As the ever-expanding mobile and tablet market continues to gain ground, Nintendo's reluctance to embrace the scene in any meaningful way has drawn fire from pundits and stockholders alike. One of their American shareholders has now penned an open letter urging the company to focus on mobile gaming and in-app purchases to fill their coffers.
And, in doing so, arguably proves that Iwata's stubbornness is a blessing in disguise. At least as far as us gamers are concerned.
Hedge Fund manager Seth Fisher spoke out via the Wall Street Journal [via MCV], stating that the company is "well placed to make an immediate entry into mobile" gaming. "We believe Nintendo can create very profitable games based on in-game revenue models with the right development team," he wrote. "The same people who spent hours playing Super Mario, Donkey Kong, and Legend of Zelda as children are now a demographic whose engagement on the smartphone is valued by the market at well over $100bn."
Let's be clear about this: Fisher's comment makes perfect sense as far as it goes. As a sideline, mobile gaming would be an intelligent way to provide extra funds to funnel back into Wii U and 3DS development, not to mention viral advertising via companion apps that tie into major console releases. In future, this could well be a major earner for the company, and an opportunity for a new audience to enjoy their wares if handled properly.
But not content with stopping there, Fisher suggested that IAPs would be a perfect way of increasing their profits. "Just think of paying 99 cents just to get Mario to jump a little higher," he continued, presumably twirling a comically-oversized moustache.
Oh dear. Now we have a problem.
This patently gross misappropriation of the freemium model aside (what's next, 69p Blue Shells?), Fisher's recommendation inadvertently points out an interesting irony in terms of mobile gaming's threat to Nintendo's traditional dedicated handheld business.
Mobile gaming is here to stay, along with its evolving use of free-to-play monetisation, but the sector has fallen prey to shady business practices, headline-grabbing disasters and, most importantly of all, an enormous glut of derivative, shonky, broken and even malicious software that hits the marketplaces on a daily basis - burying truly great games under a veritable mountain of tat. Though the scene is continually improving and offers plenty of genuinely excellent games, all too often we see developers adopt a 'me-too' mentality, simply cloning rather than creating. Not to mention perpetrating all manner of money-grubbing chicanery that leaves us apoplectic with rage.
What was viewed as an exciting new frontier a few years ago has found itself increasingly mired in growing pains, its reputation tarnished for the time being, leaving many veteran gamers understandably unwilling to trust the market beyond a few favourite titles and throwaway fads.
Nintendo, meanwhile, offer an inexpensive handheld console with great games that are certified for the platform. Games that are painstakingly crafted with tender loving care, priced at a premium, but guaranteed to work, nay, delight, and offer their quality content without the need to continually dig out the credit card. Bizarrely, what most of us view as Nintendo's biggest enemy is, in many ways, their greatest ally - proving that there's still a place for gamers to indulge their craving for lovingly-crafted exclusives that are perfectly designed for a portable device, not chopped up, compromised and sold on piecemeal.
There's no denying that Nintendo can and probably should look to use mobile gaming to their (and our) advantage, and would be able to do so without compromising their principles. It's possible to develop mobile games that are brilliant, fair and worthwhile - goodness knows that there are hundreds of examples out there. But as things stand, I've personally found my smartphone and tablet gaming habits sharply declining over the last few years, while my 3DS and even Vita play time has shot through the roof.
I can currently buy any number of amazing Mario games... and should I want to jump higher, I can just play as Luigi. We'd love to know where you stand on this.