For a company known for its hardware innovations, Nintendo can be a little slow on the uptake sometimes. In particular, it’s proved reticent on the online gaming front…something every one of its competitors jumped into years ago.
Now it seems that Nintendo’s starting to pay attention to the wider market. At its closed-door E3 financial briefing, president and CEO Satoru Iwata announced that his company would release its first free-to-play game sometime this fiscal year.
Iwata expressed an interest in trying out free-to-play and subscription models in a Q&A session back in April. This is the first indication that Nintendo has moved forward on those plans.
Details are sketchy at the moment, but Iwata confirmed that the FTP game in question won’t involve Nintendo’s two big money brands — Mario and Pokemon. It’s unknown if that means it will draw from one of the company’s other known brands or create an entirely new IP, though that possibility seems unlikely. Nintendo tends to lean heavily on existing brands. Its newest character-centric series, Pikmin, debuted in 2001. The next youngest Nintendo franchise? Starfox, which turns 20 this year.
Of course, what might seem experimental to Nintendo has become de rigueur at other publishers.
The free-to-play model first gained traction in Asia before migrating to the West, where it quickly became the go-to revenue model for social games, mobile games, and a number of PC-focused games…massively multiplayer online in particular. It only recently picked up momentum on console platforms. Wargaming.net confirmed a special edition of World of Tanks, one of the top FTP games on PC, will come to the Xbox 360. Rumors suggest several other FTP titles will land on the upcoming Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
Nintendo, however, has steered wide of such trends in the past. Its willingness to adopt them now, following a solid quarter of disappointing Wii U sales, suggests an interesting direction from a company known for doing its own thing.
It’ll be interesting to see how Nintendo adapts its traditionally closed-loop systems to a free-to-play model, and how its designers apply their legendary creativity to the task. As a first try, it could go spectacularly well or crash horribly. But the very idea that this, perhaps the most implacable company in the industry, feels motivated to change its ways speaks to the power of a consumer-focused revenue model.