Controller-enhanced mobile gaming is Nintendo’s best — and maybe last — hope

Wired‘s Chris Kohler takes issue those who think Nintendo must finally acknowledge the booming mobile gaming market with a piece that boldly claims “everything you’re thinking about Nintendo is totally wrong.” Making its games available through Apple’s App Store and Google Play would be a mistake for several reasons, Kohler argues, because simply customizing existing high-profile franchises like Mario Brothers for iOS and Android doesn’t necessarily translate to revenues in a market where countless games are available and the freemium model has become the norm. And creating compelling mobile versions of those existing games would be costly and risky, particularly considering the limitations of touchscreen navigation.

Instead of moving into mobile gaming, then, Nintendo should create its own gaming platform by opening up its eShop storefront to any and all third-party developers. The move could help Nintendo cultivate a library of classic games for earlier Nintendo consoles as well as other vintage consoles, Kohler suggests, using variable pricing to profit from a wide range of titles.

Kohler is right on several counts: I’ve written at length that the mobile gaming market is a brutal space where no developer or publisher has demonstrated an ability to consistently produce multiple hit franchises. Even big-name publishers like Zynga and EA have struggled to bring games that were successful on consoles to mobile.

But while Kohler cites the 40 million Nintendo 3DS units on the market as low-hanging fruit, that device is clearly losing ground as smartphone sales continue to surge. Rather than trying to milk that shrinking market, I think Nintendo should finally address mobile gaming by developing the kind of iPhone game controller Apple has made possible with the release of iOS 7. Nintendo could then stay in the hardware space and bring its library of games to the iPhone and iPad without sacrificing the complex navigation that has made its titles such a hit on home consoles and handhelds, and it could then expand to Android. That strategy isn’t without risk, but it’s better than continuing to ignore a mobile gaming market that is growing rapidly.