There are two pieces of news about Nintendo this morning, and they sum up the gaming giant’s dilemma. On the one hand, Miitomo, the company’s first real effort to make a mobile game, of sorts, crossed 1 million users in Japan in three days. On the other hand, the Wii U received the longest, sharpest nail in its coffin so far, with reports Nintendo would stop making it this year and focus their efforts on the upcoming Nintendo NX. And it reflects a company at a crossroads.
It’s true that in mobile gaming, success is measured in microtransactions, and it’s too early to figure out if Nintendo is seeing downloads due to novelty or if they’ve got a genuine hit on their hands. But those kinds of numbers, especially for a company that views itself as essentially Japanese, are hard to ignore, and underline that Nintendo faces the same choices as the rest of the Japanese gaming industry. Do they go mobile, following Japan’s gamers, or do they try and make a go of it the old-fashioned way? Many of the companies that made their name on Nintendo have already ditched consoles entirely, and it’s hard to blame them; in 2013, Japan’s biggest mobile game collected $1 billion while the rest of the Japanese games industry suffered.
So far, Nintendo seems to be trying to split the difference. It’s telling that there will likely be a component of the Nintendo NX you can take with you, and will likely be an evolution of the Wii U’s GamePad. That said, though, Nintendo is bringing the big guns to bear, with Pokémon Go arriving this year, and depending on how that does, the company may find itself asking whether it still needs to make hardware. And if it still feels it does, what kind of hardware it should make.