Nintendo’s leaders have won plaudits — and some criticism — for thinking differently about games than its competitors, so it’s perhaps no surprise that incoming Nintendo president Shuntaro Furukawa isn’t planning to rely solely on Switch sales in Japan, the U.S., and Europe to fuel the company’s future growth. Starting in June, he will also focus on growing Nintendo’s small mobile games business with a “single game-changing hit,” and expanding Switch sales in previously underserved regions of the world.
Furukawa revealed his priorities in an interview with Nikkei today, shortly after Nintendo announced robust quarterly earnings. Despite impressively strong sales of the Switch, 3DS, and their games, the new president told Nikkei that “smartphone games are the ones I want to expand the most.” His goal is to build a 100 billion yen (U.S. $910 million) business solely with games for iOS and Android devices.
Nintendo has only dipped its toe into Apple’s and Google’s app stores, releasing Super Mario, Fire Emblem, and Animal Crossing games on its own. Each game launched to mixed responses, notably facing criticisms over everything from Mario’s unjustifiably high full game unlock price to the comparative shallowness of each mobile game’s content compared with console or 3DS titles. By refusing to release console-quality games for smartphones, Nintendo may have shored up its own platforms, but at the cost of its reputation with a growing audience of mobile players.
As of now, the mobile business only contributes 39.3 billion yen (U.S. $358 million) to Nintendo’s bottom line. That represents only 4 percent of its total revenues, and this also includes character licensing fees, suggesting that Furukawa will need to roughly triple mobile game revenues to reach his goal. He apparently plans to expand Nintendo’s work with outside developers on mobile titles, but he said that “getting on the same page at development sites is key” — no shock to those familiar with the company’s history of delaying and cancelling games that aren’t up to Nintendo standards.
According to Nikkei, Furukawa is looking for a mobile game success akin to Pokémon Go, which Nintendo believes succeeded because Niantic transformed Pokémon’s story and gameplay to play to smartphone strengths. But he candidly said that he doesn’t know which upcoming title will be able to rival Pokémon. “I can’t say that there are any that are like that” in development, Furukawa told Nikkei — a possible disappointment for those expecting big things from the as-yet-unreleased Mario Kart Tour, Dragalia Lost, and The Legend of Zelda, all of which are n the works for iOS and Android.
International Nintendo fans may be more encouraged by Furukawa’s plan to expand Switch sales outside of the company’s historic strongholds. “For over 30 years, we have been selling in comparatively the same regions that include Japan, the U.S. and Europe,” he said. Though the Switch is in around 50 markets, Nintendo expects to expand sales in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and other underserved regions where its mobile games thrive.
Furukawa also plans to keep his predecessor, Tatsumi Kimishima, on as an adviser. Kimishima told Nikkei that Furukawa was chosen to lead Nintendo because “he knows how to draw out the potential from development teams, and over the past two years he has created the business foundation for the next generation.” However, Furukawa plans to establish a five-director panel, including himself, to make decisions. “Other people are gifted at evaluating products,” he said. “Making the final call on whether or not something makes sense is my responsibility.”
Nintendo presidents have relied heavily upon group decisions since the retirement of the supremely confident Hiroshi Yamauchi, as new leaders including Kimishima and his predecessor Satoru Iwata formed advisory panels to assist with corporate decisions. However, some Nintendo insiders have argued the company has become slow and risk-adverse under its decision-making panels, so here’s hoping that Furukawa charts a bold new chapter for the historic company rather than just playing it safe.