division" with customers.

Nintendo DS titles coming to Wii U Virtual Console

Iwata stated that Nintendo will remain in the hardware business with traditional game consoles as the the main part of its strategy. "We're not pessimistic about the future of dedicated video game platforms," he said. Nintendo will concentrate on creating Wii U titles that make better use of the tablet-style GamePad controller, which hasn't been exploited much to date. In particular, more software that uses the GamePad's NFC functionality will be announced at the E3 trade show in June, and Nintendo is working on a quick start-up mode that will let users boot directly into games from the GamePad without accessing the regular system menu.

Nintendo DS titles will also be coming to the Wii U Virtual Console, with touchscreen play enabled on the GamePad. Meanwhile, Mario Kart 8, the latest entry in a series that isn't known for gameplay innovation but is almost guaranteed to move units, will go on sale for Wii U in May.

Mysterious plans for 'non-wearable' technology

Iwata also announced mysterious plans to make health and "quality of life (QOL)" a new focus for Nintendo, following on from its success with products like Wii Fit (and failure with vaporware like the Vitality Sensor). Cryptically, he said that the company would employ a "leapfrog strategy," bypassing mobile phones and wearable technology with upcoming "non-wearable" technology that can provide experiences as yet unseen on Nintendo consoles. Iwata suggested that Nintendo would leverage its status as a gaming company to make personal health monitoring entertaining and engaging, and that the business could expand into areas such as education and lifestyle. Details of this "QOL" business will be announced within 2014, and it will be launched in the financial year beginning April 2015.

The news comes the day after Nintendo’s Q3 2013 results, which saw the company post a profit over the holiday season but make no change in its forecast for a third consecutive annual loss. Earlier this month Nintendo reversed its prediction that it would swing to ¥100 billion in operating profit this fiscal year; the company now expects to lose ¥35 billion after dramatically slashing sales estimates for the struggling Wii U console.

"When you adapt too much, you lose what's unique about you."

Although calls for Nintendo to release games on mobile devices have persisted for years, the company has remained steadfast in its position that developing software exclusively for its own proprietary hardware guarantees the best experience. "When you adapt too much, you lose what's unique about you," Iwata said yesterday.

Nintendo executives did, however, telegraph signs of an evolving attitude over recent months, with NoA president Reggie Fils-Aime saying that the company was exploring simple gameplay on smart devices for marketing purposes, and Iwata said it was "studying how smart devices can be used to grow the game-player business." Earlier this week Nikkei reported that a strategy including mobile minigames would be announced today, which Nintendo quickly refuted.