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Nintendo's mobile strategy doesn't even need games

Adorable stickers are just as good

Much has been made of Nintendo's dipping its toe into mobile gaming. Earlier this month, the publisher announced an augmented reality game called Pokemon Go, and the end of the year will see the launch of the first Nintendo smartphone game developed in conjunction with DeNA. There's a good chance that Nintendo's new games will be very lucrative, helping to offset the struggling Wii U home console, but even if they flop, the company has already found another way to make money on mobile: adorable virtual stickers.

Line is a messaging service that you probably don't use, but it's huge in Japan and has one distinct advantage over the competition: a vast assortment of colorful, wonderful, and often animated stickers. These stickers cover a huge range of emotions, much greater than simple emoji, and the app even has predictive stickers so that you can type out a feeling and then choose from a list of appropriate sticker responses. Filling out the sticker store is a large number of licensed collections. You can buy Frozen stickers, or Hello Kitty ones; I enjoy bombarding my wife with animated slimes from the Dragon Quest series of RPGs.

Line stickers

Image courtesy Famitsu

I didn't realize how much I needed an animated sticker of KK Slider

Most recently, the North American Line store was updated with stickers from Nintendo's beloved life sim Animal Crossing, no doubt to help promote the new 3DS game Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer. I spent the necessary $2 to acquire them immediately; I didn't realize how much I needed an animated sticker of rock star dog KK Slider playing a guitar until I had it. In Japan, Nintendo recently released a second sticker pack, this one based on the wonderful new Wii U shooter Splatoon, and I absolutely cannot wait until Nintendo releases them in the English-speaking world. (Because they definitely will, right?)

These kinds of forays could well be incredibly important for Nintendo. While the company's most recent console, the Wii U, has struggled tremendously, Nintendo still has a collection of iconic characters surpassed only by Disney and its many subsidiaries. And it looks like the company is finally finding ways to use them outside of games. Amiibos — Nintendo's venture into the toys-to-life genre pioneered by Skylanders — has proven to be a success, selling millions of tiny plastic figures and spawning a small army of dedicated collectors. It even recently expanded the line by selling NFC-enabled amiibo collectible cards. You don't need Nintendo hardware to enjoy a Yoshi amiibo, and the same is true for a Line sticker.

Nintendo is a careful company, so it's unlikely we'll see it exploit its franchises in unseemly ways; the collapse of Rovio and Angry Birds is a good cautionary tale. But things like amiibo or Line stickers are clever, lucrative ways for Nintendo to expand its reach. Most importantly, they're fun; I want a Chibi-Robo amiibo sitting on my desk, and I want to let my friends know that I'm on my way by sending them a sticker of Kapp'n from Animal Crossing.

And as soon as those Splatoon stickers are in English, I'll be $2 poorer.