To be the best, like no one ever was, Nintendo goes mobile

The Super Mario Brothers were what Nintendo launched with more than 30 years ago. Then Zelda, then Metroid, then a few others created one of the strongest stables of intellectual property in video gaming. When it came time to break out of the living room and into the mobile scene, though, Nintendo turned to what has been perhaps its most successful IP: Pokemon. A generation of children were brought up trying to catch ‘em all, and now those children are young adults with spending power all their own.

To capitalize on this and on the ever-more-popular mobile gaming market, Nintendo released Pokemon Go. It’s a mobile enhanced reality game that lets players walk around in the real world, collecting and battling their favorite adorable creatures. This represents a serious departure for one of the giants of video gaming. While their primary competitors, Microsoft and Sony, are still trying to use games to push hardware, Nintendo is meeting players where they are.

Players aren’t the only ones excited. Investors have been very interested in Nintendo, which has become a hot stock to watch as investors look for safe securities with upside. Does Nintendo fit this bill?

It would be an anomaly if they did. Mobile markets have continued to confound many other established businesses. Technology and trends change too quickly for a stable product to be successful, and the companies that do well in this industry do so with a giant catalog of game offering. Without the support of third party developers, it’s unlikely that Nintendo can take the flash-in-the-pan success of Pokemon Go and translate it into lasting success. Mobile development is just too decentralized for the slow development of corporate production.

The move to mobile is just the latest in an expensive desire for relevance for Nintendo. Less-than-stellar sales across the board for current generation consoles are most worrying for the long-time games company. Microsoft continues to be a leader in consumer and business computing, and Sony’s presence in the consumer electronic market will survive the changing landscape of gaming’s future. Nintendo is the only player without a back-up plan. They’ve tried user-generated content with Mario Maker and fitness toys with the Wii Fit. Neither has stuck as a long-term business strategy.

Consumer demand appears to be shifting away from dedicated games devices and towards multi-function PC-like boxes. Both Sony and Microsoft have more to offer in these categories than Nintendo does. Unless the company can come up with a long-term, sustainable strategy for relevance, it could be game over for one of the progenitors of video game technology.

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