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The real reason Nintendo is slowing down its mobile gaming

Nintendo's riding high these days. The huge success of the Switch has launched the gaming company back into the spotlight, and a number of massively popular games have again cemented Nintendo as one of the Big Three of console gaming. One area Nintendo doesn't seem as hot on now, however, is mobile. According to Bloomberg, Nintendo plans to scale back development on mobile apps and games, with Nintendo president Shuntaro Furukawa reportedly stating in May that the company is "not necessarily looking to continue releasing many new applications for the mobile market."

Nintendo's had a spotty track record when it comes to mobile titles, so the company's desire to focus less on that space and more on the Switch makes a whole lot of sense.

In 2016, Nintendo finally released its first free mobile app, Miitomo. It wasn't a game in any traditional sense, more of a social networking app that allowed users to use their Miis as avatars. Despite a huge number of initial downloads, the app didn't see a whole lot of regular use and was discontinued in 2018. Nintendo's first step into the mobile world was a failure.

The company's first true mobile game, Super Mario Run, came out in 2016 and similarly underperformed. Many people complained about the pricing model, wherein players could access the first three levels for free, but had to pay $10 to get the rest of them. While that's basically the same model that many old PC games used (play the first chapter for free, pay if you want the rest), people who expected the standard free-to-play setup weren't pleased. Only a tiny fraction of players actually coughed up the money.

The news wasn't all bad, though. Nintendo also had some great successes in the mobile market. Fire Emblem Heroes uses a more traditional free-to-play model, allowing players to shell out real money for in-game boosts, but not requiring it. That game pulled in over $500 million in its first week, and has continued to perform very well.

Then, of course, there's Pokemon Go. It's true that the AR Pokemon game has been incredibly successful ⁠— and profitable ⁠— but Nintendo is only marginally involved with that game and doesn't make a ton of money from it. Pokemon Go has been a gold mine for Niantic and The Pokemon Company, but for Nintendo it's mostly an advertising tool for its own main series Pokemon games. It's an effective one, too; Pokemon Sword and Shield got huge boosts from Pokemon Go's popularity.

So, with the one exception of Fire Emblem Heroes, the mobile market hasn't been the slam dunk that Nintendo executives had hoped for. Meanwhile, the Switch continues to draw huge amounts of attention (and money) as Nintendo churns out hit after hit. Animal Crossing: New Horizons was the console's fastest-selling game ever, and Pokemon Sword and Shield got love from critics and fans alike. Plus, it's only been a week since Nintendo fans were rocked by the unexpected announcement of a sequel to Pokemon Snap after more than two decades of waiting.

Back when Nintendo began taking a serious look at mobile games, the move seemed long overdue. It was an obvious market for Nintendo's generally more casual audience, and the fact that the company had resisted the move for years seemed like a wasted opportunity, especially as the Wii U floundered. As it turns out, maybe resisting mobile gaming was the right call after all. 

Given Nintendo's struggles in the mobile market, along with the runaway success of the Switch, it's not surprising that the company is adjusting its strategy. As the old saying goes, the customer is always right, and the customer is saying pretty clearly that Nintendo should be focusing on its consoles rather than freemium mobile games. It seems like Nintendo is listening. 

If you're a mobile gamer then have no fear, because Nintendo hasn't announced any plans to stop making mobile games or discontinue the ones it already has. However, the output will be slowing down as Nintendo shifts its focus. Console fans, meanwhile, will be thrilled as Nintendo puts even more resources into doing what it does best: fighting the console wars in its own unique, whimsical way.