Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg

Nintendo Makes Its Biggest Move Yet in Mobile Gaming

Updated on
  • New smartphone game will be available in late November
  • Analyst see it as a “long-term cash machine” for Nintendo

Nintendo Co. has made its biggest move in mobile gaming so far with plans to add Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp as its third smartphone title.

The game will be available on both Apple Inc.’s iOS and Android from late November and is the first smartphone iteration of a popular series about anthropomorphic animals. It will be free to download but allow in-game purchases to speed up progress, a key to making money from such titles.

Analysts have high expectations for the new game, with Goldman Sachs Group Inc. estimating an Animal Crossing title could generate twice as much revenue as the combined sales of Nintendo’s two previous smartphone games -- Super Mario Run and Fire Emblem Heroes. In the June quarter, Nintendo reaped 9.1 billion yen ($79 million) from its smartphone business. The company is due to report earnings for the September quarter on Monday.

“The IP is often underestimated, but chances are Animal Crossing on mobile can become a big hit,” said Serkan Toto, founder of consultant Kantan Games Inc. "The game seems to offer high production value, mobile-optimized gameplay, and depth to make sure people keep coming back over and over."

Shares of Nintendo rose 0.1 percent to 44,140 yen at the close of trade in Tokyo after earlier gaining as much as 2.7 percent. The stock has surged 80 percent this year and its market value has swelled to about $55 billion. DeNA Co., Nintendo’s partner in smartphone games, dropped 3.5 percent after gaining 7.8 percent yesterday.

The Animal Crossing series debuted in 2001 on the Nintendo 64 console, with subsequent versions appearing on the company’s DS and 3DS handheld devices, where they sold more than 20 million copies. The title has gained a strong following by giving animals memorable personalities and creating a community with various activities to complete.

The new mobile game involves players befriending animals and completing errands for them to collect rewards, which can then be used to build a customized camp site. To save time, players can choose to spend real money instead of completing tasks.

For example, Nintendo’s video showed it could take 5 hours to build a drum set for a camp site. Players could skip the wait by spending 30 "leaf tickets." Prices start from $0.99 for 20 tickets.

Players can also earn leaf tickets for free by completing in-game tasks, like harvesting apples or catching fish. But some tasks were limited to how many times they can be performed each day, in-effect bringing players back to choosing whether to wait or spend real money on leaf tickets.

“The monetization seems to be more aggressive than the casual appeal the title suggests,” said Toto. “A high-quality mobile version of Animal Crossing can become a long-term cash machine for Nintendo.”

Players can also buy in-game items with real money, like clothes to customize their characters or paint jobs for their camper cars. In April, Citigroup Inc. estimated the game would generate 14 billion yen in sales in the current fiscal year, on the assumption it will attract 18 million users.

Animal Crossing was originally expected to be released by March 2017. Nintendo President Tatsumi Kimishima has said the company will release about 2-3 smartphone games per year, implying at least one more title could be released by March 2018.

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