It’s almost hard to imagine that until just three or so years ago, Nintendo was considered a dinosaur on the verge of extinction. Its gaming kingdom was seemingly starting to crumble and it refused to even consider smartphones a serious platform. Today, it just reached $1 billion in revenue from the mobile games it almost never launched and it’s mostly thanks to a game whose business model Nintendo perhaps dislikes the most.
Nintendo formally entered the modern mobile gaming market with the launch of the non-game Miitomo app in 2016, followed by Super Mario Run later that same year. The latter remains the company’s most downloaded title even if its business model was a total flop. Nintendo’s most profitable mobile game, based on Sensor Tower’s report, is Fire Emblem Heroes.
Fire Emblem is already a popular title among Nintendo gamers but its mobile incarnation brought an element of luck and IAPs to the franchise. In Japan, this system is called “gacha” which is akin to a slot machine with a random chance to get a prized unit by spending virtual money. And, of course, you can also spend real-world money to fund your virtual wallet.
Of Nintendo’s $1 billion lifetime revenue from mobile games, 61% or $656 million came from Fire Emblem Heroes or FEH. The second highest was Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, which only comprised 12 percent ($131 million) of the revenue. Super Mario Run, which had a one-time $10 IAP to unlock the whole game, only netted $76 million so far.
Nintendo has been known to frown upon the mobile gaming culture and business that encouraged addiction and the controversial loot box system, which makes it a bit ironic that its most profitable mobile game is exactly that. That doesn’t make Nintendo wrong, of course. It will take more than Nintendo, who doesn’t really have that much clout in the mobile space, to turn the industry around for the better.