Nintendo Finally Embraces iPhone Gaming and Still Blows It

When I heard Nintendo was finally going to bring its games to the iPhone and iPad, my first thought was, "Shut up and take my money!" My second thought was, "They're going to find a way to screw this up." Turns out I was right: Nintendo figured out exactly how to fail on the iPhone, and ran with it.

That Mario game you really want on your iPhone? Don't expect to see it.That Mario game you really want on your iPhone? Don't expect to see it.

Just in case you've been out of the loop, Nintendo announced a few days ago it would be offering its games on the iPhone and iPad. They're teaming up with DeNA to make those games, which doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing, but I think ultimately it will be.

The real killer for Nintendo is that it won't be bringing the games we want to the iPhone and iPad, and instead will offer only new games that play off of Nintendo's intellectual property. From DeNA's press release:

To ensure the quality of game experience that consumers expect from this alliance of Nintendo and DeNA, only new original games optimized for smart device functionality will be created, rather than porting games created specifically for the Wii U home console or the Nintendo 3DS portable system.

On one hand, that makes sense and seems very Apple-like. Nintendo controls its hardware and software, and porting its products outside of that ecosystem could mean lower quality games with sub-par performance. On the other hand, we've seen a Nintendo emulator for the iPhone and iPad come and go from the App Store—Floppy Cloud—and it offered great game play.

There's also the issue of exactly what games we'll see, and it doesn't sound like those will include what long-time Nintendo gamers want: Super Mario Bros. and Legend of Zelda. Instead, DeNA will make its own games with Nintendo-branded characters tossed in. DeNA could come up with some clever new ideas for Nintendo's characters, but its track record says otherwise.

A quick check on the App Store shows a common thread running through DeNA's games: in-app purchases. Godus, Transformers Legends, HellFire: The Summoning, Star Wars: Galactic Defense, Super Battle Tactics, and more all push in-app purchases that in some cases reach US$99 each.

Considering the company's business model pushes lots of in-app purchases for game play, I'm not holding out much hope for anything different in its Nintendo-branded titles. There's a reason Nintendo chose to partner with DeNA, and it looks like it's the company's expertise in making in-game purchases enticing.

Instead of getting real Nintendo titles on the iPhone, it looks more like we'll get DeNA games with Mario graphics and plenty of in-app purchases. That's not exactly a great setup for the Nintendo legacy. The two companies may make some money off their venture, but saying the titles will be Nintendo games feels a bit disingenuous.

In the end, it may not matter from Nintendo's perspective. They may make some money off their joint venture with DeNA, and if so, the fact that the games will be Nintendo titles in name only probably won't be an issue for them. For gamers, however, it will feel like Nintendo is giving them little more than a tease; they can have Nintendo titles on the iPhone, but they can't have Nintendo games.

That's where Nintendo is stumbling where it could be running. Nintendo has a rich library gamers would gladly pay for on their iPhones and iPads, but the company is squandering the opportunity.