Miitomo, Nintendo’s First Mobile App, Is Gonna Make Bank
As expected, Nintendo’s going whale-hunting with its first mobile app Miitomo.
Already available in Japan and scheduled to be launched in the U.S. and elsewhere at some point in the next week, Miitomo is a social game, modeled on Nintendo’s 3DS game Tomodachi Life—you create a “Mii” avatar of yourself, which then interacts with the Miis of your friends. It’s doing quite well in Japan, currently sitting at #1 on both the Apple and Google Play app stores and surpassing 1 million users in 3 days.
And although Nintendo hasn’t said, it’s also probably raking in lots of money. Like most big free-to-play games, Miitomo features many different ways to spend real-world cash.
“I personally was surprised” at the game’s monetization strategies, said Tokyo-based game industry analyst Serkan Toto, who has been playing Miitomo since launch, in an email. “In Miitomo, you have $78 ‘micro’-transations, a mini-game with pachinko mechanics you need to pay for to play, a shop that is one of the main menu points, and avatar items inside that shop that cost the equivalent of $5 or more.”
“Using this app is a first indication, there will be no Nintendo softness as far as mobile monetization is concerned,” Toto said.
Investors may have been worried that Nintendo’s move into mobile wouldn’t juice profits. Nintendo’s stock plummeted 9 percent on the unveiling of Miitomo last year. But it jumped up 8 percent after the app actually launched.
“Investors in particular were asking themselves if Nintendo would use the typical monetization methods Japanese mobile games use, because of the company’s family- and kid-friendly image,” Toto said. “And yes, Nintendo seems to be open to whale hunting. For example, Miitomo doesn’t use a splash screen urging young users not to overpay—some Japanese top mobile games do have it.”
You can play Miitomo for free, of course, and it’s likely that most people will: The latest data from analytics firm Swrve says that just a tiny 1.9 percent of free-to-play mobile game players actually spend money.
Those freeloading users, though, are usually subsidized by “whales,” big-spending players that dump hundreds or even thousands of dollars into free-to-play apps. Last year, Nintendo said it wouldn’t make a point of pursuing such players: “The basis of our strategy will be how we can receive a small amount of money from a wide range of consumers,” said Nintendo’s former president Satoru Iwata last May.
What Nintendo may find out, though, is that even if you don’t go looking for whales, whales might find you. A Nintendo app that lets you spend an unlimited amount of money on cool Nintendo-themed digital goods? That’s like setting out a heaping saucer of Whale Chow.
While Toto says he doesn’t think Miitomo per se will be a huge revenue driver for Nintendo, he notes that future apps slated for release in 2016 will use some of Nintendo’s famous characters, and could thus pull in even more. “I would be very surprised to see the next app… using monetization hooks that are vastly different from Miitomo,” he says.
And as I said when Nintendo first got into the mobile business, gamers who suspect that the free-to-play mobile games will simply subsidize the “premium” $60 Nintendo console games that they love might get a rude awakening. Nintendo might make so much money off games like Miitomo that the tail begins to wag the dog, and then maybe your favorite Nintendo series goes free-to-play mobile—permanently.
I don’t think the next mobile app will be Super Mario’s Pay $1 To Jump Higher Land, not exactly, but if Miitomo is the litmus test: Nintendo’s turning into a mobile company, not turning mobile into a Nintendo platform.
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