Nintendo’s career in the video game industry has been largely a solo affair over the past thirty years. Nintendo makes Nintendo video games for Nintendo consoles, and with a few very rare exceptions where it licensed its characters to third parties, that’s the way it’s been through good time and bad alike. This week, as Nintendo embarks on the sixth generation of its home game console business, it’s also quietly stepping out of its comfort zone. Nintendo is releasing a Pokémon app for iOS devices.
On Friday morning, the Pokédex 3D app already available on the Nintendo 3DS was released on Japan’s iTunes, making the 170 yen ($2) app the very first paid Nintendo content on Apple’s handhelds, or any non-Nintendo handheld for that matter. There are four downloadable expansions to the Pokédex available for 500 yen ($6) a piece.
There are qualifying factors to consider. Like all Pokémon products, the app isn’t a pure Nintendo product. It was developed by Creatures Inc. who, alongside Game Freak, develop the mainline Pokémon games like the recently release Pokémon Black 2 and White 2. Both of those studios are part of The Pokémon Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Nintendo, but a separate corporate entity all the same. That means that the Nintendo brand itself isn’t associated with Apple’s device, even if it is in name only. It’s also not the first time this brand has been on iOS machines. It is the second Pokémon app to hit iOS. Pokémon Say Tap came out in 2011, but that app was offered for free, whereas this new one costs cash.
Even if Mario and Link aren’t on the iPhone 5 yet, this is still a significant development for Nintendo going forward. Back in July 2011, after Nintendo reported terrible earnings and had to drop the price of the recently released Nintendo 3DS handheld, the company’s shareholders began to demand that Nintendo stop isolating itself in the tech market. It’s profitability lay in its brands, so it was time to leave behind its stagnating hardware business and leverage those brands on Apple’s booming portables. Bloomberg reported that a number of shareholders were calling on Nintendo to get its games on the App Store. That report also claimed that Nintendo was making a Pokémon game for Android handhelds. Pokémon Say Tap and this new app are the realization of that rumor.
Will Nintendo go full third-party publisher? Not any time soon. The Wii U and growing Nintendo 3DS sales demonstrate that the company is committed to the hardware business for the foreseeable future. Whether they will remain a market leader is unclear.