How pandemic helped gaming giant Nintendo find a cure for muted sales!

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom. It was the age of foolishness…

The celebrated opening lines from Charles Dickens in ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ could well describe what has been happening with Nintendo in recent years. The Japanese giant, which once promised to be one of the biggest players in mobile gaming, has failed to make a dent in the market.

That has happened at a time when mobile gaming has been booming and consumers are ready to pay for it more than ever before. The first warning for the public had come earlier this year as the company said that it was not looking at several new titles for the mobile gaming market.

After a series of missteps and failed opportunities, the Kyoto-based gaming giant has thrown in the towel for mobile gaming. The focus now has to be back to its own gaming consoles to revive the fortunes of the iconic company. And what a success it has been!

Global gaming boom

While Nintendo has struggled, gaming companies have had a dream run in the last few months. The boom will help the industry generate $77.2 billion in revenues, according to a report from Newzoo Global Gaming for 2020. That is a smart 13 per cent growth over last year. That makes the mobile gaming industry nearly half the size of the global gaming industry.

New games at regular intervals are key to wooing 2.6 billion gaming enthusiasts around the globe. Chinese gaming revenues at $36 billion is also bigger than the $35 billion the industry generates from the US. India is behind the curve and companies are trying to acquire customers at a feverish pace. The market is picking up but it will take a while to hit the levels being seen in China.

That is why Nintendo’s throwing in the towel was surprising. Its recent launches – Fire Emblem Heroes, Dragalia Lost, Super Mario Run, Animal Crossing Pocket Camp have all failed to rise to the occasion and hook young gamers enough. Nor did the titles send its cash registers ringing.

Gaming companies usually get young players to play the games for free. Those who are hooked on to the games are then enticed to make payments to boost their performance or get some special powers during the game. This formula has been popular and worked for the biggest in the industry. Nintendo, apparently, was not keen to pursue the freemium model.

While the opportunity during the pandemic was a miss, 2019 was no better either. Its titles fared miserably against rivals and if data from Sensor Tower was to be an indicator, the future looked grim.

Gaming titles 2019 revenues

The two games which had weakest revenues in 2019 in the list above were from Nintendo.

Nintendo, always seen as a giant in the global gaming industry, has not been known to give up without a fight. Founded in 1889 as Nintendo Koppai as a playing card manufacturer, it started making video games in 1977. It was the time when video games had caught the imagination of fans in Japan and the US. Games like The Odyssey and Pong had kicked off a new era of gaming just before Nintendo started making its own games.

Other gaming consoles like Atari and Sega were competing against Nintendo, which launched several titles that were a hit with gaming aficionados.

With its Nintendo series gaming consoles, all-time favourite titles like Mario, Dragon Quest, Tetris, Legend of Zelda and Duck Hunt, when it launches a title, customers sit up and take notice. That winning brand that it has been, it was very unlike for it to give up on an opportunity like that.

Pandemic helped to cure

In the middle of a crisis, Nintendo scripted a move that only champions can dream of. Bang in the middle of the pandemic – March 20 to be precise – it launched a new game, Animal Crossing New Horizons. The game allows players to build their own island, plant money trees and sell products, besides several other activities. A perfect simulation for peoples’ activities in their everyday lives.

Suddenly, its gaming console ‘Switch’ was flying off the shelves and in a jiffy its sales for March 2020 had doubled compared to the same month a year before. The title was aimed at everyone and as people stayed indoors, the number of players were swelling with every passing day.

NPD Group said that 11 million copies of the game were sold. Nintendo also announced that it would release free updates of the game for the rest of the year, great for keeping those hooked to the game with themselves.

With competition from Microsoft, Sony, Google and the emerging cloud platforms, the games may have just begun.

  • Ashutosh Sinha is the founder of WordWiseWeb Media. Read his weekly column on the business of sport here. He can be connected on Twitter at ashutoshsinha00.

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