Last week, The Pokémon Company International revealed that it’s bringing the Pokémon: Trading Card Game Online to the iPad. This week, investors are rewarding Nintendo for adopting support for smart devices, but the publisher probably isn’t doing that.
Nintendo’s stock ended trading at $14.35 on over-the-counter markets in the U.S. yesterday. That is up from $13.30 last week, and it represents a rebound after the company reported a $97 million loss last quarter on June 30. Investors are primarily responding to the recent announcement that the Pokémon: Trading Card Game Online is coming to iPad, but they also like that this move may indicate Nintendo is planning broader support smartphone gaming. Gamers spent $16 billion on mobile gaming last year, and Japan is the biggest-spending country.
Nintendo has plenty of properties that could snatch up a ton of that spending if it really is embracing smartphone gaming — just one problem, it probably isn’t embracing smartphone gaming.
“We think this is indicative of The Pokémon Company’s independence from Nintendo rather than a sign that Nintendo is testing the usage of games on smart devices,” Macquarie analyst David Gibson wrote in a note to investors.
While Nintendo has complete control over Pokémon video games, it doesn’t actually have full ownership of The Pokémon Company. In 1998, Nintendo formed that company in partnership with developers Game Freak and Creatures Inc. This means that Nintendo only owns 33 percent of The Pokémon Company, which is in charge of maintaining the massive brand, the television show, and — most important in this case — the card game.
“Everyone assumes The Pokémon Company equals Nintendo when it doesn’t,” Gibson told GamesBeat. “Nintendo only has a stake in one-third of it.”
The Pokémon card game will hit iPad later this year, and this is the first time that a Nintendo-related game will hit a smart device. Naturally, Nintendo investors are very excited about the money-making potential. Previously, The Pokémon Company has released Pokémon TV and a Pokédex app for mobile, but those seemed like ways to get players excited about the property so that they would want to play the games on a Nintendo platform. By releasing the card battler on iPad, The Pokémon Company is signaling that it is willing to go to where the players already are even if Nintendo isn’t.
It’s important to keep in mind Pokémon: Trading Card Game Online has previously appeared on non-Nintendo platforms. It is available now on Windows and Mac. This is also not the same thing as the 1998 Pokémon: Trading Card Game that debuted on the Game Boy Color. That release featured a Pokémon-style role-playing adventure to go along with the card-battling action.
Pokémon: Trading Card Game Online is actually just an online, digitized version of the physical card game. It has no story mode and no role-playing elements, and Nintendo is not publishing it.
Nintendo likely remains against mobile development
Nintendo president and chief executive officer Satoru Iwata has repeatedly shot down the idea of bringing Nintendo games to iOS or Android. He’s done this despite shareholders asking him to do so at nearly every investor meeting over the last few years.
“[Smartphone games are] absolutely not under consideration,” Iwata said in an interview with Nikkei in 2011. “If we did this, Nintendo would cease to be Nintendo. Havinga hardware development team in-house is a major strength. It’s the duty of management to make use of those strengths.”
Essentially, Iwata has said that he doesn’t want to damage the market for Nintendo’s hardware in exchange for short-term revenue from smartphone and tablet software.
But Nintendo owns a part of The Pokémon Company, so Iwata could stop this if he wanted to, right? Well, no. One-third is a minority stake, and The Pokémon Company has its own leadership. We reached out to Nintendo for comment, and its public-relations team told us that we’d have to contact a different PR firm that works directly for The Pokémon Company. This is happening “outside” of Nintendo.
For its part, The Pokémon Company still isn’t ready to talk about the card game beyond the fact that it is due out this year.
It’s possible that Iwata could stop this but isn’t. In that case, he may want to watch and see how the iPad crowd reacts to having a Pokémon-related game. If it goes well, maybe he’ll reconsider his position for the rest of Nintendo’s games.
For now, however, it looks like Nintendo’s stance against porting its games (at least with the properties it fully owns and controls) to smartphones is still off the table.