It's been a rough few years for Nintendo. While the surprise massive success of the Wii console beginning in 2006 was seen as a comeback for the venerable Japanese video gaming giant, a continued lack of participation from third parties and sluggish sales of the device's successor, the Wii U, have led to serious doubts about the company's future. Fans and investors alike have now now largely pinned their hopes to the mysterious NX platform, expected to be announced later this year.
But for now,a bright spot: The company's first foray into smartphone/mobile gaming, the social-media app Miitomo, appears to be a success.
According to a report by HotHardware, Nintendo itself is claiming that 3 million users have downloaded the Miitomo app, a social media service built around the Mii avatar-creation concept that was part of the Wii and Wii U infrastructure. The number, posted to (other) social media services by Nintendo's corporate accounts, was first revealed on April 1 and has not been officially challenged by outside sources. If correct, it would make Miitomo one of the more successful recent "major" app launches.
Believed by many in the industry to be an early component of a coordinated push by Nintendo to build a new unified structure of interaction between console gaming, handhelds and mobile/social-media platforms, Miitomo at present takes the form of a feature-limited social-sharing app: Users are able to create a "Mii" avatar from a variety of facial features and imbue it with a digital "personality" based on their own by answering questions and providing information about themselves for other users' Miis to identify and interact with. Miis can also be inserted into photos from the user's existing image file and shared, dressed up in various outfits and used in the minigame Miitomo Drop. The game also tracks existing "My Nintendo" points.
— Nintendo UK (@NintendoUK) April 1, 2016
While Miitomo users thus far generally report satisfaction with the new app, many in the gaming sphere are left curious as to what the product's endgame is. Nintendo had been resistant to join the app scene previously, preferring to concentrate its mobile gaming efforts on the handheld market that the company has largely dominated since the release of the original Game Boy. Though getting early information out about Nintendo plans is considered next to impossible, industry insiders have posited that the rumored ability of the NX to interface with mobile devices will open Miitomo up to offering new features and services to promote new products and allow users to earn points/share data related to their console gaming experience.
The good (financial) news comes during a time of continued upheaval for the Nintendo, which was already facing difficult conditions before the tragic death of beloved CEO Satoru Iwata last year. At a time when other console manufacturers are changing their upgrade model and relaxing old restrictions on cross-platform interaction that feel poised to make console gaming more PC-like, many question Nintendo's commitment to continue following the traditional console market - however strong the foundation provided by their popular first-party franchises remains.