Accepting Super Mario can fail is distressing for ageing fans of the endearing plumber. Yet the release of role-playing computer game Dragalia Lost shows Nintendo is aware of his weaknesses. Super Mario Run disappointed last year, punishing the Japanese computer games group for its reliance on the character. The new game — swords and sorcery with hints of Shinto — indicates a welcome departure from this conservatism.
The games industry is tilting towards the huge Asian market. UBS expects gaming revenues in Asia to grow 9.5 per cent a year to $200bn in 2030. Asian gamers play lengthily on their smartphones. Demand for consoles, meanwhile, is falling.
Nintendo boss Shuntaro Furukawa has acknowledged this, saying he wants to focus on mobile gaming. Playing on smartphones, where choices are wide, make users resentful of restricted fare on a clunky console attached to a television in their living room. Nintendo’s Switch now hosts blockbuster online games such as Fortnite from Epic Games, and Tencent’s Honor of Kings.
The group is also flexing its freemium model. Super Mario Run failed mainly because Nintendo charged mobile users to play higher levels. Dragalia Lost, developed in partnership with Japanese games company Cygames, depends instead on small but potentially frequent in-game purchases, which is the charging model for Fortnite and Honor of Kings.
Nintendo’s traditional strengths include storytelling and character development. These matter less these days. Games such as Fortnite are popular because they allow players to compete and collaborate. Characters such as Pikachu and Link, the hero of The Legend of Zelda, appeal less to young gamers than their parents.
But Nintendo has also shown the survival skills of any video game immortal. The group is intent on widening its character squad and charging for games on the go. Dragalia will show how well it is succeeding. Meanwhile, Morgan Stanley reckons a long cycle of Switch sales is not priced into the stock, off 18 per cent since a peak in January.
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