After earning $1.5bn from mobile games, is Nintendo about to give up on them?


Having earned $1.5bn from mobile games since 2016, is Nintendo about to give up on iOS and Android games?

It doesn’t appear to be making any new ones, that’s for sure. Of the six games it has launched, two have been cancelled and its first, Super Mario Run, rarely gets updated.

We pulled the numbers from Appmagic, and they don’t look great. The data firm estimates that while Nintendo has hit that $1.5bn earnings milestone from 738m total downloads, its mobile business appears to be in managed decline.

Nintendo’s mobile game earnings are tailing off, with only three games now making significant money for the Japanese giant.

There’s a hint at how much Nintendo values its mobile business in its latest financial reporting.

Its mobile games were barely mentioned, and only namechecked in what you might call the ‘other revenue’ section, which also includes “IP related income, smart-device content and royalties”.

Thanks to The Super Mario Bros Movie, that ‘other revenue’ segment saw a spectacular rise year-on-year rise of over 190%, up from 10.9bn Yen (~$77m) in 2022 to 31.8bn Yen (~$224m) in 2023.

But very little of that was mobile income – likely around $28m – and Nintendo only has three titles left that are making enough money to justify being updated regularly.

Fire Emblem Heroes is Nintendo’s most successful mobile game by a long distance, earning Nintendo over $810m to date from 13.3m downloads. It currently makes around $5m per month, and is updated regularly with new content and limited-time events.

Mario Kart Tour has just overtaken Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp as Nintendo’s second biggest earner on mobile. The kart racer has now earned Nintendo a total of $243m to date from 230m downloads, and currently earns around $2m per month.

Notably, Nintendo removed gacha from Mario Kart Tour in October 2022, perhaps a sign that it is being de-prioritised. No gacha means no need to keep pumping out the endless content required to keep high spenders happy.

Prior to that feature’s removal, Mario Kart Tour was regularly earning Nintendo over $3m per month. Since October 2022, though, monthly revenue has been in steady decline, and last month saw the game’s worst-ever monthly haul, dipping under $2m for the first time.

Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, meanwhile, has earned Nintendo $240m to date from around 60m downloads. It currently generates about $1.5m per month, and is still updated in line with new seasons.

Nintendo’s lesser mobile games include its mobile debut Super Mario Run, which has earned $67.5m from 335m downloads and now makes around $250k per month.

It’s perhaps unfair to compare this to Nintendo’s free to play games; it is ‘free to start’ in Nintendo parlance, meaning there’s a one-time IAP that unlocks everything in the game – so no prospect of repeated spend.

Two other titles, Dragalia Lost and Dr. Mario World, have been closed down in the last couple of years. RPG Dragalia Lost was a collaboration with Cygames and was pretty successful, having earned $122m from 4.5m downloads over its lifetime. It was released in September 2018 and closed in July 2022.

Puzzler Dr. Mario World was launched in July 2019 but closed in November 2021 after earning $11m from 13m downloads.

Nintendo also receives some royalties from Niantic-made walking game Pikmin Bloom, which currently earns around $1.2m per month and has earned around $16.5m in total since it launched in November 2021. It has around 8m lifetime downloads.

The graphs don’t lie – Nintendo’s mobile business is in decline, while practically every other part of its business is booming.

Just this year, Tears of the Kingdom has been a wild success even for its ageing Switch console. And alongside Illumination, Nintendo has just claimed one of the biggest box office debuts of all time with The Super Mario Bros. Movie.

Mobile is getting even harder and Nintendo always seemed a little squeamish about its business models. So it’s perhaps no surprise Miyamoto and co appear to be backing off.

It is also expanding – very successfully – into theme parks in the US and Japan, and now rumours are swirling around a new Switch, reportedly shipping at the end of 2024.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that Nintendo’s dalliance in mobile feels like it’s fading; mobile is harder than ever, and has never been a natural fit for Nintendo in terms of brand and business model.

That big 2016 reveal, when Shigeru Miyamoto announced Nintendo’s entry into mobile gaming at an Apple keynote, now feels like a lifetime ago.

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