Players More Important Than Money, Nintendo Pres. Says About Smartphone Deal

Satoru Iwata talks free-to-play, content devaluation concerns, and more in wide-ranging interview about landmark deal with DeNA.

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In a wide-ranging interview with Time, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata speaks at length about his company's recent landmark deal with DeNA to finally bring its tentpole franchises to smart devices.

When the deal was announced Tuesday, it was widely assumed that Nintendo would be making free-to-play mobile games. Iwata acknowledged that it might take this course, but stressed that pricing will be determined on a title-by-title basis.

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"I understand that, unlike the package model for dedicated game systems, the free-to-start type of business model is more widely adopted for games on smart devices, and the free-to-start model will naturally be an option for us to consider," he said.

"On the other hand, even in the world of smart device apps, the business model continues to change," Iwata added. "Accordingly, for each title, we will discuss with DeNA and decide the most appropriate payment method. So, specifically to your question, both can be options, and if a new Nintendo-like invention comes of it, then all the better."

Nintendo has not announced any smartphone games yet, but the company plans to release its first products by the end of the year. DeNA has high hopes for these games, saying they are expected to reach as many as 100 million daily active users. Nintendo and DeNA are also working on a cross-platform service for its mobile games, though specific details on this initiative are being kept under wraps for now.

Iwata also explained that, while some mobile game companies are dependent on a single hit title (he didn't mention any names, but Candy Crush comes to mind), Nintendo will instead cultivate a series of games based on its stable of popular franchises. This will help Nintendo create a meaningful, long-term mobile business, he said.

"For Nintendo, being able to make use of the enormous IP library that we have carefully nurtured for more than 30 years is a major strength," he said. "We would like to create several hit titles simultaneously by effectively leveraging the appeal of Nintendo IP, which many people around the world are familiar with."

"We will not do anything that may hurt Nintendo IP" -- Iwata

The executive also addressed the concern some have that releasing Nintendo franchises for smartphones might lead to the devaluation of the company's highly regarded IP. The thinking goes: when you can get a game for free or cheap, it could become less valuable.

Iwata acknowledged this concern, but said Nintendo has a plan to actually bolster the value of its franchises by bringing them to mobile.

"The value of content generally tends to weaken in the digital world, and especially on smart devices, it is not easy to maintain the value of content," Iwata said. "We aim to explore ways where we will not devalue Nintendo IP and, rather, we can further improve the value."

Nintendo is not planning to simply port its games to mobile. Instead, Iwata said Nintendo will create games specifically for mobile devices; these games will be "accessible" and titles that people can "easily start and finish," he explained.

Asked if there were things Nintendo would never do in the smartphone marketplace, Iwata replied: "We will not do anything that may hurt Nintendo IP. We will not do anything that may hurt Nintendo's brand image--that parents can feel safe giving their children access to it."

Iwata also made it clear that Nintendo will carefully consider business models for its mobile games so as not to jeopardize the appeal of its franchises.

"It's even more important for us to consider how we can get as many people around the world as possible to play Nintendo smart device apps, rather than to consider which payment system will earn the most money" -- Iwata

"Nintendo does not intend to choose payment methods that may hurt Nintendo's brand image or our IP, which parents feel comfortable letting their children play with," he said. "Also, it's even more important for us to consider how we can get as many people around the world as possible to play Nintendo smart device apps, rather than to consider which payment system will earn the most money."

Iwata also cleared up the question of who would be developing Nintendo's mobile games. He said development on these games will be handled "mainly" by Nintendo. So why align with DeNA? Iwata said the company, which operates the Mobage platform, has expertise in the games-as-a-service model, which will be important for Nintendo's mobile titles.

Also in the story, the interviewer asked if iconic Nintendo designer Shigeru Miyamoto--who created the Mario, Zelda, and Donkey Kong franchises--would be working on any smartphone games. Iwata dodged the question. "As for any involvement of Mr. Miyamoto, we will discuss it when possible, but for now, understand that his priority is on the development of Wii U titles that will be launched this year," he said.

As for why Nintendo is making this move at all, Iwata said there exists a large community of gamers who own a smartphone or tablet but have no interest in a dedicated system like a 3DS. Releasing Nintendo franchises for smart devices is a way to meet these players where they are, and possibly entice them to buy a dedicated system some day.

"We have come to the stage where we can say that we will be able to develop and operate software which, in the end, will not hurt the value of Nintendo IP," he said. "But, rather, will become an opportunity for the great number of people around the world who own smart devices--but do not have interest in dedicated video game hardware--to be interested in Nintendo IP and eventually to become fans of our dedicated game systems."

The full interview is a fascinating read. Check out the whole story here.

Nintendo's big move into the smartphone market has been received positively by investors, as shares of the company skyrocketed by more than 30 percent yesterday. The company also announced that it had started work on a new system, known internally as the "NX." More details about this platform will be announced in 2016.

For more on Nintendo's smartphone plans, be sure to read GameSpot's editor opinion roundup on the subject.

The products discussed here were independently chosen by our editors. GameSpot may get a share of the revenue if you buy anything featured on our site.

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